As the end of 2012 draws near, I approach nearly nine months without Facebook. This past March I deleted my Facebook account. I wasn’t the earliest adopter, but I did have over three years of fairly regular use with the site. When I deleted the account, it was the real deal. People proclaim that they have deactivated their account, but this amounts to little more than logging out for a while. “Delete” is final and unrecoverable. All of your posts, photos and friend links are gone.
Now I want to review the decision and talk about the effects. A lot of posts are written about quitting Facebook by people who have just done so, and the tone of many indicate an intense anti-Facebook sentiment or general backlash against social networking. My decision to bow out was arrived at over quite some time and had nothing to do with some of the oft-listed reasons for quitting. I don’t think Facebook is evil, I wasn’t addicted to the service, I wasn’t worried about privacy and didn’t have any acute “bad” experiences on Facebook. And though I agree with a lot of the technical bitching about Facebook (site changes, annoying sharing and games, ads, etc.), that played no role in the decision. The reason I left: the benefits were outweighed by an unexpected mental tax created by following a bunch of people.
First, the good. Facebook was an excellent way to keep tabs on people. Our nearest relatives live over 1000 miles away, and much of the family is on the other side of Earth. Former colleagues are similarly dispersed. For staying ostensibly connected to these people, Facebook was great. Another useful feature was photo sharing. I’m a long-time Flickr user, but sharing non-public photos was most easily done on Facebook. I do miss these things. People have moved to Facebook and abandoned their old blogs and photo sites. Being off of Facebook has meant that I’ve had roughly no idea what has gone on with most of my family and colleagues for the better part of the year. All of the weddings, breakups, kid and vacation photos, amazing and funny accomplishments in 2012… I know not of them if my wife hasn’t mentioned it. (I do know of some job changes simply because of LinkedIn.) Likewise, people have had few updates about me or our family. We’re largely off the radar, except for those things that get passed along second-hand. Sounds bleak, and it is. Make no mistake about opting out of the Book: if your social network is anything like mine, you will have little idea what is going on with anyone, and they will lose all track of you.
So why the hell would I incur this cost? Well it shouldn’t be a surprise that all of the amazing connectedness that Facebook allows comes at a cost. But while the benefits are readily apparent, the costs sneak up over many months/years, and probably affect people very differently. The elements that caused problems for me:
- Everyone projects a curated Facebook image.
- For most of the people I follow, Facebook information is the only thing I regularly hear about them. The perception formed by reading Facebook becomes the reality.
- Being exposed to real-time, semi-private details of many people at distance is abnormal and certainly not something I’m used to.
For me, this created stress. Reading Facebook was not like skimming the news. I didn’t just absorb a bunch of facts that I was curious in. Because I knew the subjects (people) well, I related to them. I’d be irritated with what I thought were poor decision by people I knew. When exciting, fortuitous things happened, I’ll admit that I was sometimes envious. Even a mundane post by someone might prompt me to spend time thinking of something pointless. (A prefect example would be time wasted contemplating some cute comment or rebuttal to an provocative post only to decide, “why bother?”, and moving on). I didn’t choose this mental response, it just happened. I didn’t hang out for hours on Facebook and didn’t get hooked on monitoring the goings-on of people, yet the constant feed managed to subtly eat at me. When I noticed that I’d get the a bit more tense while reading Facebook, I knew it was time to call it quits
Is my case particularly extreme? Was I overly sensitive to others’ lives and should I have been able to detach from all that and just use the utility of Facebook? Perhaps, but I highly doubt that most people can be exposed to their family and friend’s lives in great detail without some sort of empathy or reflection. This is obviously true of those “addicted” Facebook users. For me it a was just a bit stressful. I can hear Col. Jessup berating me: You can’t handle the Timeline (née Wall)!!! So be it.
Being outside of Facebook has its pros and cons. For a lot of people I think things balance out in Facebook’s favor. If you’re happy with the service, that’s great. If you think you want to quit, however, realize that the adrenaline rush a few minutes after deleting it all may be replaced with some regret later. But you’ll also start to appreciate the peace that comes from not knowing what is going on. You’ll rediscover email, phone calls, and maybe blogs. You might worry a bit less.
It’s a real paradox of choice. 20 years ago you couldn’t have this hyper-connectivity even if you wanted it, yet today you may struggle to with the choice to eschew the magic of Facebook. So it goes. I picked a path nine months ago that I’m sticking with.
Good luck, and have a great 2013!