A month or two ago I decided it was time for a Facebook hiatus. If you have a reasonable amount of self-control, the idea of having to delete a social media profile just to spend less time on that platform probably sounds pathetic. My husband, for example, has no problem using his Facebook account for just the periodic check-in and nothing more – it’s one of the many reasons he’s my better half. But for those of you out there who have trouble resisting the heavy pull of a Facebook (or Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…) wormhole, this post is for you.
This is not my first time bidding Facebook ado; I’ve suspended my account on 3 previous occasions. One thing I’ve noticed in my many departures from The Book is how much more difficult it is to suspend your account nowadays. When you find the page to remove your account, they ask you why you’re leaving. Every one of the options (for example, “I get too many notifications from Facebook”) has a solution for you that doesn’t involve closing your account (“Don’t leave Facebook – just edit your notification preferences!”). This is, of course, a great way to keep people engaged in your product… even if the subtext reads a bit like, “You don’t know what’s best for you – we do!”
What really jumped out to me, though, is that when I selected my reason for leaving this time – “This is temporary, I’ll be back” – it prompted me to pick a date that my account would automatically reactivate. Facebook, quit being so codependent – it’s not a good look on you.
Now that I’ve been logged off for a while, I thought I’d share a few observations:
It’s freeing! Ever accidentally leave your phone at home, panic, and then get a little rush like you’re on the lam? Suddenly you’re paying more attention to the things around you and you feel untethered by being incommunicado. Jumping off social media can be a little like that.
Sending a thoughtful note or giving a friend a call becomes more appealing. When you’re keeping up with someone else via Facebook, it’s easy to go for long periods of time without personally connecting. After all, it seems like you know what’s happening in their life – you could name every meal they ate on their recent weekend getaway to Atlantic City! But there’s no replacement for time spent sharing ideas and memories directly with others, and hopping off of Facebook quickly makes you realize how long it has been since you last spent quality time with certain friends or relatives.
You naturally spend less time comparing yourself to others. Facebook is a great tool for highlighting our best photos, proudest achievements, and portraying just the parts of life we want others to see. It can be really fun to see what our old classmates or childhood friends are up to. But on the flip side, getting a curated peak into the lives of people we don’t really know anymore can be deceiving and create the prime conditions for unhealthy comparisons.
It can be kind of lonely. Facebook is wildly successful in part because it replicates and magnifies what we as social creatures are hardwired to do – see ourselves as part of different communal circles and seek affirmation of our place in the Venn diagram of our unique tribes. It’s not surprising that Facebook became such a festering pool of vitriol during the election. What better place to proclaim to the world what your values are, see who has your back, revel in the “likes” that validate your position, and triumphantly dismiss the haters that are wrong?
We’ve evolved to seek the validation of our peers – it’s a long-held survival mechanism since we’d never last as a lone-wolf species. That’s why it feels so good to be validated by our peers, and Facebook makes it easy to get that hit of dopamine when people like our post or write supportive and flattering comments on our latest pictures. Cutting the social media cord does mean letting go of one of our main sources of positive social feedback. And that can be kind of lonely and take some getting used to.
It’s a great reminder that opting out is an option. Facebook is so ubiquitous now that everyone assumes you have an account. And most of us do. But we certainly don’t have to. It’s not unlike many other things people might assume about us… or we might even assume about ourselves. Things like: I wish to be married and have children. I belong to a major recognized religion. I work a standard 9-5 job. I own a house or desire to own a house. I have to shave my legs (or face) or wear my hair long (or short).
These are can be fine ideals, but they are certainly not universal. If we don’t take time to think about what we really want out of life and what we believe, it’s easy to be swept up in what others expect or do without stopping to make conscious and intentional decisions for ourselves.
I think that’s actually the best thing to come out of my hiatus. I recognize now that I had no idea why I was hopping on Facebook every day. It was a decade-long habit, but aside from that I didn’t really think much about what I was getting out of it and if it was worthwhile to me or not. Opting out – even temporarily – gives us the space to consider if a behavior is enriching our lives or detracting from other life-enriching endeavors.
For me, for now, I’m happier being off of Facebook. And I’m glad for this particular hiatus as it’s inspired me to try taking a break from some other activities, too. Just not Instagram 🙂