A forty-something guy in Facebook’s target demographic got sick of the social network and after quitting realized that being on social networks had probably altered his brain chemistry. This is his version of that all too common story.
“So…no big rant or grand statements, but I just don’t like Facebook anymore. If you do, great, but I’m out. You know where to find me.”
And with that I was gone, and not the temporary gone of just putting my account on hold – the gone gone in the form of permanent deletion, at least after the 14 days of “hey guy, why don’t you just think about it?” that Facebook makes you go through when you break up with them. It wasn’t that I thought that Facebook was stealing my data, or that a potential employer might look for secrets. I just got bored. Facebook started to feel like a part time job where I had to wade through hours of posts about our Muslim terrorist president or endless videos for recipes which seemingly always required a pound of cheese and a crock pot. Except I didn’t get paid.
This is not the version of the story where I got off Facebook and spent the rest of my days wandering through the woods and finding the meaning of life in the flow of the stream by my house. This isn’t the version where I instantly had a better connection with my wife and kids and spent more time playing board games on Saturday nights. Instead, in my version of this story, I didn’t miss Facebook, but my brain did, and it took my walking away to realize what had happened to me.
I was a pretty moderate user – never (well almost never) to avoid work and never at 3am, but yes when I was bored, yes when I walked the dog and definitely yes when I traveled alone for work. I also used it as a fill in for the morning newspaper, because as I slept, all of my North American friends were filling up my feed with the next morning’s reading. Never mind that my morning paper was useless for any actual news. I did get to see my mom like a post from Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the same two-minute span though, and watching an old high school friend (who I’m not 100% sure I even knew in high school) go through a breakup with her cheating husband very publicly was both strangely entertaining and creepy at the same time, but can you believe that he changed all the locks and left her out in the street??!?!?
When I quit using (the repeated use of this word is deliberate) I didn’t go through some sort of shaky withdrawal period. If I had quit to protect myself from Facebook’s irresistible draw I might have, but I really was sick of it. I did however notice slowly, and increasingly, that it had altered how I framed things that were around me happening in the real world. After about two weeks, including one of those four day work trips where I was alone, I noticed that I actually was thinking in short status updates. When I saw something cool my instinct was to capture it and share the coolness of the thing. When my day was shitty I wanted to throw out a quick “You’ll never guess how bad this white guy American expat has it – today wasn’t perfect!” But mostly I noticed that when I had done something that I was particularly fond of, Facebook is where I got my attaboys.
Living abroad is sometimes hard – not leaving your war torn country as a refugee hard, but kinda hard. You tend to focus what you know, and if you don’t particularly like hanging out with the expat community, which I don’t, you tend to spend most of your time at work or with your family. I work from home. On many days my family are the only people I see. My family is great, and I like spending time with them and appreciate their approval, but when my little successes would pop up, I was turning to people, most of them thousand of miles away for the approval that I was looking for.
One day about two weeks after quitting I was in the midst of a particularly good morning. I had gotten my daughter to school on time (almost) and successfully visited my son’s school to pay a bill for an upcoming ski trip. I topped it off by doing some successful shopping and having a full 25-minute phone conversation with a customer service representative about why my phone wasn’t working in other countries – completely in French. I was so happy and proud of myself. Then, instinctively, I reached for my phone. Feeling good wasn’t enough. I wanted an attaboy. I was mentally preparing an update that was fun, but not too braggy, perhaps with a little joke about how dumb I am or about how bad my French is (that was my online style) and then I remembered. I put my phone back in my pocket and then just stood there for a minute. I was awash in sadness – seriously legitimate sadness. I was alone, standing on a street corner in France, a guy with no friends and no one to pat him on the back.
I walked home through the park. It was starting to get cold, and it was one of those days where the last leaves on the trees stay wet even though it hasn’t rained all day. I felt defeated, but ultimately I didn’t consciously miss using, even if my brain was telling me that I did. In fact, I was more sure of my decision to quit than ever. Instead basking in the instant gratification of that virtual moment, I went home, did some work, and made tacos for dinner. When my wife came home from work I got my attaboy, but this one from a real person who actually cares about me. Then we ate tacos, and it felt a little bit more like home.
I realize that here at the end of 2015 the decision to quit puts me in the same category as people in foil hats. It also makes me old. But my beef has never been with Facebook or social networking in general, but with what it brings (or doesn’t). I do miss the cool photos of surfing destinations shared by a high school photographer friend. I miss the updates about shows and recordings from musician friends that I knew in the 90’s. I miss the updates from the painters and the writers and the former students all across the world creating new things. Oddly, I also miss looking at the pictures that my wife posts of our family, even though I am sitting with them in the same room. I always wanted more of that. More real. Less “hey look at this.”
When I quit using, I promised that there was no big rant or grand statement. I guess that just like most of my experience on Facebook that was a lie, because here it is – my grand statement. And with that, I’m out. You know where to find me.
(Please leave any attaboys in the comments)