So I’ll cut right to the chase. I deleted my Facebook account and with it, hundreds of friends, hundreds of pictures, and seven years of running commentary on my life. Actually, this was something I had been thinking about for a long time but there were two events that recently pushed me past the tipping point.
First, I had a cousin that had been sick for a number of years. Unfortunately, his condition took a turn for the worse so I quickly flew out to see him. As I was sitting there in his hospital room during my visit, I was quite surprised and taken aback at how precarious his health had become. Driven by guilt, among other emotions, I began to question how him and I had lost touch. While not solely the cause, I deduced that I had relied too much on Facebook to act as a surrogate for our interaction. It had become all too easy to glance on the news feed and convince myself that my cousin was doing fine.
Second, late this summer, and immediately after visiting my cousin, I solo hiked the John Muir Trail for two weeks with virtually no internet connection. My days blended together in a blissful combination of beautiful landscapes, long miles on my feet, and nights in my tent where I would meditate and study my Chinese flashcards. During that time, I felt no itch, no longing to be tethered to Facebook. The reason is simple: I was already doing what I wanted to be doing and highly valued.
Let me state right off the bat that if Facebook works for you and fits into your lifestyle, then that is great! And I am being honest here. I am not going to get on a soapbox and tell you how to live your life. There are actually some things I like about Facebook; the ability to stay in touch with those one would otherwise lose touch with along with interesting news items jump to mind.
My personal problem with Facebook is that there are simply better ways I can spend my valuable time that are more in accordance with my values and the direction where I want my life to go. In a nutshell, it is the difference between settling versus optimizing.
I wish I had the willpower and self-discipline to intelligently use Facebook, say, for 10-15 minutes a day. But try as I might, I found myself coming home at night and zoning out by scrolling through the news feed for an hour or more, checking it on my iPhone repeatedly throughout the day even if I was present with other people, and yearning for “likes” to my posts. Hard to admit, but it’s the truth.
When I decided that maybe I could use Facebook in a limited sense by scaling back on the number of Facebook friends I had, I started pruning the list. However, this led to the conclusion that many of those that remained on my pruned list were those that I factually had no regular contact or connection with. I only pretended there was authentic connection. Therefore, the reason I had been giving over and over to myself and to others as my justification to keep using Facebook was, in the end, only an illusion.
Let’s suppose that unlike me, you can limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook. Even now, other issues arise. You must bear in mind that what you are actually seeing about another person and their life is, on balance, a highlight reel and is not a substitute for authentic connection. Facebook will never, ever act as a substitute for physically telling and showing someone how much you treasure their friendship. While I will miss certain aspects of the news feed, I will still be able to access these news, information, and personal growth sources on the web and I will no longer have to sift through lots of ads, suggestions, and commentary I don’t find enriching in order to do so.
So what will I do with my newfound windfall of time? I will do the things I love to do: exercise, read inspiring books, write and play music on my guitar, study Chinese, and go on trips, especially if they involve a friend. No more spending an evening on Facebook and feeling the soft jabs of loneliness while unread novels and half-written music collects dust on my desk, no more “fear of missing out” syndrome when I haven’t checked in with Facebook for a couple of days. I will also sensibly maintain this blog because I do love to write and express myself and it does offer a way, in this digital age, for others to stay connected with me, if they are so inclined.
If you are whiling away the hours on Facebook, or any other social media for that matter, then … awaken. That book or song you need to write to impact the world is waiting for you to write it. Your future husband or wife is down the street at a coffee shop, sitting alone, waiting for you. A senior citizen, who hasn’t had a visitor in months, is at a retirement home waiting for you to tell you their story and impart the gift of wisdom on your life. Buy some flowers, find your friend, grab a walk to watch the sunset followed by a meal, and show them that you care about them.