Breaking away from Facebook

My favorite daytime drama is Facebook.

A week ago I was in the shower and I thought to myself, not for the first time that week, that it might be a good idea to quit using Facebook (at least temporarily). I’ve done this before; for a time I stopped checking it altogether, and other times I’ve limited myself to one morning check and one evening. But I always come back to it in the end. My objection isn’t so much that it’s a time suck; I can always find other timewasters, so removing one doesn’t necessarily do much there. No, it’s that Facebook, more often than not and much much more often than other pursuits, leaves me feeling worse after I’ve browsed it than before I started. This is a thing we all know, I think (a quick search informs me that there are even studies on this).

Why is it so hard to give it up? One thing I’ve realized is that even when I know it’s not helpful to go on Facebook, I do it anyway because I’ve been stuck with my thoughts all day and I’m looking for connection and/or dialogue. Facebook is sometimes good for this, but usually not. What it is good for is feeding me information — literally, they call it a news “feed” — without helping me filter it in meaningful ways. For example, everyone’s posts get equal weight; they all share the same format, placement, font size and color. A thoughtful observation by a dear friend looks exactly as important on my feed as an offhand, played-for-laughs remark by someone I barely know (and vice versa). Moreover, if someone posts more often, they get more spacetime in my brain, which leads my unconscious to think their perspective is more significant than that of the person who only posts occasionally and at odd hours. In face-to-face interactions I am pretty good at assigning value to different people’s contributions, but my news feed is like everyone talking at the same volume all at once.

In addition, people like to share links, and many of these have overtly prescriptive titles, even if (or perhaps especially if) their content is not that vital: “Six cancer-fighting foods to add to your diet,” “Twenty books every person of color must read,” even the flippant “This baby fox is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen!” Intellectually I know these things don’t matter, but still, they’re telling me how to feel or what to do, and ultimately that starts to sink in and make me feel diminished for not doing what they say. And yet I keep coming back, because hey, if I’m not sure what to do with myself, and these articles are telling me, sometimes it’s easier to just go on Facebook and be told what to do. Even if that means “Fifteen lifehacks that will change the way you wake up in the morning.”*

Theoretically the best thing to do, if I feel like some human interaction, is to go out and find people, but that’s not always feasible.** The next best, I suppose, is something that imitates a realtime one-on-one, like a chat — and preferably a chat window I can view on its own, not only as a box embedded in a noisy website (like on Facebook). And the next best after that is the comments section of certain blogs, where maybe I won’t get a response right away, but when it does come, it’ll be intelligent and well-thought-out (I guess you could argue that for some people that’s actually the opposite of realtime face-to-face interactions, but that’s the beauty). And after that… well, I can always write, which is like a dialogue with myself (which sounds stupid, but isn’t).

I realize this is more of a problem for me than for other people, because (a) I’m not surrounded by people all day, and (b) I lean extrovert so I need conversation, but (c) I’m enough of an introvert that I don’t always like the thought of running out and finding people. And it’s more of a problem here than in other places, because I am working more here than I am exploring, so I’m simply not out as much. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, I’m sure I will think of some way to get some people-time without having to resort to constant Facebooking.

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*Speaking of which, don’t you always find — if you read these things — that you don’t need the change as much as you thought you did? It’s hard to form new habits, and there is no way I am going to adopt fifteen of them at the same time, or even three, regardless of how life-changing they supposedly are (which is anyway usually much less life-changing than promised).

**Fun fact: Boston-area Meetups include a speculative fiction writing group and a group for self-described millionaires. O_O