Last week I ran a little personal experiment of quitting Facebook for a week. As a PhD student who is behind a computer all day, it is alI too easy to ctrl+t facebook.com when the going gets tough or when the going gets really boring. The goal of this post is not to come off as a holier than thou person who judges others for what they do on Facebook, but to self-reflect and hopefully learn from the process. I would like to summarize some personal experiences and things I learnt here.
Reasons for quitting:
I will summarize the reasons I have to quit Facebook first:
- Image crafting: I think we are all familiar with image crafting. This is the process of controlling how others perceive you by portraying a certain image of yourself online. Typically this shows up in your timeline in the form of pictures of expensive meals, exotic holidays, selfies of not just you, but the prettiest/most awesome/most successful you you can come up with. A lot of people on my timeline do it, but there are several negative aspects to this. First of all, this bombardment of other people having the best lives ever in your timeline can depress you the fuck out if you are sensitive to it. I know I am! Secondly, it is far too easy to get caught up in this yourself and to post the aforementioned things to be liked, to be loved and to be thought of as awesome. Like I said, I don’t want to be preachy about this topic, because I do the exact same thing. Still, I think it’s healthy to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening sometimes, because this:
I am really embarrassed and ashamed of this one, but let me just walk you through this one briefly: a ‘nice’ filter to bring out my make-up and hide flaws, a myspace angle, a hint of cleavage, a recently acquired popular game and sparkles (though I can’t really fault sparkles, they are awesome!). Bring on the likes! Who is this person? Not me, that’s for sure!
- Mindlessness: One of my current goals in life is to be more mindful. I try to achieve this by meditation and in general by trying to be in the moment, rather than absorbed by worries or just not really being present in the now, but stuck in thoughts about the past or future. Going through the Facebook timeline is about the most passive, mindless activity I do on a day-to-day basis. I scroll through with zero thoughts, hit a like button here and there and lose track of time, what I was doing and why I am even here.
- Information overflow: I am addicted to consuming information. To make matters worse, I am a completionist about it too, when playing games I want to do all sidequests, explore all areas and basically do all the things. There is no way I will skip a message in my RSS feedreader and I apply the same to my Facebook timeline. I don’t want to miss posts, so I have to keep checking the timeline to see what’s new. The fear of missing out comes into play here massively. What if something happens and I missed it? In general, I do not consider this to be a positive thing, it is related to anxiety and negativity for me. Also, what is the quality and value of this information I am consuming?
- Escapism: And speaking of negativity, I thought a lot about the moments and reasons I have for checking Facebook and it’s not exactly a barrel of positivity either. The moments I go to Facebook are exactly the moments at which I am facing a difficult task that I have a resistance to and want to procrastinate, or moments at which I am bored. Facebook is like a quick fix for both of these, but definitely not a cure and definitely not helpful for either.
- False sense of connectedness: I currently have 236 friends on Facebook. This is no special number, I know people who have a lot more, and I know people who have a lot less. By checking Facebook I feel like I am ‘keeping in touch’, but am I really? I am just passively reading their status updates and liking them (or not). Or congratulating them on their birthday which I wouldn’t have known about without Facebook. Also, do I need to be connected to that many people? I have a metric shitton of ‘friends’ that I met once, added on Facebook, will probably never meet again and still I get to see their wedding pictures and pictures of their offspring. These connections are unnatural and awkward to me.
Reasons for staying:
And now the reasons for staying, a much shorter list I promise 😉 :
- Information: Facebook does allow you to enjoy content shared by your friends. I really enjoy reading posts from many people. For instance, I have someone who frequently posts beautiful pictures of nature with many cool species I would not see or know about otherwise. I have some people who recently left the country and I look forward to still hear from them in this way. Then there are the people that consistently manage to find the coolest stuff on the internet and share it there. Besides people, there are also pages, sharing updates about things relevant to your interests.
- Convenience: Facebook has given us a lot of convenient ways to do things. Want to host a party? Don’t go around contacting everyone individually, just click and invite them and share the relevant information. Find out how many people you can expect easily and party on! Want to ask someone something and don’t know their e-mail or phone number, send a Facebook message, why don’t you?
Conclusions and future work:
I loved my week without Facebook and came back from it with new insights. I really missed the nice posts in my week without it. I did not miss the negative emotions that were tied to Facebook for me. I noticed I have a lot more time on my hands when I am not checking Facebook and felt more peaceful and less stressed (and this in a week with a paper deadline, mind you).
While for me personally, there are more reasons to quit than to stay, I did decide to stay and to adjust the way I use Facebook instead of quitting. If I quit, I put the burden on others to contact me in other ways when needed. Also, I believe it is better to consume in moderation than to not consume at all (quitting chocolate backfires for me like crazy for that same reason). So I plan to adjust my Facebook use in these ways:
- I will only browse the timeline once a day. This cuts back on the image crafting impact, mindlessness, information overflow and escapism.
- I will hide/unfriend a lot of people. This improves the signal-to-noise ratio and reduces the size of the image crafting crowd, false connections and information overflow. I will miss a lot of posts and probably upset people, but so be it!
- I will use Facebook for good and not evil. That means I will not share like-baiting posts anymore and associated ego-trips. Sure, I want to be liked by people, but this is not the way to go about that.
Whew, long navel-gazy post, sorry about that! I really needed to get it out of my system apparently 🙂