My Life Without Facebook: The First Week

Here are the first six things I did on the morning of December 30th, 2013:

  • Woke up
  • Went to the bathroom
  • Shuffled into the kitchen
  • Made coffee
  • Shuffled to the computer
  • Logged into Facebook

After logging into Facebook, I made breakfast, I took a shower, got dressed, did chores, played with the kids… And checked Facebook every fifteen minutes. It was just part of my routine. It didn’t make me any happier, it didn’t make me any smarter or wiser or more informed, and it didn’t add value to anything else that was going on. I did it just to have something to read. Facebook had become my favorite novel, and every minute it was coming out in a new edition. Understand me: it was always the same novel, but every edition used slightly different words. I kept scanning the changes in the language to see if it changed the story, and though the moments changed and different things happened to different people at different time, the overall plot structure was the same.

Okay, I’m sure that’s not objectively true, but that’s how it felt. Think about Hostess Cupcakes for a second: chocolatey, covered with frosting, with that soft creme filling in the center. Now imagine that Hostess Cupcakes is all you want to eat, and it’s all you do eat. All day. Eventually you would come to hate Hostess Cupcakes. Now imagine that you couldn’t stop eating them. That’s what Facebook was to me, after a while. Smart or funny posts made me happy, stupid posts made me angry, and all of it kept me tied to the damn thing because I got to feel things about words without tying them to any living person. It was like all the posts were coming from fictional characters, not my friends and family. And I couldn’t put the ‘Book down.

I’m not sure what it was about December 30th that was different, but I realized that was what I was doing, and I realized it was making me miserable. I realized it was making me miss my life. So I quit. I let people know I was going, I gave them other means to contact me, and at the end of January, I deleted my account.

Immediately, panic set in. Had I made a mistake? What would I do without Facebook? What would Facebook do without me? I’ve calmed down since then. Actually, now that I’ve put a little bit of distance between me and Facebook, there are things that I miss, and things that I don’t.

Five Things I Don’t Miss About Facebook

  1. Getting pissed off by other peoples’ posts. One of the things I despise about Facebook is how people just post things that they don’t fact-check, things that are often biased, or polarizing, or just plain wrong, and those things get sprayed all over the timelines of their friends. Factor in the cute kitten photos, the memes, and whatever George Takei is posting at the time, and it’s crazy-making. Other platforms are the same way. Not having to look at them all the time is a relief.
  2. Having to be funny all the time. One of the cardinal rules of social media appears to be to create value for the people following you. For me, that involved making people laugh every time I posted. That’s not the only way I made value for others on Facebook; per point #1 above, posting reasonably informed things is also value-making. But being “on” all the time is exhausting. And I was on Facebook all the time.
  3. Being glued to my phone. Seriously, I was pulling that thing out of my pocket all the time and checking it. The peril of having a portable computer. Out to dinner? Check the phone. Free moment? Check the phone. Waiting for water to boil? Check the phone. Sitting on the can? Check the phone. I feel like one of the tethers that reinforced that behavior is now gone, and it feels good.
  4. Chronicling every emotion, thought, or moment. I’m starting to believe that without privacy, there is no self. The self is that which is distinct from everything else. That’s not to say that by sharing what I feel, what I think, and what I do, that I’m denying my self. I don’t think that. Done in conscious ways it affirms the self. But there is such a thing as giving yourself away, and by sharing compulsively, that’s what I was doing.
  5. Vaguebooking. This one really got to me, because I don’t think people can actually share anything really personal via Facebook. Maybe some people can, but I know that for me, I didn’t want to be accused of oversharing. Facebook is like a giant party, and everybody’s at it. If I was pissed at somebody, if I was sad about something, I had to be very careful how I worded things for fear that someone might misinterpret my words, or second-guess whether I “should” feel what I was feeling, or send me a dreaded barrage of comments that say, merely,

“Hugs :-(“

Five Things That Make Me Wish I’d Never Left

  1. Twitter. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot that I love about Twitter. The ability to communicate with other people across the country, to receive channels of information from people in the library field… But if Facebook was my heroin, then Twitter is quickly becoming my methadone. They say never to drink coffee while quitting cigarettes… Monitoring my Twitter-time is difficult, and limiting it is uncomfortable.
  2. Community S.O.S.’s. During this recent snowstorm, my family and I got caught on a steep, icy hill in our car. We couldn’t go up because of the ice, and we couldn’t go back because of traffic coming up the hill. My wife sent out a distress signal on FB. I could do nothing, because I had already deleted my account. We made it off of the hill, but it would have been nice to have the extra communication channel.
  3. Contact. Facebook was my one way of getting in touch with a lot of people. Now that it’s gone, my world has gotten that much smaller. One of the communication channels I gave up when leaving was with the other hosts of Let’s All Really Geek Out, a podcast I collaborate on. Another one is with my cohort from grad school.
  4. Fun videos. Because let’s face it: if Buzzfeed is evil, then it’s evil covered in butterscotch icing with maraschino cherries on top. Facebook really is better than cable TV sometimes.
  5. Getting pissed off by other peoples’ posts. Outrage really is like a can of Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop. Righteous anger is intoxicating, and as bad as it is for me, I still miss the opportunity to engage in it whenever I want.

So that’s me right now, without Facebook. I’m trying to spend more time in real life. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don’t. I hope that as I learn to use social media more consciously and healthily that I’ll become a happier and more balanced person. I can already feel it starting, bit by bit. In the meantime, however, I’m trying to do better.

Now, I wonder what @scalzi is doing right now…

3 thoughts on “My Life Without Facebook: The First Week”

  1. Good post–I feel your pain. I am a very cynical curmudgeon, and, frankly, I cannot stand the gallery of the puerile and mundanity that is most FB posts. You’ve seen my rants about how people seem to be more supportive about headaches updates and last night’s dinner photos than posts projecting creativity and original, thought-provoking material.

    But, I’ve come to understand that this is life: some people create, some people like creativity, and most people like cable TV and, even, commercials.

    Actually, I was a bit disappointed to hear that you gave up FB, but are using TWITTER. I think Twitter is one of the most useless social media platforms– I would MUCH rather use LinkedIn than Twitter.

    Just my opinion, though.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Patrick.

    1. Hi Jason,

      It took me a long time to see the utility of Twitter. It’s definitely not for everybody, but it’s very useful for those who “get” it. That said, getting it can take a while. I, on the other hand, had a really hard time with LinkedIn when I was on there. To each their own.

      Thanks for the good words, Jason. I hope you’re well.

      –Patrick

  2. Your post reminds me of that squarespace commercial with all the personifications of web annoyances/memes/etc… That commercial really illustrates the overall claustrophobic feeling that the sidebars and activities of Facebook creates. About 2 years ago, I came to the brink of leaving FB myself for a lot of the same things you hate about it. The only reason I didn’t is because my own life events ended up dropping FB so far down on the priority list that the overindulgence and hyper-active checking sort of took care of itself.
    I used to be annoyed by the very posts that memes make fun of (mid-game sports posts, vaguebooking, re-posting unvetted articles, things like that) but I eventually came to the conclusion that it is a communication tool like any other, and all I can control is how I choose to use it, and what I choose to partake in. In my mind, the same goes for whomever I’m “friends” with… if they don’t like what I post, they don’t have to partake – I truly don’t expect many people to care about which bird I spotted in the yard, but it’s a huge interest of mine so I share :)

    I feel like I have a generally decent balance in my own FB world, but what has come to my attention the most while observing your departure is this: FB is so incredibly spastic by nature (with it’s short status updates and quick replies) that I miss the blogging world. I miss the well longer stories and conversations, taking the time to convey a complete thought. Time restraints have kept me from regular blogging for a few years, and FB filled in the gap a bit in keeping up-to-date with friends… however I really need to get back into the practice of completing a train of thought. Especially if I plan to maintain a travel diary again.

    So I thank you for inspiring me to get back into it.

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