Monday, February 20, 2012

Why I left Facebook and why nobody noticed

I'd been stewing about it for awhile, complaining about the various problems with the platform, feeling unsettled about a certain quality I couldn't quite name. I'd grown to mostly dislike my experience on Facebook, yet I was completely compelled to check it obsessively, day after day. I don't know if I truly started believing it was an affirmation of my worth when I posted something that got a reaction and some "likes", or if it was just plain addiction, filling a hole I didn't want to acknowledge. Partly, realizing that this teenage kid gets it, put some things in perspective. Whatever it was, it was a problem, and one day last week, I simply pulled the plug, without any announcement, without any last-second hesitations. It was just time.

Since then, two things have happened:

1. No one noticed. Not one of my near 200 "friends" seems to have noticed I'm gone, or if they do, it's clear that our interaction was limited to virtual reality because I haven't heard from them otherwise, despite our daily interactions on FB. No one has checked to see why I'm gone from there, though I suppose it's possible a few of them are wondering if I've just blocked them. I hope that's not the case. Honestly, there are only a few people I'd have tracked down, myself, if they'd disappeared, so I don't really have animosity about that. It's more of a matter-of-fact acknowledgement, kind of a "we both knew what this was" end to an affair.

2. On the positive side, and it's arguably even more important, I've realized how addicted I was to the whole scene, and my life has changed accordingly. I haven't had a lot of withdrawal, or even a moment of wanting to go back (at least not yet). Even a small distance has revealed how much time I was wasting, and almost all of it doing what Brene Brown calls the "hustle for worthiness". I am clearly naturally hilarious and personable (and sarcastic), but I started putting pressure on myself to be clever, always, which is exhausting. I also have this insatiable, annoying need to try to prevent my friends from experiencing discomfort, so I'd spend way too much time making sure to like their posts and at least be the one person who would comment on their dramatic status updates or intimately personal pictures or whatever, and I'm sure some of that was driven by an unconscious hope that they'd return the favor. My priorities are realigning now; the sun is coming back out. I haven't been born again as a sarcastic Martha Stewart, but I have reengaged with various parts of my life, and without the pressure to capture every moment digitally so that I might share with a wholly uninterested audience.

These aren't really surprising revelations, in retrospect. I knew I was spending too much time on Facebook, and I knew it wasn't a particularly authentic experience. I know many people are able to interact on Facebook without becoming addicted or trying to derive something from the experience that just isn't truly there. They were probably the people I tried to impress the most, as embarrassing as I find that to say. I don't blame Facebook per se, but rather Me on Facebook. It's just like any other addiction.

My addiction involved a fixation on my peer group, particularly other moms of small kids, and inevitably I began the endless, fruitless, unspoken contest to ascertain I was doing better than other moms, or at least, that I wasn't the worst. Oh, we'd all make sarcastic comments about how things weren't perfect in our homes, but there was always an undercurrent of competition between most of us. Not all, of course. There are fully secure parents out there who are admirable in their ability to truly not give a shit what you or I think about what they are doing, provided their kids are thriving. I thought I was one of them at one point, and I hope to feel that way again. Facebook, for me, flew in the face of this goal.

Another friend (a real, actual, in-the-flesh friend I see in person and don't have to coax out of hiding to hang out with me) told me she'd realized she had become fixated on documenting everything going on in her life through pictures, which she'd immediately put on Facebook. She's cut way back, too, and feels much better. To be sure, this is an internal pressure as much as it is an external one - I truly don't "blame" Facebook or the people on my friends list for my reaction to the whole scene. It's how I chose to interact with that scene, and my apparent inability to keep it from eating up too big a portion of my true self. My experience there has eroded a good deal of my sense of identity, as melodramatic as that might sound.

When I do have time to be online now, I'm mostly devoting it to my own website. I'm just about finished with the initial set up and already it feels great to have a place where I don't feel pressured beyond representing myself authentically. I'm not worried about traffic or an audience or comments on the blog portions of my site. I'm just excited that soon I'll have a place to share (and not share) what is true, and on my own terms. I'm unapologetically not Martha Stewart, but to me, this new venture is a Good Thing.

Update that will hopefully not completely wreck my earnest intentions here: I did reactivate on FB. But first, I got brutal and hacked away almost 200 friends from my list. Now I'm sitting around 65 (with about 30 active friends), and it's a completely new experience, and a pleasant one. There's so much less angst, for me. I feel a bit mean when I sometimes ignore requests from people, but only a little.