This post is a steep departure from my norm, but please bear with me; it’s just something I had to say.
A few weeks ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. The catalyst for this was Facebook forcing me to switch to the new “Timeline” style profile. As I looked over the Timeline, I saw events and actions I hadn’t thought about for years suddenly on prominent display. To be sure, it was all stuff that had already been public before—and anyone who wanted to dig through my profile could have found it—but there was something unnerving about seeing it all right in front of me again.
But Timeline itself wasn’t the true problem, only a symptom of several growing concerns I was having regarding Facebook. Facebook regularly changes the format of their site, and it seemed to me as if I would only get used to some new way of interacting with Facebook when things would change again. Facebook’s developers may have full-time jobs making such changes, but I certainly am not being paid full-time to understand all the changes. Trying to keep up with all those changes was turning into a lot of work.
Moreover, many of those changes seemed to be in the direction of eliminating more and more privacy. Facebook seems to have a history of “share first, ask forgiveness later.” I can’t put my finger on any one personal privacy violation, but this website and this website certainly attest to privacy concerns when dealing with Facebook. I just kept worrying about what information complete strangers might be able to see on my Facebook page.
And, of course, most of that information I voluntarily put there. Facebook actively encourages more and more sharing, more and more connecting, and at first I dove right in, joining groups, “liking” pages, and accepting friend requests from total strangers simply for the sake of connecting.
That, of course, took me down a rabbit hole. Every posting, every accept request, every like brought me even more suggestions, requests, and ads. By the time I deactivated my Facebook account, I realized I was spending hours and hours per week—the equivalent of a part-time job—just clicking around on Facebook interacting with ads, checking out new products, reading articles, watching videos. The more and more content I explored, the more Facebook fed me—it’s to their advantage to do so, after all.
The curious thing was that the more I interacted with Facebook, the unhappier I became. Facebook just wasn’t fun anymore. Whereas when I first joined Facebook, I really enjoyed interacting with friends, catching up with people I hadn’t seen for a while, and maybe playing a short, simple game or two (and that once simple farming game is WAY too complicated now). I even reconnected with the woman who is now my wife (whom I knew briefly in graduate school before we went our separate ways) through Facebook.
Not much of that fun stuff was taking place by the time I decided to leave. As part of Facebook’s continual tweaking, I eventually got to the point I was seeing the same information over and over again. I was also seeing the same few people on Facebook, and not really staying caught up with all of my friends anymore. The loudest voices on Facebook seemed to get that much more coverage, and I found myself bombarded with emotionally draining political and religious screeds and ads for even more political and religious organizations I could “like” to get even more such bombardment. “Friends” I didn’t know further cluttered up my Facebook home page (or whatever it’s called now) with useless information or made me angry with comments contrary to my beliefs. It’s one thing to have a civil discussion about controversial matters; it’s something else entirely to find oneself drowning in information and opinions. Even when I agreed with the commentary (and, because they were often from pages I “liked,” I usually did agree), the flood was too much, the emotional highs and lows too intense.
Moreover, I was being overwhelmed with a flood of “app” requests and game gifts; at one time I had over 200 of those waiting for me.
And the worst thing about this was that it was partly my fault. I had gleefully turned on the Facebook tap full blast, constantly liking and interacting with reckless abandon. I accepted application and friend requests without care. And Facebook took full advantage of me.
I finally got to the point that I was completely exhausted. Facebook was sucking up my life, and giving very little in return. I wasn’t having fun; I wasn’t connecting with friends. Rather, I was giving my time and energy and all kinds of information away to a company that used them to try to sell me things. I had become a willing commodity.
And so I deactivated my account. And I felt free. I did notice a few tremors the first few days, clear signs of an addiction. But I also noticed an immediate improvement in my time management and my sense of well-being.
I had been off Facebook for several weeks when my wife, who had maintained her account, noticed that some friends of ours are pregnant with their first child. She got the news, of course, from Facebook. It was momentous news—and I would not have heard it except through Facebook. All at once I realized the reality of the world we live in: Facebook is not going away, and increasingly, it will become the major if not sole place that people will share the important events in their lives. I realized that if I was going to keep up with people, Facebook would have to be part of my life.
And so I reactivated my account. There it was, just as I had left it. The world had gone on, and I don’t think many of my friends even realized I’d been gone. No matter. I determined Facebook would be different for me now.
As soon as I returned, I “unfriended” everyone I didn’t personally know, with the exception of a few people I had really connected with in the virtual world. I also “unliked” a slew of pages—and again, it wasn’t that I disagreed with their content most of the time. It’s just that I have to be careful now how I use my time and energy. I don’t need any more articles to be convinced of my own opinions. Facebook fought me the whole way: just with the way the site is set up, it is difficult to unlike a lot of pages and unfriend a lot of people all at once. I had to redo several of the unlikes, and every time I returned to my list of friends, Facebook mixed up the list so that I had to go through the whole list each time to find the people I was trying to unfriend.
But that’s done now, and I have some new rules for myself for Facebook: I will be very cautious about “liking” anything in the future. I will not accept friend requests from people I don’t know. I just don’t need Facebook redefining what it means to be friends with someone. My focus on Facebook now will be on catching up with actual friends. I may play some games and interact with material I care about, but I’m keeping that to a minimum (so please don’t send me any game requests or page suggestions for a while). And don’t expect to find me on Facebook for more than a few minutes a day.
But, friends, do drop me a line and let me know how you are doing and what you’re up to (and if you’re reading this on Facebook, I do consider you a friend—someone I’ve actually connected with, though I still haven’t met a few of you in person). If we aren’t friends, please don’t think me unfriendly if I don’t accept your Facebook friend request. I’d love to get to know you; comment on my blog or look me up on Twitter (@soulscholar).
I’m looking forward to a richer, healthier Facebook experience. I hope our relationships likewise benefit. Thanks for reading; talk to you again soon.