You might have guessed from the title that I quit Facebook. I deleted my account, permanently. I've "quit" a few times before, but only by disabling my account. This time, it's for real, and as far as I know, all seven years of my online activity and data has been obliterated.
Let me wax a little nostalgic for a moment. It was the summer of 2007. I was in my hometown over the summer break. Facebook was relatively new on the scene, and I was pretty much the typical new member — a young 20-something, in university, single, living between cities, and always looking for ways of staying connected with my friends and making new ones. I don't even recall the exact circumstances, i.e. how I heard about it and why I finally decided to do it, but it probably had something to do with feeling a little lonely at times and being transient. What I do remember is how much of a party it was at first. I don't think Facebook was ever as novel, ever as infamously addictive, as it was in those days. It was before everyone had a smartphone (I still had a Motorola flip phone), and texting, although ubiquitous, was limited on alpha-numeric keypads. And so Facebook was really the most engrossing means of sharing with friends (family would join a few years later). It was the first online chat room that was not at all geeky or directly about dating, and had all kinds of useful and addictive features that helped people connect, share, and creep.
Let me touch a bit on who was on Facebook at the time. Friends. When Facebook coined the term, I'm sure they meant friends and not family, and they certainly didn't mean corporations. Facebook was, above all else, an extension of its members' social lives. It was a place to make good on those "let's get in touch" sentiments uttered at parties, and a totally un-awkward way of connecting with classmates and colleagues. It was not a "social media" tool, it was not significantly (or at all) visibly monetized, and it had zero ads. And compared to now, with its current security features (which inhibit some of the most fun aspects of the platform) it was the wild west of social networking. It was just a bunch of people in a large room discovering new ways of connecting (and being creepy). Some of us got out of hand and lost our jobs or went to jail. But most of us just had a good time and just a little too much gossip on our hands. That was what made it good.
There was a certain cache to having tons of friends too. Before Facebook, when did anyone ever have 400 friends? As a relative introvert with serious awkward tendencies, that I clocked in at over 350 friends at one point is a pretty serious thing to consider. The possibilities, the connections, the feeling of importance and acceptance were unlimited.
Circling back to the friends-only thing though. There are certain ways you talk and behave that you might reserve for your friends. It's not that you have a split personality, but you just deliver varying concentrations of tones to different groups. You also talk about different topics with friends than you do with family. It's what makes being with friends refreshing — you get to let loose a side of you that you can't with colleagues or family. That's just a fact. I would broaden that out though, to say we let out different parts of who we are depending on who's listening. It's unnatural to be around all groups at once, and a little bit stressful. You ever hear the term "worlds collide"?
Fast forward to 2014. Everybody is on Facebook now. It's the de-facto platform for general and personal communication. Have some photos of your cat or kid to share? Facebook. Have a deep thought you need a few people to affirm? Facebook. Need to vent about how your baby won't nap? Facebook. Need to firm up Thanksgiving dinner plans at Great Aunt Libby's? Facebook. What has changed in seven years is significant. Facebook kind of resembles its former self, but much has changed. It has the bones but not the soul. Yes, it still has a wall, and it still has likes, and it still has private messages, and it still allows photo sharing. But it's like being on a picnic with all your friends that also happens to be your extended family's reunion, and it's sponsored by University of Phoenix Online and Christian Mingle dot com. And your ex is still friends with your sister (and you didn't have the heart to unfriend), so she's there too.
But wait, did I say something about a napping baby? That's another thing that's changed. Not only has the crowd on facebook diversified, its also maturing. By the time I quit Facebook, there were a few friends here and there that were still posting photos of their rock bands and drunk-at-bar selfies, but a lot of us are now married and have children. We no longer look to Facebook for our weekend plans, promote our next pub gig, or to find camaraderie in our loneliness, but rather use it to prove to everyone how cute our kids are and what awesome parents we are. We use it to brag about our Mexican vacation while our pals endure a snowstorm back home. We share a lot of so-so links. We get in minor tifs about the ethics of tipping at cafes … All this to say, I think we've stayed at the party too long, and now we're just lingering, hoping the party will pick up again soon. But it won't. Facebook may be a useful tool for staying in touch with a lot of people, or for broadcasting messages efficiently, but that original addictive and intriguing aspect of the platform has all but faded.
Of course, with Facebook now more accessible than ever on smartphones, we continue to seek our affirmation by opening the app every quarter hour to see if anyone's liked our most recent link share. It's true. We go to Facebook regularly, impulsively, habitually, to check it. We don't even think about it. We open the app, check for new activity on our own feed, and then check the wall to see if anyone posted anything interesting. If we're unlucky we'll follow an interesting link share on someone's wall (usually by the same person as the last time) and then find an hour later that we are at the bottom of a Buzzfeed article staring at one of those weird, vaguely erotic news story suggestions.
I almost guarantee it: I'd bet the first thing you do when you wake up is unlock your iPhone, check your email, and then Facebook for any personal messages, and then open Instagram and swipe down your feed (obviously hoping to see some new likes and comments on that last pic you posted). And then you do this at regular intervals or whenever your bored in a lineup, not expecting anything new, but you do it anyway, in the way a gambler might return to buy another scratch ticket. I only presume you do because I do. Except now I don't have Facebook in my list of things to check. And because of that I have far fewer opportunities to feel bad about myself (no likes) or have 45 minutes sucked out of my day by falling into a black hole of curious but useless links.
But I have only touched on my main reasons for quitting. It came down to two things: Audience and stage of life. I used to have a sense of who I was talking to, but now I have lost touch. I have to really think through who is reading and how they might interpret it. I have at times mistakenly neglected to do this and scandalized certain people by comments my intended audience wouldn't have blinked at. Whereas at one point Facebook truly felt intimate, today it is a general soup of everyone I have ever known, where I can efficiently post anything for all to see. And why on earth do I need a mass communication tool for my personal life? This blog, and my Twitter and Instagram, of course, are mass communication tools, but these have much more singular foci and purpose. Facebook used to feel like it had a real purpose (an extension of my social life), but now it just feels so … purposeless. As I get older and busier and have more responsibility, I want to focus my attention on the people I actually intend on staying in touch with. And I know that if you're not on this loosely defined list, you could care less. I'm willing to let those on the peripheral fade out as would naturally happen without Facebook. And if it turns out I only call my close friends and family once every couple months, so be it. We'll have a lot to talk about, and I'll actually have to ask what's been up.
And speaking of getting older, my other reason for quitting, or perhaps a rationale for not needing Facebook, is that I don't need to maximize my social life anymore. As a father of two, I'm lucky to get out with some good friends once every couple weeks. And I don't mind. The older I get, the more honest I can be with myself about what really matters. And does it really matter if I lose touch with my high school acquaintances? Probably not. Do I need an ongoing opportunity to post useless or even harmful comments? No, I don't. And when you lose touch with who's in your audience, you lose your ability to weigh your words. Often, there are not wrong words, just wrong ears and poor judgment.
What does matter is making decisions that are true to what you believe. I believe that Facebook has become far more than purposeless to me. It is irrelevant. Unnecessary. We don't see the clutter it becomes in our lives, but it is digital, emotional pack-rattery. We hold on too long, and we let it hold on to us. I have been off Facebook for two weeks and I don't feel any hole in my life whatsoever. I have not had the impulse to return and I do not sense that I am missing out on any opportunities. To me, this proves I made the right decision.