Facebook Is Not the Devil

You just have to know how — and when — to use it.

Jeremy Helligar
Jan 24 · 6 min read
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Is the devil in the details — and the logging in? (Photo: pixabay)

“How are you doing over in Cape Town?”

What a strange question, I thought, while reading an email from one of my very best friends. Doesn’t she know where I am?

I thought everyone who knew me did. Although I’d told only a few people personally, pretty much everything I’d posted on Facebook during the previous month or so had something to do with my forthcoming book or my big move from Cape Town to Sydney for a new job. Where had she been?

Good question.

“Where have you been? Haven’t you been on Facebook?” I asked in response, expecting her to tell me about how the never-ending demands of work made it impossible to keep up with everybody’s status updates.

As it turned out, she hadn’t been keeping up with anybody’s status updates because she’d “deactivated” her Facebook account two months earlier, weeks before I left Cape Town for Sydney. (Deactivating Facebook hides your profile and puts everything on pause until you decide to reactivate and resume your Facebook life as if you’d never left it.)

The irony of my not realizing she’d gone officially inactive on Facebook was not lost on me. Just a few days before, I’d seen a Facebook friend in Melbourne for the first time in forever, and only then did I find out she’d split up with her husband a year earlier. She had a similar response to my cluelessness about the dramatic details of her life.

Facebook is what you want it to be. There are no membership requirements that say you have to log on and regularly check out what’s going on in other people’s lives or participate in heated debates.

But getting back to my other friend, she’d tuned out because she was tired of all the pointlessness of Facebook, knowing all the minutiae of the lives of people she cared nothing about and reading the back-and-forth bickering on topics that didn’t interest her.

For as long as she and I had been Facebook friends, we’d never used it as a means of communication. We’d kept in touch the entire first eight years after I left New York City entirely by regular email and dinners during my infrequent visits back home. The question she asked at the beginning of this post was part of her response to a “Happy birthday” message I sent her by personal email because I never sent her anything through Facebook.

Happy birthday. Love, everyone

I had no idea she had deactivated because it never occurred to me to do the 2014 thing and post “Happy birthday! Hope you’re having a great day!” on her “timeline” the way I assumed pretty much everyone who knew her — or didn’t — would be doing. I owed her something more one-on-one to make up for the few months that our busy lives had kept us out of each other’s loops.

Her being deactivated on Facebook may have kept her in the dark about my then-current employment status and living situation, but it didn’t change our relationship at all. She asked for my new mailing address because that’s the kind of person she was. She still writes letters and sends cards to people she cares about. I love her for that.

However, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if people like her (and occasionally me) who up and leave Facebook for similar reasons cut off our noses to spite our faces. Are we the equivalent of people who spend all day pulling, tugging, and fussing at their clothes rather than just putting on something more comfortable and going about their business?

The truth is that Facebook is what you want it to be — and yes, it can remind you of birthdays you’re likely to forget. Or not. There are no membership requirements that say you have to log on and regularly check out what’s going on in other people’s lives or participate in heated debates.

But even if you do, it’s not like we don’t encounter frustrating people every day in offline life and choose whether or not to pay attention. Even if we’re feeling a little misanthropic and would rather not be around most people, we don’t usually cut off contact with everyone to avoid most of them.

There’s a Facebook control to block people you want to eliminate from your online orbit completely and ways to determine what notifications you receive. If you’re a casual Facebook user who rarely logs on, there’s no reason to be annoyed. So if you are, perhaps you’re protesting too much because you’re logging on too much.

For some anti-Facebook folks I encounter, it’s less about annoying and more of a principle thing, a gut reaction to something that’s gotten too big for its britches: Facebook is dumb because it’s dumb.

Respectfully, I disagree. Yes, I have my issues with Facebook and social media in general, particularly for the way they’ve taken the “personal” out of relationships and made us all even more gluttonous for attention and validation (“like” me, “like” me, “like” me!!!).

Also, I can do without knowing all the details of everyone’s health and being apprised of every death in every family. When tragedy strikes me, Facebook is generally the last thing on my mind, but I understand that for some, there’s solace and strength in numbers.

I periodically deactivate for months at a time to cleans my palate, and I don’t keep the app on my phone, which protects me from constant notifications and the temptation to keep checking in.

In spite of its more challenging content, Facebook works for me for three reasons:

1) Since I’m not on Twitter or Instagram, it’s an excellent way to promote my work without being trolled by random strangers.

2) There are long-lost blasts from the past I wouldn’t mind hearing from, and Facebook makes reconnecting easier, either through cold searches or through the “People You May Know” section.

3) As someone who has lived all over the world and made acquaintances everywhere, I rely on Facebook (and to a lesser degree, the FB-owned WhatsApp) to help me stay in touch with them.

I wouldn’t devote the time necessary to forming old-fashioned long-distance bonds with most of my peripherals, but if I ever return to their place in the world and want to see them, being friends on Facebook would make reconnecting easier.

So despite the constant carping by others over Mark Zuckerberg’s ethics and Facebook’s potential for invading their privacy, I rarely complain myself. I periodically deactivate for months at a time to cleans my palate, and I don’t keep the app on my phone, which protects me from constant notifications and the temptation to keep checking in.

For those who can’t resist temptation, I suggest logging out and not letting your device remember your log-in information. You might forget it and realize you’re too lazy to retrieve it or to even type it to log back on.

I always do, though — eventually. I’ve never considered leaving Facebook for good, which might be partly out of gratitude. You see, I have it to thank for my husband. He’s been deactivated for years, but he’s kept his Messenger account active, and that was how he and I reconnected two years ago after six years of radio silence.

Although we technically reunited on Messenger and not on Facebook proper, I’ve still never come across a better way to reunite with people from my past whom I may have considered gone forever.

When you take out the ones I don’t know and the ones from high school that I don’t remember, they make up the bulk of my Facebook friends. Even if we rarely, if ever, actually say anything to each other, it’s nice to know they’re still there. They may never be a regular presence in my day-to-day life, but at the very least, they’ll always know where to find me.

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Jeremy Helligar

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

Jeremy Helligar

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +775K people. Follow to join our community.

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