Over the last few years, and this past year in particular, I’ve thought (and posted) a fair amount about my love/hate relationship with Facebook. It seemed to weigh heavier on the “hate” side – increasing on a daily basis – until finally I came to the conclusion that it was time to sever ties completely. And so on January 1st, I did. At the risk of beating a dead horse, since I know there have been myriad articles and think pieces and studies published about the topic as well, I’m finally diving into writing about why I’m so much happier without it.
2015 was, for me, filled with some good, but mostly a whole lot of toxicity in the form of other people; I’ve done a banner job of simply cutting all of that out and moving on and away. Deleting my FB account was like the final step, because there was something toxic about that site, too. It may have been my own personal experience and interaction with it, it may have been my own inability to moderate usage, it may be due to my own sensitivity to overload, it could be a hundred things that have little or nothing to do with the site and everything to do with my reaction to it… but whatever the case, I can’t tell you how much lighter, happier, and clear-minded I feel as a result of no longer being connected in that way.
Before the advent of social media… how did we stay in touch? How did we interact? How did we connect and STAY connected to the people we loved and the ones who mattered? I mean, were we okay with not staying in touch with that one kid you knew in 6th grade? How on earth did we survive without knowing everyone’s opinions on EVERYTHING? The internet provides a forum for everyone’s thoughts, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, etc., and while this can be a good thing – I’ve met some amazing people through the internet and wouldn’t trade them for the world – this can also be a really, really bad thing. Have you read a comments section lately? It’s like the floodgates opened and everyone’s inner ugly got conjured.
What Facebook turned into for me was a place where people were inflicting everyone else with their thoughts, opinions, pithy quotes on photo backdrops, political discourse, and what basically felt like no one listening to or actually TALKING to each other anymore. It was all just noise, and it seemed to feed into peoples’ misguided belief that everyone else wanted to hear it all, or cared, and that their opinions on things – no matter how ill-informed or bigoted or small – were paramount to truth or the art of active listening. “I don’t care what you think or have to say, but here’s what I think. About everything.”
Everything wound up feeling overwhelming. Superficial. Empty.
Full disclosure: I had over 400 friends on there. Most of them were people I’d gone to school with at some point, worked with at some point, met somewhere along the way in my pinball ricochet moves around the country… only a very small handful of them were/are people with whom I am maintaining an active friendship or relationship. Family, too, but mostly it was people I wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with. Not because they aren’t good people (because they were, otherwise I wouldn’t have added them in the first place – or I would have deleted them, which happened pretty regularly once true colors came to light), but because I just don’t have the emotional or mental bandwidth for maintaining that many relationships or interactions. By being connected to a person on Facebook, I felt some kind of responsibility to try and maintain active contact. Otherwise, what’s the point?
A lot of the people with whom I’d reconnected when I first moved back to Nashville had mostly faded into “acquaintance-land” for reasons I won’t get into here (I’m not sure I could do it justice from a one-sided perspective, anyway), but staying connected to them on FB meant I had access to see all the things they were doing, places they were going, and lives they were living that no longer involved me. This is not a condemnation, because it was a mutual (albeit unspoken and passive) parting of ways. It probably would have benefited from calling it out and owning our parts, but at the same time… eh.
Anyway. All of that to say, it simply reinforced the feelings of “apart” and lonely to which I have always fallen prey, especially in conjunction with my ongoing experiencing of anxiety and depression that crops up in wintertime; FB did a banner job of exacerbating all of that and extending the life of the struggle well beyond the winter months. Instead of being happy for people that they’re out there living life – at least, the little bits they were portraying on FB – I found myself falling into feeling left out. So by deleting those reminders and effectively removing myself from the mindset of being “left out” where I’m sitting at home looking at everyone else living life, I’ve made it so that I’M living life, too. In person, out loud, and I’m no longer being presented with reminders of what I’m not doing and who I’m not seeing. Who needs those reminders, anyway? People with whom I am not actively engaged in relationship of some kind are really none of my business… just as I am none of theirs.
Which leads me to the flip-side of it all, where people had access to me, but hadn’t earned (or no longer had) the right to be there. One major event: someone I thought of as a friend decided to delete me from all social media without saying anything to me about it, and then, in a private group in which we were both members, made multiple comments about how she’d removed two toxic, triggering people from her life without saying anything to them and how it just had to be done for her own sanity (YO I’M SITTING RIGHT HERE). While it sucks to realize and own that sometimes you’re a trigger for other people, it sucks worse when you bear witness to them calling it out, knowing full well that some folks in the group know it’s you, and no one is saying anything. Mind you, I didn’t say anything either – I just left the group, because it wasn’t worth it to me to pursue; I’m happy to let everyone have their own experience and give whatever space is deemed necessary.
And then there were some overt, extensive, and extended attempts at manipulation from a few people with whom I no longer engage, one person I hadn’t seen or talked to in over 6 years sending me some unexpected, nasty, off-base words (someone I wasn’t even friends with on there, mind you), and a whole lot of other messy stuff… done. No thanks. People sometimes use the internet – and especially FB – in a lot of terrible ways, and I was tired of being on the receiving end of that, even just a little.
Not to mention the manipulation of Facebook itself. Controlling who and what you see, how much of it you got to interact with, the push for advertising to infiltrate your timeline, and all the ways they were trying to make themselves an invaluable and irreplaceable means of staying connected – or at least convincing you that you NEEDED the site in order to stay in touch, social, and relevant…
NOPE. Nope nope nope, and nope.
At the end of it all, there were maybe two things I knew I’d miss. Pictures of far away family or friends and their kids, and the occasional big life updates from folks I care a great deal about who only seem to share that stuff on FB. Also, occasionally hearing about cool events going on around town. So, three things I’d miss. But those three things are manageable and surmountable. I can poke around online to see what’s going on in town. I can reach out to friends & family and get them to send pictures via text or email, or if they’re local, I can actually, you know, make plans to see them in person. Picking up the phone, firing off a quick text or email, hanging out in person… it all works for me just fine.
I knew there were people who enjoyed the things I’d share and write about on FB, but all of that – or some of it, anyway – gets posted here, too, for anyone willing to follow a separate link. Otherwise, I way prefer to update my people on my life in real time and in person, because that’s how you engage and build connection. By having a conversation. And while I’m overloaded with grad school homework, I can just reach out to let people know I’m thinking of them.
When was the last time you did that in some way other than on FB? When was the last time you sent an email, or hell… wrote a letter, or sent a card or postcard, or picked up the phone to call someone and hear their voice?
By deleting FB, I’m no longer on information/opinion/social media overload. I can hop on Twitter for the occasional 140 characters from smart people I want to learn from, with links to articles I might not otherwise see. I can peruse the Instagram accounts of my friends for a quick peek into their daily lives. I can write here, and if folks want to read it – and even respond to it – they can.
I guess it all comes down to priorities and boundaries: prioritizing relationships with those who are important to me (and, honestly, the people who show that I’m important to them, too, because the effort shouldn’t all be mine), and erecting some real and serious boundaries with the rest.
I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who love having contact with/access to hundreds of people, but for me, it was just too much. By deleting Facebook and severing unnecessary ties (as well as eliminating the weird expectations that come with them), I’ve effectively right-sized my social circles and interactions, and have begun making the transition back to real life interactions and in-person connections. It’s really been nothing but a huge relief.
Kicking it old school, y’all.
Update (later that day):
After writing all of this out, the conclusion I finally reached is that ultimately, Facebook was doing nothing to encourage or enable me to be my best self. Instead, it was enabling me to get lazy with my efforts at friendship and family connection; it was enabling me to let the FOMO get out of control; it was enabling me to beat myself up with all the presumed lost opportunity; it was enabling me to maintain one-sided engagement and espouse my beliefs and thoughts mostly unchallenged. So, it really had little or nothing to do with everyone else; it was all just me, not being the woman and the human I want to be.
With all the other major steps I’ve taken toward cutting out the unhealthy influences in my life, this was just one more step in the right direction.