One Year

It’s been just over a year since I deleted my Facebook account. This is hardly a milestone—at least I don’t consider it to be one, but it has got me thinking.

I deleted my Facebook for a number of reasons. I was never all that comfortable with Facebook’s business model (i.e. collecting, displaying, and distributing user’s personal data for ad revenue), so when Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was going public, it seemed as good a time as any to say “no thanks.” Then there were the little reasons: the site redesign, the frequent changes to the privacy policy*, all the vapid status updates from people I barely knew.

Mostly, though, I was tired of feeling isolated.

I’d recently started a new job, fresh out of college, living about a half an hour from my parents’ house and hundreds of miles away from any of my friends. I’m not going to get into the details of that job or the place I was living, except to say that I had a hard time connecting with the people who lived there. Seeing pictures on Facebook of my college friends having fun without me, well, it hurt. Logging onto Facebook during this time felt like a constant reminder of just how far away I was from everyone I cared about.

In May 2012, the Atlantic published an article by Stephen Marche titled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?“. In it, Marche explores how, for many people, the Internet has made our connections “broader but shallower.” He describes how passively scrolling through hundreds of brief, impersonal status updates by friends and acquaintances can leave one feeling disconnected, alienated, even depressed.

These days, we have the ability to connect with more people than ever before, but that doesn’t necessarily make these connections meaningful. I’ve heard this described as the Facebook Paradox: the idea that the more “Friends” a person has on Facebook, the less likely they are to interact with people in person.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if the Facebook Paradox is true or whether Marche’s article has merit. All I can do is speak from my own experience. For me, I don’t think having a Facebook account made me lonelier; it just made the loneliness I sometimes felt more acute.

I didn’t delete my Facebook right away. At first I’d just planned to deactivate it for a while. After a couple weeks without it, though, I realized I was getting along just fine without it. I decided to cut myself off for good.

This essay is not an attack against Facebook, Inc.**, nor am I  judging anyone for using their service. My only goal here is to explain why I decided to leave Facebook and to explore how my relationships have changed since then.

It surprised me after I left Facebook how many of my friends became apologetic, even defensive, in explaining their reasons for using Facebook. Some people I know only use it to keep in touch with family members, colleagues at work, or the friends they don’t see every day. I knew someone in college who would only add people as a Facebook Friend after he’d known them for several months. As far as I can tell, there are as many reasons to have a Facebook account, and as many ways to use it, as its users can imagine.

The way I see it, the decision whether or not to use any form of social media for personal use is a bit like deciding whether or not to get a tattoo: it is a deeply personal decision that most directly affects the person who makes it.

This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to getting a tattoo.

So how has my life changed since leaving Facebook?

In a lot of ways, it really hasn’t. I still get up in the morning, I still take pictures, even though I’m not posting them online, and I continue to spend time with my family and friends whenever I can. If anything, not having a Facebook has made me appreciate these relationships even more.

I did lose touch with a lot of people after I left Facebook. I do sometimes wonder how X is doing or if Y and Z are still together. But to be honest, X, Y, Z, and I were never all that close, so it doesn’t really bother me that we haven’t kept in touch.

A couple weeks ago, one of my friends sent me an email apologizing for not responding right away to something I’d sent her. “It seems that even though we are more able to stay connected,” she wrote, “we don’t feel an urgency to do so.” This makes sense. Technology doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Even the earliest telephones would have been little more than a novelty if Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t needed to communicate with Watson.

Communication. That’s probably the biggest difference in my live sans Facebook. Without those constant status updates to let people know how I’m doing, I’ve had to make an actual effort to keep in touch with my friend in faraway places (which right now is most of them). I’ve had to relearn the art of correspondence: to write letters, make phone calls—to be honest with the people I care about.

Mind you, I’m not perfect at this. Who is?

Still, after a year without Facebook, I feel more connected to my closest friends than I’ve ever felt before. Because I don’t get to see them everyday, it makes the time we have together that much better. As the old proverb goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It’s hard to describe just how happy I feel whenever I get a letter, an email, even a text message from a friend I haven’t heard from in months. The constant connectivity of Facebook can’t compare with that.

The question remains: Do I miss Facebook?

No, not really. Breaking that question apart a bit, do I miss having it as a tool for communicating with friends? Sometimes. Do I miss using it as a tool for planning events? Yeah, I kind of do. Do I miss the status updates, the photos, the temptation to “Facebook stalk” every single person I’ve ever met? Not at all. Last, would I consider returning to Facebook anytime in the future?

Maybe.

I think spending time away from Facebook has helped me come to appreciate it more as a tool, not a lifestyle. Odds are good that in the near future I’ll have a job where I’ll need to use Facebook for work, which would mean I’d need to activate a new account. I’d be okay with that. I think I’ve learned how to better manage my time online, and I’ve realized that I’m not obligated to respond to every Friend Request I might receive. So yeah, if my job requires it, I’d be willing to return to the world of social networking.

Otherwise, I’m happy living in Facebook exile.

–R.

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*I take it back: Facebook constantly changing its Privacy Policy is not a “little reason.” I’m one of those weird Internet privacy advocates who believes that users should have greater control over their online data. This, of course, puts me at odds with, oh, just about every Internet company in America.

**Though some of their data collection policies seriously creep me out.

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