Facebook is airing television commercials in an attempt to woo back a jaded populace. They promise to get back to connecting and not dividing, promise to be more careful with our data. They are standing on our doorsteps with a bouquet of wilting daisies and an I’m sorry, please don’t leave me sulk. I broke up with social media two years ago, before the election debacle, before the tirades that I already thought unbearable became even more entrenched and teeming with even more vitriol than I thought possible, before Facebook thought it needed to pick up flowers and profess to change it’s ways. I left for personal reasons, thinking myself an aging outlier, not realizing at the time that a scant two years would prove my personal feelings to be the norm for many and not just myself. The irony is not lost on me that when I read studies showing increases in depression six to ten fold since the advent of smartphones and social media, or that when I read some of the founders are talking out against their creation, admitting to employing techniques tantamount to psychological warfare to keep users addicted, I want to shout it to the world…. and that the easiest way to do so would be with a platform like Facebook. I’m not going to booty call Facebook and rejoin just to rail against it, so instead I thought perhaps I might share the original post, for what it’s worth and it’s enduring relevance in a world of lazy and distancing online connection over the hard work of IRL.
The Easiest Breakup
Originally Posted May 5, 2016
I broke up with Facebook. I thought it would be like when I broke up with smoking, reflexively reaching for my phone, as I used to reach for a phantom pack of Marlboro Lights in the cubby of the driver side door. I thought it would be like the first month after I broke up with my high school sweetheart, dialing all but the last digit of his phone number, back when you still had to dial a phone. Instead, I’ve felt nothing but freedom. I’ve barely reached for my phone. There is no urge to log in. My relationship with social media had been growing increasingly dependent and toxic, mirroring the habits of the 25-year-olds I admonish for not looking up. Look Up. There’s a world. It’s beautiful. I was forgetting to do it myself in a haze of obsessive scrolling. LOOK UP. John Green wrote it best in Paper Towns: “It is so hard to leave— until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”
That little click on Deactivate Account was the easiest goddamned thing in the world.
Perhaps part of it is my age, being of the last generation to grow up communicating pre-Internet. If you wanted to talk to someone, you called them. You knocked on their door. There was intention in connection. I still know that ex-boyfriend’s phone number because four years of dialing it committed it to the vaults of sense memory. I had actual conversations with people, full of meaning and nuances and laughter and tears. We all fleshed each other out and tried to make genuine connections. We didn’t tag each other in mozzarella meatball recipes and deem it communication. I say it in my PREAMBLE; I think we’re all just looking for some kind of connection. But a real connection, not a false one. We’ve created this environment where we use social media to put forth our best side, only showing the left cheek in profile in mid-afternoon dappling sunlight, because it’s the one free of blemish. It is not genuine. We are not 2D creatures. We are full of bone and sinew, facets and flaws.
I started my affair with Facebook begrudgingly six years ago like it was the last dude left at the bar when the house lights came up. I joined merely because I was Maid of Honor for a wedding in which I did not personally know a single other bridesmaid. Social media seemed the easiest way to corral them all. I only checked in on my desktop maybe once a week. Over time it migrated to my tablet. Then my phone. It moved in, brought a toothbrush, and cleared out its own drawer. I kissed Facebook hello in the morning upon waking, took it in the bathroom, to the line at the grocery store. We were never apart. I fretted over why certain people didn’t ‘like’ a status. Checked the “last active” times to indulge some obsessive overthinking tendencies to question why some people in my life will ‘like’ 10 things in a row but not take two minutes to return a text, an actual attempt at communication, because they “don’t have time”. In return, Facebook targeted ads at me based on my likes and Google searches for refrigerators and chairs I can’t actually afford. It struck me gradually that I was apparently in a codependent relationship with social media. People get therapy for that kind of shitty bond. So I quit.
There were a few interesting reactions in the short time since I’ve left. Since I’m not distracting myself by scrolling through 20 people sharing the same Grumpy Cat meme, I’ve had a chance to actually think about these varied reactions. Out of hundreds of “friends” less than five noticed. The most alarming and presumptive reaction was an accusation that I ‘unfriended’ and blocked real world friends of 25 years without warning. I felt attacked as a spiteful person for an action I had not taken, especially since they were aware of my own distress when such an action was indeed taken upon me by a long time friend. I have been erased from someone’s life both digitally and in reality. I would never do that to another person without some semblance of a conversation, like an actual adult who values relationships. They jumped to an immediate conclusion without questioning, without thinking, without pondering, without so much as a pause to consider what I thought they knew about my personal character after all the years of real, not digitally enhanced, history.
It strikes me this is a result of this instant gratification, increasingly narcissistic, social media world we’ve created. WE DON’T PAUSE TO THINK.
“Of course it’s directed at me. It had to be about me,” a knee jerk reaction when in fact I am merely trying to simplify and Look Up. To be more mindful. To pay attention to the world. To think of things outside of myself, outside of my status update and latest selfie posed just so.
It has been suggested I’m withdrawing by leaving the social media world, which I will grant is a plausible consideration given that withdrawal is my Crunchy Shell Prime Defense. I’ve been reminded that Facebook, while not perhaps an “excellent way” to stay connected is “one of the easiest to stay in touch,” but the more I think about it critically, the easier it is to see it as sanctioned stalking. With whom am I “keeping in touch”? Should I know that the chick three rows back and one over in Algebra II in high school just had the best sushi of her life? Is there any conceivable reason I should know the pothead I dated when I was 22 is now married with three kids, living 15 minutes down the road? No.
Very few people are meant to stay in our lives. They wander in. They wander out. What we do now is unnatural.
Too much Ruby Red and a 3 a.m. mouse click should not inform me the tall blonde with the pretty glass bong who once told me he had never fallen in love, and didn’t think he ever would, had found someone to do just that and I might run into them at the grocery store. Let that shit be a surprise.
And from what am I really withdrawing? A platform that has yielded political diatribe shouted in ALL CAPS instead of engaging in actual thoughtful discourse? Aforementioned mozzarella meatball recipes a vegetarian will never make? Baby pictures from people I barely know? Grousing about invasion of privacy from people who post five times a day on a public forum? Vague comments merely uttered to elicit reassuring responses in a vain attempt for attention? Meme after meme after video about wine posted to my timeline by one person I delete because perspective employers now look at social media to consider a potential employee’s ‘character’ and though I’m tipping a glass right now, I would prefer not to look so much like a raging alcoholic? An aunt I barely know ten states away that gifts my private messaging many times a day with chain mail missives about angels and National Hug Day? Yeah ……. I think I’m good with withdrawing from all that.
My breakup may be temporary. The things I hate about social media may fade in my mind like that henna tattoo I got on the boardwalk, washed away by salt water the next day. I may slink back like a good little codependent. For now I’m going to finish a book without picking up my phone at the end of the every chapter. I’m going to lay on my couch listening to Bonnie Raitt and actually feel how achingly beautiful it is without a scrolling distraction. I’m going to Look Up.