Today marks a year since I deactivated my Facebook account.
“This is temporary, I’ll be back,” I chose, when my virtual other-world asked me why I was leaving. In truth, I only meant to leave for a week. I had twenty pages due for a writing class and I needed to block out as many distractions as I could. Plus I wanted to test my willpower. Was I addicted to notifications, as psychology articles suggested I might be? Could I stay logged out for a week? How badly would I miss Facebook?
I didn’t miss it one bit.
One week turned into two. The book that I was working on in my writing class kept expanding the way I’d hoped (and the continued writing of my first book is also the reason I’ve neglected this blog as of late—sorry!). Besides getting more writing done with fewer online distractions, I began to notice another unexpected side effect of leaving Facebook: happiness. At first I didn’t connect my increasing good mood to the absence of an online newsfeed. I would never have given a social network that much credit. Yet as my last depression spell began lifting, I realized that Facebook was one of the causes of what had been a pessimistic start to every day. Certainly not the only cause, and it would take a couple more months before I considered myself out of the dark hole and back to my normal self, but I could not deny the role Facebook played in my depression.
It was my routine to check my newsfeed and notifications every morning while eating my oatmeal. Harmless enough. But because I am fortunate to have a lot of passionate people in my life who care about the crises of the world, the first things I started my day with were often pictures of abused animals, articles telling me the latest food allergies I should be expecting, and petition requests to help prevent child sex trafficking. I started each day with a heavy heart and an angry mind.
I take full responsibility for the friends I chose to keep on Facebook. It has also come to my attention that the company has changed its settings to allow for easier feed-control and the hiding of others’ posts without the need to de-friend them. That said, I stayed deactivated because, month after month, I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t miss Facebook. I also couldn’t deny how much happier my mood has been since I left it.
I began calling my year of deactivation my Facebook Fast. The only time my virtual absence became problamatic was when I missed a friend’s surprise birthday party because the group invitation had been through Facebook, although I rarely checked my Events notifications as it was. Most of the invites that came through my Events feed were promotional requests that all blended into the same entreaty for support. Without the senders’ meaning to, those requests also contributed to my depression in making me feel terribly guilty. I felt like a bad friend because of how many music shows, premieres, and release parties I ignored. I’m just not a person who can handle a lot of going out. To be clear, I do not blame anyone for my feelings about an innocent posting or invitation. I get that Facebook is what it claims to be: a social network. As such, it makes perfect sense to promote one’s career as frequently as one would like. I always say that if I’m the one with the problem, it’s up to me to create my own solution. Solution: de-friend, decline, or deactivate. (Or just ignore checking my Events.)
I must admit that I broke my Facebook Fast twice. Both were times I wanted to see if something was public knowledge before I talked about it with anyone (one instance an engagement, the other a lawsuit). I opened exactly one inbox email while logged in, and I hurriedly clicked the globe icon so my notifications would go away—without checking what they were, I boast! Other than those instances, I truly didn’t feel the need to look at anything else. If I wanted to see pictures of my sister’s adventures, I found them on Instagram. When I missed coming across interesting articles, I followed more interesting people on Twitter. I use Instagram and Twitter as a way to connect publically with fans as well as loved ones, so maybe that’s why it is easier for me to unfollow users who no longer inspire me there. My Facebook, on the other hand, has always been private and personal, making it harder for me to un-friend those who never meant to bring me down.
I’ll also admit that my Facebook Fast has made me more mindful of what I choose to post online. I, too, have shared plenty of sad articles and disturbing photos in the name of awareness. Awareness has its time and place, and in moving forward, I will do my best to be mindful of sharing troubling content only if it offers a practical solution. I find awareness in and of itself to be grossly overrated. Unaccompanied by action, awareness seems nothing more than bitching about other people’s problems in effort to appear worldly, conscious, and proactive. I can say with a shameful chuckle that these were my reasons a time or two. And call me jaded, but I don’t believe giving anyone my “signature” on a petition will do anything but get me more junk mail. Therefore petitions don’t count as solutions in my admittedly cynical opinion. But that’s another rant.
I have reactivated my Facebook account as of this afternoon. Nope, I still don’t miss it, but Facebook is a useful way to collect photos from people who aren’t on Instagram. It also comes in handy for group organizing and discovering fascinating articles from friends who don’t use Twitter. Now that I have completed my year without Facebook, I’m curious to experiment with how logging back on may or may not have an effect on me, and if so, what kind of effect. I will be paying close attention to how I feel over the next few weeks. If I find the cons of being on Facebook outweigh the pros, I’ll simply deactivate again. Right now I’m looking forward to squandering several hours catching up on people’s pictures.