My Time Off From Facebook: What I Learned

I quit Facebook a few months ago. I won’t go into too much detail as to why; you can read that story here. I will mention that when I left, it was a clean break. I did not just refrain from logging on, or temporarily deactivate my account, or delete the Facebook app. I downloaded all my pictures, many of which didn’t exist anywhere but Facebook, closed my account permanently, and walked away from the network.

I have to hand it to Facebook, they put up a good fight. They really didn’t want me to go. As with any co-dependant relationship, the breakup lasted two weeks, and it went kind of like this:

Me: I want to break up. This isn’t working anymore.

Facebook: But……we’ve been together for so many years. Are you sure?

Me: I’m sure. I’ve merely been going through the motions for at least the last two years.

Facebook: Well, you seeemed happy to me. What did I do wrong?

Me: It’s not as much you as it is all the weirdos you hang out with.

Facebook: I’ll stop! We can just stop hanging out with those people!

Me: Unfortunately, we both know it doesn’t work that way.

Facebook: You don’t want to do this. Let’s just both cool off for a little while, collect our thoughts and talk in a couple of weeks.

Me: Fine.

Two weeks later:

Facebook: I’ve given you enough time. You need to decide.

Me: I still want to break up. This isn’t working anymore.

Facebook: If you walk out that door………

Me: Come on, don’t. You’re embarrassing yourself. This is dumb.

Facebook: You’re going to regr….

Me: Pictures downloaded, aaaaaaaand DELETE.

End Scene

I will admit, it really felt good to eliminate the extra noise from my life. I no longer had to read about peoples’ crazy politics, conspiracy theories, family squabbles that get publicly aired on Facebook for some reason, or relationship issues. No more invites to parties, events, soirees, concerts, get togthers, or hangouts. No more requests to save someone’s life by helping a post get to 10,000 likes. No more judging, hate, or anger from anyone. It was refreshing to say the least, and I loved my new found…….dare I say…….freedom? I’m going to admit point blank: during my months without Facebook, I was most definitely a happier person. It wasn’t a slowly growing happiness over time either. I was almost immediately happier.

I was actually so much happier having Facebook out of my life, that I would suggest everyone try it sometime. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who often gets fatigued by social networks, but I also know that most people don’t do anything about it. I had that conversation several times whenever someone asked me why I wasn’t on Facebook anymore. (Actually, that wasn’t the exact tone of those conversations, but more on that in a moment.) Most people seem to feel like they want to quit Facebook every so often, but just don’t feel like they can or should. “What about all my pictures? How will I keep track of my extended family? What about all my friends that I never get to see in person? Nobody talks or texts anymore, because they’re all on Facebook!”

All valid points, and all reasons I finally came back to Facebook. However, I am determined to make my experience different this time, because I learned some very important things during my time away.

  1. Most people thought I was just seeking attention and/or I just simply unfriended them.

Despite my best efforts to make it clear as to why, how, and when I was leaving Facebook, for the most part, it was completely misunderstood. My reason actually couldn’t have been simpler: Facebook was driving me crazy. I posted my Medium piece a couple of times on Facebook so that my friends and family would see it and understand why I was doing what I was doing. Facebook is such an important element to how the people in my life keep in touch that I wanted everyone to have fair warning that I was going and how to reach me in the future. I had given the deadline that I was going to quit after my class reunion (which was being organized exclusively on Facebook) was over, and that’s exactly how it shook out.

But since there was such a time gap between me saying I was going to leave and me actually leaving, many took it as a plea for attention, an attempt to get people to beg me to stay. Others never saw my Medium explanation any of the times I posted it, or didn’t have the time or patience to read the whole thing, and assumed I had just unfriended them. And there was a third subset of people who didn’t even notice I was gone.

I was totally comfortable with people not noticing I was gone, and I was totally comfortable with people thinking I just wanted attention. I did this for my own sanity, not to manipulate people or teach anyone a lesson. The part I was not comfortable with was that the people who noticed I was gone assumed I didn’t like them anymore. Once they saw that I wasn’t on their friends list, they didn’t dig much deeper than that and never actually bothered finding out where I had gone. Furthermore, none of the people who noticed I was gone were people I was trying to remove from my life in the first place. They were all people I liked!

Lesson learned: 99% of your Facebook “friends” won’t care or notice that you’re gone, and you will miss talking to the ones who do notice.

2. If you need a break, make it a clean break.

I’m going to say it point blank: as an app/service/website, Facebook is a complete and utter mess. There are panels, lists, and ads everywhere. To this day, I’m still confused as to what specifically is my timeline, my news feed, and my profile. Having hundreds of friends posting pictures, videos, articles, and those eCard thingies all day long just makes it worse. Getting “caught up” on Facebook after a day of being away can be a daunting task.

This is why I’m glad I started over from zero. Before I quit last year, I downloaded all my pictures, and then completely wiped my account out. When I got back on Facebook and started a fresh account, I got to see default Facebook in its current state. It’s still an unmitigated mess, but now I can take the time to curate it a bit more carefully. In an effort to keep my timeline neat and clean and free of garbage, I’m employing what I like to refer as the “No Assholes Doctrine” when receiving friend requests. The concept is simple:

If you were annoying, preachy, judgmental, or bigoted during my first tenure on Facebook, your friend request will be ignored. If you were just simply annoying, but I still think you’re a generally nice person, I’ll friend you but will not be following you. If none of the above applies, we’ll be fine. If you become any of the above, I will make the appropriate adjustments.

Should I have just handled it this way to begin with? Sure. But I still maintain that it’s easier to come in from scratch and curate as you go rather than try to clean up a years-old account that is full of cruft.

Lesson learned: Just start over. Use your new perspective on Facebook life to your advantage. Have a clean, stress-free timeline.

3. It wasn’t all Facebook’s fault.

At the time when I deleted my Facebook account, I needed to step back and get some focus. I needed to concentrate on my health and get a little perspective on the world in person rather than through status updates. I needed to stop reading a constant stream of peoples’ thoughts and concentrate on my own thoughts for a while. I have come back to Facebook with a clear head, a healthier mind and body, and more patience. I’ve also come back with years of experience on how not to use Facebook.

It’s possible that this is all pie in the sky and that a year from now, I’ll be in the same boat as I was before. That’s ok. I’ll already know that life goes on if I decide to quit Facebook, and that I’m perfectly capable of being quite happy without it. But I’ll also know that if my Facebook account does get to that state again, I have forgotten my rules and allowed it to happen. If I don’t stick to my guns, I’ll be back in the same situation.

Lesson learned: It’s ok if this turns out to be temporary. I’ll be fine.

So here I am back on Facebook. Eating crow. The truth is, I was missing out on a lot of family stuff, and I was missing my friends. I was tired of hearing about things third hand a week later through mutual acquaintances. Perhaps most importantly, I was missing being social.

Facebook is just a fact of life now. No way around it. But none of us need to feel like it controls us or that we have to stick around for the sake of anyone else. If you feel like you need a break, I strongly urge you to take one. Spend the time you would normally spend using Facebook to think about how you wish that time could be different. Make a plan, and go back to Facebook when you’re ready, and with a new perspective. Or don’t go back to Facebook at all. Whatever you choose will be the right choice. But it is your choice, not Mark Zuckerberg’s.

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