I deactivated my Facebook account as a sort of social experiment. With Facebook and real life becoming increasingly symbiotic, what would I miss? What wouldn’t I miss?
This didn’t begin as an impulsive decision with unexpected consequences, and I’m not a Facebook hater by any stretch. I love and use social media, and am fascinated by what its explosion has enabled in a variety of arenas. Facebook has obviously been a huge — and probably the single most comprehensive — part of that.
My experiment has continued longer than I expected. I haven’t quit, purposefully not deleting my account entirely. But through extended deactivation, I have learned some things: that I miss out on a lot of conversations now; that, somewhat ironically, I’m more focused now than before on my own life and needs; and that I’m not the only person who wonders, to-FB-or-not-to-FB?
A recent New York Times article titled “The Facebook Resisters” profiled young-adult Facebook abstainers who point to concerns about privacy, alienation and information overload. But I’m interested in a broader question: In a world where it now seems more generally accepted to be on Facebook than not be on, what’s it like to opt out?
I haven’t felt like I need Facebook socially, but there is plenty I’m missing out on. During the many times when funny Facebook photos from parties or nights out come up when hanging out with friends, I feel like the only kid on the schoolyard without a TV, lost at sea while other kids recite lines from The Simpsons. I also frequently find myself playing catch-up when someone brings up an article someone else shared on Facebook. And there’s a whole world of flirting and getting-to-know-you that no longer exists for me.
I miss the definite ease of communication with friends and acquaintances. I’ve used Facebook before to find sources for articles too, but no longer can. So, now my avenues of communication are more segmented: Twitter to keep in touch with some friends, mostly those I’ve met through work, and find cool articles people recommend; LinkedIn to organize my professional contacts; and old-fashioned phone and email to keep up and make plans with close friends.
But it’s what I’ve actually enjoyed about being off of Facebook that has surprised me most. I spend less time on my computer without Facebook’s source of infinite content. During real life experiences, what is or isn’t worth sharing on Facebook no longer lingers in the back of my mind, so I spend more time simply enjoying the present. And the false comparisons between others’ curated digital self-presentations and my own naturally widespread sources of pride, fulfillment, dissatisfaction and insecurity no longer exist.
In the final analysis, what my little experiment has shown me is that Facebook has become so ingrained in human life that it’s kind of like religion in a way. You can partake or not partake as much as you like, but the thing itself isn’t going anywhere. Your choice won’t change anything in the bigger picture, but I’ve found it fascinating to explore the differences in my own life.
After five months, I’m going to keep the experiment going. It’s been fun to be deactivated, but I’m not going to delete. I’ll be back one day. But, for now, I’m enjoying my life offline.