I’ve been thinking more clearly since I realized nobody asked to hear from me.
Earlier this week, I deactivated my Facebook account. I was sick of the low-grade anxiety that had me checking-in all the time. I was sick of losing respect for friends and family who post shallow, vitriolic nonsense, and I was having an increasingly hard time seeing what value the platform adds to my life.
As with any addiction — and I do believe social media can be a process addiction like work, sex, or gambling can be — quitting required faith in the untested assumption that life without this vice could be more satisfying. I had a vague hope that things would be better without Facebook but like any addict, I had a hard time imagining a world without the thing that was making my life unmanageable.
To my surprise, the benefits of getting off Facebook were almost immediate, and it’s been getting better every day. My biggest reservations about quitting — that I’d lose touch with friends or that my work would suffer — turned out to be totally unfounded, and I’m seeing improvements in the very areas Facebook was supposed to enhance like socializing and sharing my work.
I Haven’t Lost Touch With Anybody
This was the main reason I stayed on Facebook for as long as I did. I was willing to tolerate the interruptions, the glimpses into the lives of people I’m not actually “friends” with, the bickering and moralizing, just so I could stay in touch with friends and family some of whom live overseas.
Fortunately, nobody’s fallen out of my life. I still use Facebook’s messaging feature to chat with the people I only ever kept in touch with that way, and I’ve been writing more letter-like emails to friends.
One of the first people I know to have deleted his Facebook is a writer friend in South Korea. We’ve been corresponding via email for almost three years, and even though we don’t see pictures of each other’s meals or have political spats in the comment feed, I feel closer to him than some of the folks I see in person every day.
If keeping in touch with friends and family is important to me, there are better ways to do it than through constant pinging on social media. As another friend who deleted his Facebook put it, “It’s nice to get a text message inviting me to an event because they want me there rather than just a spam invite to everyone on their list.”
I Feel Less Anxious
On my first day without it, I don’t know how many times I typed “Fa…” into the search bar and let autocomplete do the rest. It was like digital phantom limb syndrome. Even when I was away from my devices, I had the nagging feeling that I needed to check-in for nonspecific reasons. This discomfort tells me everything I need to know about what Facebook was doing to my attention.
Luckily, that feeling was soon replaced by immense relief. Each time I went to check my notifications and realized there were none to check, I got a little more settled into the calm new pace of my day.
One of my least favorite things about Facebook has always been the way it exposes me to “friends” I don’t like and people from my past who I wish would stay there. Even unfollowing these people feels like giving them too much attention. It’s like that lyric from The Smiths:
“In my life, why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?”
Since getting off Facebook, it’s like those people are finally dead to me while the people I want to hear from and who want to hear from me still exist elsewhere in my world and are more alive than ever.
I’m Writing More and Writing Faster
Ultimately, I made this change for my creative work. It had become clear that I wasn’t going put in the serious, undivided focus required to write well if I didn’t change my relationship with technology. I expected my writing habits to improve. I didn’t expect them to improve almost overnight, but that’s exactly what happened.
Once I got over the “withdrawal” period of the first few days, I noticed an amazing change. Not only did I have more time in the day to devote to my own writing projects, but I started writing much faster and getting more done in the time I set aside than ever before.
This post took me about an hour to draft, and I hit my daily target of 2,000 words of fiction in 90 minutes.
This shift is as much about long-form thinking as long-form writing. The ideas that became this post have had the chance to age for a couple of days.
There’s a section I cut about extremism and trolls that I realized, after some reflection, came across a little flippant and may have read like a cheap-shot at family and friends who clearly have their own issues with social media use.
If I had written this in the self-important yet insecure, fight-or-flight mindset of the Facebook addict, I would have said plenty of things I didn’t mean, or I might not have written it at all and just spurted out some half-formed opinions over a series of glib tweets.
Put another way, I’ve been thinking more clearly since I realized nobody asked to hear from me.
I’m Starting Cleaning up my Tech Habits in General
Getting off Facebook has prompted me to inventory my relationship with technology in general and make some changes. I’ve turned off notifications for all my apps, I’ve logged off Twitter (maybe for good,) and I keep my phone on silent or in “Do Not Disturb” mode most of the day. I try not to take my phone out while waiting in line. I’ve more or less tried to stop using the internet for entertainment.
As with any addictive behavior, compulsive social media use presents itself as the solution to the problem it creates in one’s life. You feel the need to check-in constantly because you’re bored, but you’re bored because constantly checking-in has made ordinary moments feel boring.
I got off Facebook by deactivating it rather than deleting my account. I don’t know whether I’ll stay off for good, but right now the benefits of not being on it far outway whatever I’m giving up. The more time I spend away from my account the less convinced I am that there ever was an upside.