Updated: Feb 7, 2019
I was an late bloomer when it came to social media. I didn’t open a Facebook account until I was 18. Getting my parents to approve my first online accounts (Neopets and Pandora--edgy stuff) took some major lobbying, and they weren't fans of instant messaging or email. The only thing I ever signed up for without their knowledge was a Nickelodeon account with a truncated version of instant messaging that I used to communicate with my elementary school best friend. I was such a rebel.
If you are looking for the story of a millennial who grew up with an IV drip of technology coursing through her veins, I’m not your girl. If you hopped in a time machine, you probably wouldn't find me behind a screen. More likely, I'd be outside picking berries or inside messing up my mom’s kitchen with an unholy concoction of water, flour, salt, and dish soap.
Facebook is not without utility. One time I lost a wallet by leaving it in a Starbucks in Portland. I had no idea where it had gone until a few weeks later, I got a Facebook message from the barista who had been able to track me down. He sent my wallet to me within the week!
I’ve also gotten to be Facebook friends with bloggers I admire. I’ve used Facebook to catch up with high school acquaintences and to interact with new friends. Facebook was also a major part of my network within my local whitewater kayaking community—that’s actually one of the very few things I miss.
Usually, when I mention that I completely deleted my account, people say—“Yeah, I would do that too, but [insert redeeming quality here]”
“Facebook is how I talk to international friends from study abroad.”
“Facebook is how I get great deals on leggings.”
“Facebook is how I keep in touch with clubs.”
“Facebook is how I connect with creators I like.”
“Facebook is how I market my organization/events/writing/business.”
These things are really nice! And if you feel like you get enough out of Facebook as a communication or marketing tool, that's wonderful!
I stayed on Facebook until shortly after I turned 22.
Why did I leave?
What put me over the top was the online response to the 2016 election. I got sucked into a seething feed of memes, articles, and petitions about frustration and sadness and horrific injustices that seemed (and pretty much was) bottomless. Facebook was feeding me things that kept my attention—and apparently thousands of strident cries for help do a heck of a good job at that task.
I’m a compassionate person, and it’s good to be informed. But at some point enough was enough. Rather than feeling connected through the site, I became more distracted, more anxious, and less effective as a human and as an advocate.
After pondering deleting Facebook for about a year, after reading how to do it, after moving to only looking at it once a week, deleting nearly all my posts, never posting, locking down privacy settings, one night I downloaded an archive of my information, and deleted the whole damned account. Entirely. (It’s a bit of a process—once you make a deletion request you have to avoid touching the site for two weeks or it reactivates your account).
I had about a week of wondering if I’d just done something I’d regret—if I’d miss it, if my literal deletion of over a hundred “friends” would actually leave me feeling less connected.
But after a few days, I realized that everything was fine.
Now, I’m a 22 year old college student with no social media accounts. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no SnapChat.
I have a smartphone with texting and calling abilities. I have access to email. I delete my email app off my phone whenever I’m not traveling, or whenever I notice I’m refreshing it habitually, like I used to do with Facebook.
And I am just fine.
I have taken to calling my friends more often, and sending individualized life updates to people about things I think they, as individual humans, might care about. I’ve been reading more full news articles that I choose for their nuance and insight rather than because they have alarming headlines. I still procrastinate, sure, but I read my favorite blogs and books, or I watch educational Youtube videos and Skillshare art tutorials. Or I go for a walk. For me, it's better this way.
Someday I may get another social media account. Especially if I want to popularize a blog, market an business, or advocate for a cause, the drain on my time, privacy, and attention span might start to be worth it for the sake of gaining a bigger audience.
Until that day comes, my Facebook-free life will continue. I’m not perfectly focused, but I now have better quality distractions. I don’t have 150 “friends,” but the ones I do have know that I give a shit about them, and I now have more time and higher quality attention with which to enjoy their company. I’m not free of my concerns about the state of the world, but I’m able to act on them more effectively when I’m not paralyzed by a daily barrage of non-fiction horror stories.
Quitting Facebook isn’t something everyone can do—some people’s jobs depend on it, some people find it fun.
But if you’re playing the social media game, learn the rules. Your time, attention, data—your life—is the product. Social media is designed to suck up all the attention you’re willing to give it, and to use that attention to sell things for money, which was earned through sacrifices of additional time and attention.
In the end, time and attention are all we have.
It can be a lot to ask for us to exchange them for cat memes, fake news, false friends, and cheap leggings.
In the wallet I would likely have lost without Facebook, there was about $40, an ID, a couple gift cards, and a debit card I cancelled after realizing it was gone. Getting it back is probably the greatest favor Facebook has done me.
Figuring that it would cost me four hours at a local minimum wage job to earn the cash, two hours to buy a new wallet, three hours to earn back the value of the gift cards, three hours to replace my ID, and two hours to replace the card, it would take about 14 hours to recover the whole thing.
I am very grateful to the barista for his act of kindness. That doesn't change at all. Facebook is an immensely powerful tool, and he used it for good.
Having likely spent hundreds of hours on Facebook, I have to say I more than paid back my 14 hour debt. And when it comes to sorting out any future forgetfulness, I'll be making a different trade.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this post, or at least found it interesting. As I considered leaving Facebook, I searched far and wide for case studies of other people who had done it, and how they felt about the process. There weren't nearly as many as I had expected, so I hope I can provide a story and some encouragement for anyone else who wants to limit the time they spend on social media.
If you're looking for another story, especially with regard to social media and professional life, I really appreciate Alexandra Franzen's perspective, available here and here, and Cal Newport's TED talk which I'll link here.
Are you on social media? Have you considered quitting? Do you think it's essential? I love hearing people's thoughts on this--please leave a thought below or contact me!