In the early days, Facebook closed geographical distances. I could watch the children of family and friends grow up photo by photo. In the case of my international roommate from college, I could see her in her daily life in a way that three or four letters a year could not illustrate. When I dig deeper, I see that Facebook in those early days was a lifeline. It created a connection in other places that was not secure in my home. It served as an analgesic. It numbed the pain of not being seen by the one who was “supposed” to see me.
Then came the days when I was writing more and Facebook served as a distribution service. My blog was far from being a household name, but if I posted a link to my posts, a small band of faithful readers would click on the links. Some would even comment. In this space, my confidence grew as did my voice and writing chops.
Over time though, I noted that I spent a lot of time checking Facebook. Had anyone “liked” my latest post or commented on a piece of writing? I didn’t like the trend I felt stirring in me. I considered posting my blog links on Facebook as practice runs for when my writing had a broader audience. I didn’t want to lose sight of the reason I was writing in the first place: for the love of crafting words into sentences, into paragraphs, into pages. Writing is the closest I’ll ever come to being an artist. I depend on my words to paint pictures, to sculpt something out of the lump of clay that is the blank page.
Really successful artists comment time again about how they don’t read the reviews or listen to the adulation. The good and bad comments are different sides of the same coin. I appreciated that my band of fans were so encouraging, but I didn’t want to become dependent on them. I also wanted to be prepared for when the reviews weren’t so great.
While I was logged on looking for reader reactions, I also stumbled onto an insight that changed everything for me and my future with Facebook: the collective we were being overpowered and divided up by the belief that we needed to express every single opinion we had, and we behaved like it was our job to convince others how wrong they were.
In the months leading up to this realization, I had chosen not to unfriend people whose beliefs were so different than mine. I was determined to find a way to find unity in spite of difference. Cutting people out didn’t seem like the peacemakers way. And then I remembered something else. Facebook hadn’t changed who we were, it had simply made these opinions we held more public. For the most part, we’d all been voting the way we’d voted for years, but Facebook created a platform for discussion that turned into impasses.
I’d been contemplating leaving Facebook for a while. I wanted to be reminded of what life felt like before I spent so much time thinking about how to document my life in words and pictures to post. I had tried not logging on, but that hadn’t been very successful. I found the draw was too strong, and that truth worried me. I didn’t like to think that I was one of the many Facebook users “addicted” to it.
Lent approached and I considered deactivating my account. I removed the app from my phone and it helped ease my distraction, especially since I was also now without a laptop. But the morning after the Parkland school shooting, I logged in and that’s when I knew it was time. I was unsettled by the fact that in the marketplace of opinions and assertions, I was seeing so little upset over the latest shooting. No matter where one stands on guns, I was disturbed that we seemed complacent about this latest tragedy.
That morning I went through the steps to deactivate my account. Facebook gave me opportunities to change my notification settings and to take a short break, but I wanted to sever ties for the time being, to take a stronger stand for life offline.
What I was not prepared for was how little I missed it. I knew in my gut (remember her, Calliope?)that the connections I wanted I could access in real life. It was a relief to not pick up my phone and scroll mindlessly. I returned to writing in my journal. I remembered that I didn’t need to tell anyone else what I was thinking for it to be valid. I validated my own experience and it was enough. Far more than enough. I was finishing books at a much quicker rate. It’s amazing how much reading I could accomplish undistracted.
I also have a child who now has a cell phone. She'd been remarking about how much time I spent on my phone. I wanted to be a good influence. I wanted her to see that I could walk away from the draw of my phone.
I also wanted to lose my sense of activism that was really only expressed by sharing an article or posting a comment here and there. I want to be an activist in real time, and I needed to remove the temptation of keyboard activism to figure out how that would look in my real life.
Being away also gave me space to contemplate my writing and how I would continue to build a readership without the benefit of Facebook. I don’t have my answers yet, but I know better how much I want to write for the sake of writing and less for the comment section. That has been an important inner conversation to have with myself and one that might have been less likely to take place if I didn’t break my Facebook habit.
I didn’t leave social media completely. I continued posting photos and telling stories on Instagram. (You can find me @journalingjulie)But that online space feels different. I enjoy scrolling through friends’ posts, but I don’t get sucked in. I don’t feel my anxiety spike. I am inspired by the photos and words in a way I lost on Facebook.
Lent has been over for more than a week. I’m technically “allowed” to return to Facebook, but I have very little motivation to do so. I don’t have answers to all the questions my leaving Facebook has posed, but I know that I am living life with far more intention and attention than I had been under the influence of Facebook. As Rainer Maria Rilke advised, I am living in the questions hopeful that one day I’ll discover I am living the answers.