Back in January, I had a chat with our pastor about my upcoming baptism. He asked me what I was doing to prepare for it. I kind of knew preparing was a thing but hadn’t really thought about it (whoops!). I was doing a one-year Bible study, so I said I planned to just keep doing that. Related: I also mentioned that I was planning to give up Facebook for Lent.
After thinking about it for a bit, I felt like the Bible study thing was cheating because it’s something I was already doing.
I figured why not just get rid of Facebook now, when it would have even greater meaning and impact. Then I could do something else for Lent. (Whoops. I forgot to do that. Falling down on the job already.)
I thought being away from Facebook for a month would be a nice way to “create” more time to read and journal. It would give my thoughts some space to breathe and hopefully I’d hear them better.
I had no idea it would change the way I see and relate to the world.
I know. How can this be? Facebook is just a place where you hang out and see what your friends are up to.
But it had taken over my life. I was beyond a casual Facebook user – I was mainlining Facebook pretty much from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. That sounds sad when I say it out loud, but there you have it.
I used to defend my Facebook habit by saying I needed to maintain a social media presence for my blog. This was a lie. I was on there so much because I couldn’t help it.
Also, as a mod of Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists for most of last year, I hung out in the group to help newbie crocheters and be a fiber arts groupie/cheerleader. My Saturday mornings were lost to approving MOFA posts and reminding people that it’s not ok to call others names or make fun of where they shop.
In short, I clocked a LOT of Facebook hours each day.
My biggest fear about being away from Facebook is that my blog would die and fall off the face of the Earth. (It didn’t.) *They* say you need to maintain an active presence on Facebook in order to survive. In truth, Facebook has never been a huge source of traffic for me. In the end I decided whatever happened happened, and I’d be ok with it.
Also, maybe a tiny part of me was worried that I’d die from lack of information. Who would I share my political outrage with? If I finished a crochet project, did it actually happen if I didn’t share it on social media? What if someone had a baby and I missed seeing adorable baby photos? What if someone posted an adorable Great Pyrenees puppy who needed to be adopted and I missed out?
If I was gone too long would everyone forget about me? (The answer: Yep.)
When I put myself in Facebook Jail™ for a month, these things happened:
- I was immediately happier.
- I had more free time.
- I joined a gym and lost 5 pounds.
- I completed projects.
- I felt less stressed.
- I got more sleep and slept better.
- I had no trouble getting up with my alarm, and much earlier than I used to.
- I renewed my morning pages journaling habit and didn’t feel pressed for time doing it.
- I wrote. A lot.
- I was able to hear my thoughts.
- I started feeling my feelings again.
- My blog traffic grew, though I’ve not made one post in over a month.
- I gave up caffeine.
- I was able to stop taking a medication I hated which was prescribed to deal with physical symptoms of stress. (This is among my favorite outcomes!)
On January 17, 2018, I changed my Facebook password to something I’d never remember, wrote it down, and then logged out. I deleted the app from my phone and the shortcut from my browser. I moved the icons on my phone so there wasn’t a sad empty space where Facebook used to live.
I was worried I might accidentally replace my Facebook habit with some other social media time-suck like Pinterest or Instagram. That didn’t happen.
In fact, I completely lost interest in the Internet and social media. Most days I didn’t open my laptop unless I needed to look something up or wanted to work on a blog post. The Internet returned to being a tool for me, rather than a source of entertainment.
I didn’t anticipate turtling, but for some reason I didn’t want to (or couldn’t) communicate with people beyond what was absolutely necessary. This past month I’ve been very much in my head, and found it was a comfortable place to exist.
Did I miss Facebook?
Of course! Intensely, at first. There were times during the day when it felt like I was missing a limb – after lunch, when I got home from work, and while cooking dinner, especially. For the first week or so, my husband would start a conversation by asking, “Did you see….” (referring to something one of our friends posted) and nope, I hadn’t seen it. We had to find other things to talk about. Instead of talking about what we saw on Facebook, we discussed fun things like where that weird dripping noise was coming from and whether it was time to replace the roof on our house.
Boredom was huge “I miss Facebook” trigger.
I was a little lonely at times.
When I was angry or upset about something, I was acutely aware of Facebook’s absence from my life. In the past, when I was upset I’d sit and mindlessly scroll Facebook while I calmed down. More often than not, I’d scroll past an article that annoyed me and I’d either comment (“You’re pissed off about this? Me too! This is such bullshit!”) or share it explaining all the reasons, in great detail with charts and diagrams, why X is the absolute worst ever.
Engaging in that sort of flailing wasn’t healthy, because I wasn’t dealing with what was actually bothering me. I was distracting myself with a bunch of crap that had nothing to do with the real problem. Not only was I not dealing with my issue, bitching on Facebook wasn’t changing the thing I was complaining about, either.
Without Facebook, I was forced to sit and feel my feelings when I was upset. I had a lot of extra time to think. So I journaled – a LOT.
Not having Facebook didn’t fix any of my problems, but it did free my mind and emotional resources to work on them. I began to understand myself on a much deeper level. Without the low-level chatter of Facebook conversations floating beneath my thoughts, I was able to hear my own voice. (Some days I didn’t like that voice very much.)
I thought when my self-imposed Facebook ban was over, I’d pop right on and announce my triumphant return, tell everyone how much I missed them, and pick up right where I left off.
That didn’t happen.
I logged in and scrolled for a few minutes, and then logged out and walked away again. I didn’t have anything to say. Still don’t.
It’s been a week since I’ve been “allowed” to use Facebook again, but I’ve found that I just don’t care to. When I’ve scrolled through my newsfeed, I’ve seen mostly people shouting over each other. I was disoriented at first, because these people are my brilliant, funny, opinionated friends. It made no sense for me to be bothered the way I was. After all, I used to swim in these same waters.
I felt judgmental and hypocritical.
I used to love looking at people’s creative projects in the various fiber arts groups I’m in, but even that didn’t hold the same appeal as it once did. People can find ways to be nasty about even the nicest of things.
Nothing’s changed about Facebook.
The original reason I stepped away from Facebook – so I could listen and, more importantly, hear – still calls to me as loudly as it did when I first logged off. All that listening has made me more conscious of what I put out into the world, because I know what I don’t want to sound like. But it also left me confused about what I want to share. I think the answer to that is: not much.
I don’t need to live in a protected space where unpleasant things don’t exist. But, right now I feel a bit like Sara after her mother disabled the content filter on Arkangel. Seeing nastiness on Facebook for hours a day, every day, made me numb to it. After a month away and having re-established my emotional balance, looking at Facebook with fresh eyes is painful.
I cringe when I think about the number of times I contributed to the ugliness.
In progressive circles they like to say impact is greater than intent. So even if your intent is to vent your latest political outrage and have your friends validate it, the impact is that you’re tossing a bucket of slurry into Facebook’s roiling cesspool.
People like to talk about how toxic Facebook is but continue to participate in the bucket brigade that feeds it. (See posts along the lines of, “So many people with opinions these days. I’m tired of opinions. Can’t we just post photos of puppies and babies?”)
If you’d said these things to me a month ago I would have felt very defensive. I might have even gotten sucked into an argument about it because obviously you were wrong wrong WRONG.
Right now you may be thinking of telling me how wrong I am. It’s cool.
The good news is that Facebook has a way of making everything look larger than it is. It’s a funhouse mirror. In truth, when I hopped on Facebook there might have been two posts that really bothered me. The rest were just lovely cupcakes and cute puppies and those adorable Lucas the spider videos and lots of amazing fiber art. But because Facebook makes everything appear wonky, the posts that lodged themselves in my mind weren’t those nice things, they were the ones that pissed me off.
So that’s Facebook functioning as a mirror, showing me I still have lots of work to do. (You have no idea how badly I wanted to respond to those posts – I’ll even admit I started to respond to one of them before I came to my senses.)
Away from Facebook, with my world shrunk down to its tiniest possible footprint, I remember how small I am – something I’d gradually forgotten since I joined Facebook to play Farmville ten years ago. My life – the real one – is tiny. But it seemed so much bigger when it resembled performance art on Facebook’s welcoming stage.
The things we do that matter aren’t on Facebook. They’re the little actions we take, day by day, to make the world slightly better than it was before. Hugging your kiddo. Smiling at a stranger. Being kind to a cashier. They’re also the little things we don’t do, like managing to not flip the bird when we get cut off in traffic.
Even the biggest political actions organized through Facebook require a person to step through their door or pick up their phone or write a letter.
There’s safety in numbers, but power resides within individuals.
If Facebook is a funhouse mirror, what do you want to see magnified?
I don’t have any advice for you and can’t even wrap this up in a tidy bow. I really just wanted to take a second to unpack this experience and share it on the off chance you were still looking for something to give up for Lent. Facebook is highly recommended and it’s never too late to start. 😉
All of this to say I walked away from Facebook and it was good for me in ways I never expected. I’ll be going back there, albeit with my armor up and an increased awareness of what I contribute to that space.
That’s about the best any of us can do.
PS – The cross stitch project attached to this post? We’re going to talk about it shortly because I have an amazing bundle of things to give away. Stay tuned.