I am the Facebook generation. Facebook became a thing my freshman year in college. That means I was one of the first to use the online social media platform. Since 2004, I have had a Facebook page and lived my life, or at least part of it, through an online profile.
I never had a MySpace profile because I found them too creepy. Facebook, in it’s infancy, was different. When I joined, Facebook was limited only to those with college or university email accounts. This automatically limited the audience of my profile to those similar in age and pursuing an advanced education degree – this exclusivity made it seem safer to me somehow. While my first connections were friends and classmates who I interacted with in person on a somewhat regular basis, today my Facebook friend network includes more than 1500 people, plus I am an administrator or contributor to at least a half dozen each different pages and groups. I also have accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest, and have tried three different online dating platforms at different times.
Facebook is by far the worst. Rarely does a day go by where Facebook is absent from my life. I connect to it constantly, even when I don’t mean to. Sometimes I just type “facebook” into my browser window without realizing it, or tap the app on my phone by default. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that I spend hours on Facebook more days than not. Some of it is useful – I get my news from Facebook and it reminds me of birthdays and upcoming events – but most of that time is a waste. While I appreciate Facebook’s convenience and how it has enabled me to stay in touch with or reconnect with friends from past chapters in my life, I often wonder how much more productive I would be – and how much better I would feel about myself – if I could quit Facebook.
I admire those without Facebook accounts – I really truly do. I suspect those people accomplish more with their day and feel more fulfilled in general. I think Facebook and the internet in general is a paradoxical wonder. Strange it seems that these platforms simultaneously connect and disconnect us from one another. Digital connectivity means that young people are spending more and more time “living” through media than being present in the real world. I think it’s sad.
Take the typical weekend night out for a single 20-something. Dinner with friends at a restaurant, followed by a trip to the bar/club. Just fifteen years ago, this would have been accomplished without much of a fuss, maybe a call or two to a friend to confirm a location and time, or to arrange a meet up with other friends later. Today, at a restaurant there is the obligatory check-in on Facebook, checking texts or likes during dinner, swiping left or right on Tinder en route to the bar, and at least a couple Snapchats posted while grabbing drinks or hitting the dance floor. Today, millennials and younger document their every move via social platforms. Post about it or it didn’t happen.
What we do and don’t post to social media paints a distorted picture of what our lives are really like. Everything on Facebook, like photos posted to Instagram, has a filter applied. The one I use most often is “happy.” I post mostly about things that make me smile and feel good. I don’t do it to try to make my life look better than anyone else’s (the not so subtle humblebrag), but I generally try to post positive things because that’s how I’d like to see myself – positive, upbeat, and generally hopeful, not whiny, complaining, or criticizing. Like everyone else I have good days and bad days, but I’m unlikely to share the negative ones on such a public forum. To me, those moments are more private and intimate, and ones I’d prefer to share with a select audience of friends and trusted souls.
My choice to share my finer moments is not a deliberate decision to overshadow others experiences or to disregard my own pain and sadness. I’m not competing, I’m just trying not to look like an a$$hole in public.
The truth is, despite all of the conveniences, I think social media is a burden. Which is why I want to quit Facebook. Unfortunately, social media has become so heavily ingrained into our society that quitting has become a great sacrifice. Not participating in social media is just not an option for many small businesses or organizations that rely on Facebook and other platforms for marketing and communication. So far the reason I haven’t managed to quit Facebook is because I use it for work and my photography business. Deactivating my account would leave me unable to post to those pages, and I don’t have an alternative solution for that.
What I do know is that Facebook causes me to sit at my computer more, which means I am less active and less engaged in my life outside of the digital world. I stare more at my computer screen than my garden and sometimes spend more time chatting with friends online than with friends in person. Chores that need to be done, such as sorting through moving boxes, mowing the lawn, making the next days meals, and cleaning, don’t get checked off my list in a timely manner. My workouts, which I depend on for my sanity and well being, get cut short and delayed because Facebook distracts me from being able to efficiently manage my time. I get headaches from staring at my screen for prolonged periods and also allow myself to get dehydrated from drinking too little water. I rarely get eight hours of sleep a night and often have trouble falling to sleep, no matter how tired, run down, and sometimes sad I feel.
Facebook is no friend of mine.
I wonder what life will be like without Facebook. Will my photography business suffer because my photographs won’t instantly pop-up on followers’ feeds? Will I miss out on important milestones in friends’ lives? Will I not get invited to parties or included in events because I cannot be invited to them with a single click? Will I never see the photos my friends take of me? My mom lives several hours away and we see each other for short periods of time only a few times a year when I go to visit her. She has never seen my house or met a single one of my friends who is active in my day to day life right now, but she has seen pictures on Facebook. I can’t text my mom photos because she doesn’t have a cell phone and the firewall on her computer at work email attachments and messages inconsistently, so Facebook is the easiest way for me to share pictures with her. In fact, the only reason my mom has Facebook is because I invited her so that I could show her photos (specifically, those taken of me but posted by others on Facebook and not shared publicly) – she never posts anything or “likes” or comments. I wonder how disconnecting from Facebook will affect my relationship with her. Will the distance feel farther without photographs for her to see?
Sometimes I long for the good old fashioned days of my childhood, when I entertained myself with balls and books and dirt instead of an internet connection. Even though I can disconnect my Facebook and turn off my computer, it will be hard to voluntarily remove myself from a world that others rely so heavily on. Just because I might choose not to use Facebook doesn’t mean that others won’t, and by removing myself from the social standard, will I, in a way, make myself obsolete? Will the peace of mind I gain from taking a break from Facebook and the computer outweigh the consequences of not posting for work and isolating my photography from the Facebook crowd? Will leaving Facebook help me feel less overwhelmed? Will my social life suffer or benefit? Will I be happier?
For a decade, my life has had a Facebook profile attached to it. My entire adult life has been documented, photographed, liked, and hashtagged. I’m not sure I want that anymore. I’m not sure I ever did, but back in 2004 I had no idea that the exclusive college networking site I was signing up for would become the monster that Facebook is today. If Facebook had been then what it is now, I might never have given it another look.
A world without Facebook seems foreign to me, in a romantic kind of way. I find myself drawn to the idea in the same way I am attracted to the old time-y rural setting of books like A Day No Pigs Would Die, The Yearling, and Copper Toed Boots, where boys go hunting and fishing in the woods and bond with animal friends. Times when everything seemed so much more simple, when there were fewer distractions and pleasure came from simple things. But like my other favorite genre of books, the dystopian novels of 1984 and A Brave New World, Facebook has created a society where everything we do is watched and recorded, where our “free” world seems strangely suffocating. On some level, when we opt to participate in Facebook we are plugging ourselves into what is essentially a soulless machine. Maybe Facebook is really just Big Brother by a different name.
I am starting to think that all of this digital technology makes the world too bright. There is beauty in the darkness that you just can’t see when you are blinded by LEDs. Much like light pollution from cities spoils our ability to observe the night sky and the stars in all of their glory, being constantly connected to Facebook means that we miss out on the beauty in the real world. The subtle things. The things that really matter, that really make a difference, that bring us joy and happiness.
They say, only in the dark can you see the light. For me, the time is near when I hope to turn technology off for a while. Not all of it, just the parts I can’t seem to manage while managing everything else, like Facebook.
I’m ready to go dark.