If no one knows you left Facebook, were you ever really gone?
I’ve been placed in your life to ask the tough existential questions of our time.
I looked down at my phone lighting up, alerting me to a call from my father. It was a couple weeks after the 2016 presidential election.
I get a little nervous when my dad calls. We don’t talk to each other like that. It’s an occasional type of thing. He is either, talking to someone connected to one of my alma maters in some way and wants me to connect with them or returning my call where I will inevitably ask for something that I need like a new phone (for which he’ll end up paying) or the hot wings recipe (which I found out is on the Frank’s Red Hot bottle … sorry Dad, the jig is up.) So when I know I don’t have any open requests pending, my stomach sort of knots up awaiting for some terrible news on the other end:
“Baby, is everything alright?”
“Yeah. Everything is fine.”
“How come I don’t see you on Facebook?”
“I turned it off for a little while?”
“Okay. Nobody is bothering you right?”
“No, daddy. I’m fine. Just needed a little break.”
And it was true. I needed a break. The other guy won and I was beside myself with shock. I didn’t want to talk to the Internet about it anymore and I figured I would start with removing myself from the center of mine (and probably yours too.) I had an end date in mind. Maybe when the trip comes around (we’re going to a couple countries in Asia in March.) Maybe I’ll just take a whole year. It might be weird at first but I’m up for the challenge is what I thought. So I found the “Deactivate My Account” button and got to work.
Let me tell you something about Facebook. Facebook is desperate and entangles itself in every part of your life making it impossibly difficult to leave. Facebook is your crazy-reads-your-emails-knows-all-your-friends-and-family-members-can’t-let-you-have-a-minute-alone-or-you’ll-hurt-her-feelings-insecure-girlfriend. The checkboxes, the requirements, the “Tell us why?”, the “Do you want to just log out?” I had made up my mind. Why couldn’t I just do it without making all these last minute judgement calls?
“Can you do me a favor?”
“What do you need?”
“Can you moderate the Facebook group I’ve been in charge of for 9 years?”
“Because I don’t want it to just go away when I deactivate my account.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Nothing. You’re just a figurehead.”
But after that final loose end got tied, I was free to answer when Facebook asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” And I answered, yes. And I closed the door. And I deleted the app. And I was free.
What have I been doing? Snapchat and watching The West Wing mostly but without having to feel obligated to document and engage with you and my sixth grade English teacher about it (no offense, Mrs. Ross.) I popped in on some of the internet things I’d been neglecting like Pinterest and Twitter. I annihilated level after level of Two Dots, keeping all the gold medals to myself. It was so nice not to have to defend myself against my husband and my old Apple co-workers. I was taking control of my experience online and I didn’t have a huge audience of 2K friends and I didn’t need them.
There was no place to announce that you consciously uncoupled from Facebook, you know. It’s something you just sort of do. But what happens when not everybody knows that you did indeed break it off?
I joined Facebook in 2005. It was an invitation from a guy I studied abroad with. Over 11 years of being with someone, you amass a lot of junk and mine and Facebook’s baggage is what essentially kept me trapped in a relationship I needed a break from. I had been unconsciously weaving it into every aspect of my life, because it was so easy to do. So much so that when I decided to let go, ironically, it was pretty much impossible.
I got my first hint that this was going to be harder than just telling Facebook we were through when I was talking to a girlfriend of mine, Rachel.
“I read that article you posted.”
“I posted an article?”
“Yeah. On Facebook.”
“Oh. That wasn’t me.”
But it was me. Since I hadn’t told IFTTT to stop talking to Pocket it was still using my recipe to post things I added to Pocket on Twitter and since I hadn’t told Twitter to stop talking to Facebook, Twitter still posted every single one of my tweets on Facebook too. Thus was my Facebook reactivated before I ever had a chance to be missed by anyone except my parents. Essentially, they got what they wanted. I was simply logged out.
I logged back in once, by mistake about 6 weeks in; an old habit when someone at work asked me to take a look at our company Facebook page. I did the thing I needed to do, averted my eyes from all News Feed and headed straight for my Account Settings. I went so far as to answer all the questions again. Disconnect again. Say, yes I’m sure once more. It still wasn’t enough.
Right now, I’m imagining Facebook laughing a little maniacally and wringing her hands and saying, “This was my plan all along.”
Can I tell you something? The day I talked to my dad and he was worried about me due to my lack of Facebook presence, it was his birthday. And it didn’t even register. I didn’t sing. I didn’t text. I went on about my day kind of proud that my plan was working. This is how entrenched I was. I forget important dates. The ones that if you forget, can make you feel like a terrible human. Because Facebook makes a robot run your life. It’s a machine that tells me what to read, what to like, whose wall to write on. It’s cruel in that way, dictating how I should do what I as a human am already programmed to be capable of: Connecting. It dictates how, where and when to express myself. Any deviation will ultimately always end up right back in baby’s arms.
So today, I’m getting back on Facebook. I know you didn’t know I was gone but I knew. Maybe that’s all that truly matters. While all roads eventually lead back to her from my vantage point, resistance it would seem was not futile. I made a choice, mapped out a strategy and saw it come to light. The title of this post started our with a question and I feel prepared to answer it. The answer is yes. No amount of automated posts can replace the real me writing something for whom it is intended. It may happen that what I share traverses around the Internet without my knowing. It may happen that what I share never gets to the eyes of anyone because a robot deemed it unfit for human consumption. What matters, I think, is the intention behind it.
If you’re thinking about leaving Facebook, I encourage it. Speaking for myself, it was a needed and necessary vacation. I didn’t go far but I was gone and next time I decide to take a break, I’ll be sure to change my password to make it tougher for anyone who was given a copy of the key to find their way in.