Ditching the social network was easier than expected

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I stopped using Facebook in 2016 and not once, not even for a second, have I regretted my decision.

Like you, I was addicted to Facebook, and like you, I was sick of Facebook. But I was tired of being sick of it, so I decided it was time to stop using it. And it was easier than I ever expected.

Let’s back up. My first experience with social media came when a friend told me about Friendster in 2002. “You’ve gotta get on Friendster so we can be friends on there!” he explained to me. “But… we’re already friends… in real life,” I thought. Ah, to be so young and naïve.

Then came MySpace (R.I.P.) and eventually Facebook became the shiny new toy that everyone had to have. By this point I was all in, so I started an account as soon as I was able to, and I collected “friends” like I was trying to get a high score. (All social networks, in a sense, are video games.)

Soon I had reconnected with all my old high school and college pals, and some friends of theirs, and some people I hung out with at a musical festival once, and some random work connections, until I had a network of about 1,000 people, very few of whom I actually knew or interacted with in real life. But that was fine. I was an active user, sharing statuses, posting pictures, getting likes. Gotta get the likes.

Likes are a form of connection, and that's what social networking provides: A form of community, superficial and digital though it may be. They provide a sense of comfort, a way to feel like we're not alone, even if we are alone, engaging with a glowing screen, endlessly scrolling or swiping through the ether. 

Then Twitter became the new thing, then Instagram became the new-new thing, and Facebook, by default, became the old thing. These new networks each had their own purposes: Twitter became a great way to receive and digest news, Instagram was a cool place to share photographs.

They were tweaked, distilled versions of what Facebook offered. There’s an art to both Twitter and Instagram, which value a sharp intellect and a good eye for design, and unlike Facebook, you’re not obligated to “follow” everyone you’ve ever met. There’s not a lot of art to Facebook, it’s more of a low-level dumping ground. As a result, it became a lot less interesting over time, and I found myself using it less.

I would still scroll through it, but I was blocking more and more people’s updates from my feed. (I’m sorry, friend from elementary school, that someone cut you off in traffic, but I don’t feel the need to read about it or any of your other complaints anymore.) Going on and “catching up” felt like a burden, and my scrolling became endless and mindless, a function of habit rather than true engagement. I no longer found it cool or interesting. But everyone was on it, so I felt like I needed to be on it, too.

My breaking point came with the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. A friend of mine used it as a platform to post his thoughts on gun control, which I actually agreed with, but I was hit all at once with the reality of what Facebook had become: a sounding board for people to rant to an audience of friends and acquaintances. It all seemed so stupid. So I deleted Facebook from my phone, and after one year of not logging in or even feeling the need to log in, I deleted my account.

It wasn’t because of Facebook’s litany of privacy violations, or the spread of Fake News, although those things didn’t help. I just thought it was lame, so I ditched it. And I’ve never felt any urge to rejoin.  

In so doing, I didn’t lose any real life friendships. I’m still in touch with all the people with whom I want to be in touch. I don’t miss out on news stories. There is nothing that Facebook offers that I can’t get elsewhere. Our world has convinced us, in a sense, that we need to engage with Facebook in order to feel alive, to know what's going on in the world. Connection is everything. Except it's not. 

I’m not some high and mighty being who now puts his phone down and gets in touch with his inner self. I’m still on Twitter and Instagram all the time. I have what I consider to be a healthy relationship with social media: I see its values and its faults, and I’m at peace with them.

But Facebook? No thanks. Some things are difficult to let go, this was not one of them. I said goodbye and never looked back. If you want to, you can, too.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama   

 

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