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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.

25 comments:

Sandra J said...

Thanks for the explanation! You make several valid and thought-provoking points.

Melinda said...

I did notice that you were withdrawing in several online communities and had hoped that you were just busy.

Glad the "sun is coming out".

Sarah Hunt said...

Thanks, Mel. You've always been the real deal, and I greatly admire that. :D

Sarah Hunt said...

Thanks for touching base. :) I hope my babbling doesn't come off as sanctimoniousness or anything. This is definitely rooted in a "me" issue way more than a societal problem or something, though the whole idea about relationships in the age of social media is really intriguing and a little worrying, to me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, we did notice and miss you. However, we figured once you were ready to share why, you would and you did :) Can't wait to see your new site! *hugs* -- mil & dil

Mary said...

Great post. I too know it's me on facebook, vs the site itself. When I get some downtime from work, I do plan to take photos off there that I want to keep, and some email addresses of people that Ive not written down (never had to in the past, just fb'ed them), then deactivate for a month, with a view to then probably leaving it permanently. It's difficult in a way, because I work in the media. I may have to have a minimal profile of some sort. Anyway I can think that one over. I am looking forward to returning to life without it (or minimal use). We all survived without it beforehand : )

m.
(with a very much languishing blog at marysweeney.net.....another side effect of facebook! and roller derby hehe)

Anonymous said...

Cop out. Now, I don't know you from Adam, but your rant, followed by "oh derp I joined again, lol" is just sad. What a set-up. It's like reading the "former" drug addict who says "oh it wasn't the drugs, it was totally me! I'm just doing pot now a little." Total fail, my dear.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I can, in fact, spell Cincinnati. And I don't even live in Oioh.

Sarah Hunt said...

Ah, Derp. Got to love the derp. I feel so... condescended? Smacked down? Maybe that's just pain from the intense, involuntary eye-rolling brought on by all your derping?

My post was honest. It was what I was feeling at the moment, and taking a break from Facebook was what I needed to find clarity about the addictive feelings I'd started having about the site. Ultimately it didn't make sense to throw the baby out with the bath water when Facebook is the primary way my farflung loved ones stay in contact. Going back but hacking out over 200 "friends" was exactly what I needed to make the experience feel authentic again. Now that it's filled with carefully selected friends and family, it's actually something I enjoy freely and without all the pressure of having a bunch of near-strangers looking at my posts and pictures. It's like hosting a dinner party at my home instead of attending the county fair and running into 200 people I was really hoping to avoid seeing for the rest of my life but am obligated to share an awkward moment with thanks to social norms. As I said all along, it wasn't Facebook. It was the way I using it.

I left the post stand even after I changed my mind because it was my honest experience, and I'm glad I did step away and reevaluate. Your derpy comment reveals more about you than me, I'd say.

Sarah Hunt said...

I think it's obvious the tag line "Because you can't spell Cincinnati" is tongue-in-cheek. It's also the result of people finding a former blog after searching Google for all kinds of misspelled versions of Cincinnati. Maybe if I added more derping for you, it would be more appealing?

Keri said...

But, they can't spell Ohio and it's incredibly easy. ;-)

Katie Ford Hall said...

Lol on the anonymous derping. Anon could learn something about self awareness from the content of this post.

k

Katie Ford Hall said...

What's round on the ends and high in the middle ?!?!?

Jen said...

Isn't posting as "anonymous" a cop out?

J.W. said...

This article couldn't have been more timely. I just announced my plan to exit Facebook after years of in-depth enjoyment. You can read about it here:
http://ncm.newcitymovement.com/2012/07/facebook-youre-dead-to-me-on-jan-1st-2013.html

Also, I made an event page at Facebook for people to join me in leaving on the morning of January 1st, 2013:
https://www.facebook.com/events/414330761952809/

(I wonder how long that will stay up?)

gwalker said...

I just deactivated today..and it's kind of a celebration! Although, it will probably just be me! I find the option to be very "anonymous" that disturbs me. My main reason to leave Facebook was the overwhelming bagging people are compelled to do on a daily basis. Hopefully, not gone are the days of authentic humanity! I did enjoy the wet towel whip-sting on the butt of anonymous..haha

Anonymous said...

Great point. I just deactivate today and feel the weight lifted. I was finally sick of the bragging, falseness, self-promotion, and endless narcissism. Sadly, only the real friends I actually talk to in real life noticed I left facebook. I'm not so surprised though; Facebook always brings out the worst in people and anyone who fails to notice that,...well, I'd be weary of them. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that the most insecure people who need validation are the most evil with facebook.

Anonymous said...

Facebook + free time + existing insecurities = a wasted life.

Anonymous said...

So true, deactivated my fb account several days ago! It feels great because of all the fake people! Everyone's lives are perfect! They brag about everything! It got depressing to read about everyone's perfect lives daily! To be honest I was jealous of some people. I am sure noone will even miss me!

Brian Correll said...

Ever hear of Orwell's 1984? Big brother is watching your every move. I deleted my Facebook account entirely.

Anonymous said...

Good blog post. Deactivated my account also a few days ago and not one person has noticed or if they have they haven't contacted me in other ways about it. However, this makes me realise how shallow and even false the whole Facebook experience has become. I'm realising I will be much happier in the long run without it as already I've made a couple of new real life friends and looking forward to real experiences instead of listening to how perfect everyone's life is on there. I dont need to keep up with the search for being the most liked or perfect any more as I prefer to like myself and whatever anybody else thinks who cares.

Anonymous said...

Just deleted my facebook account last week and I have only two words: good riddance. It was such a waste of time and generated (in my experience) lots of negativity.

Anonymous said...

Deactivated mine too. I am sick of people being nasty to each other on there too, it's such a negative experience. It was making me dislike people more than I already do.
I already had no 'real' people in my life, now I don't have the fake facebook ones either, not one single person noticed I'd gone and now I speak to no one at all. I don't know what's worse, having no one, or having fake ones. Oh well, who says you need people in your life, I will just make the most of it. :-)

Anonymous said...

So I randomly found this blog entry. And I love it. I agree with and can relate to so much of what you said. Not to mention your writing skills are rather superb, by the way!

milkao said...

This is definitely one of the best post I ever read on this experience.
I too plugged out of Facebook and out of my 250 "friends", nobody noticed. The only one that did only remarked it after I sent him a message on linkedin - not related to that at all.
I guess I'm feeling myself again. Being on the online stage all the time, showing your "friends" any moment of your life and thoughts...how weird is actually that ? Now I just realized how strange, freaky, useless this was.

My real friends : call me everyday, I see them whenever we are free, we go out together, we laugh together, we live....

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