Towards the end of last year (2015), I deactivated my Facebook account. After being an active user for years, I started noticing burnout symptoms and decided it was time to take a serious break. A lot has been said about the benefits of quitting Facebook (like here and here) but it has also been discussed that having an account is actually beneficial. Having one wasn’t making me happy anymore, so I wanted to try the alternative. These are the three main things that I learned during the last month:
1. The black hole where most of my free time disappeared
I could not believe the amount of time I was spending on Facebook, even when I made an effort to limit myself. With it out of the way, I significantly reduced my procrastination and looked back to those projects and errands I was avoiding, and hobbies that had been neglected. It also made me face many demons that I kept at bay with the white and blue light of my Facebook profile.
I am still on the high of having broken the vicious cycle: stress about what must be done check Facebook to turn the bling eye to the panic of not knowing where to start, repeat. I still procrastinate (I am human), but it has gone down to 10 minutes of looking for a distraction instead of 40-60 minutes of passive scrolling (not to mention the dozens of open tabs in the process, you know, “for reading later”).
2. It’s not all Facebook’s fault
Excessive Facebook use has been linked to stress, envy, a decline in life satisfaction. I think the keyword is excessive. I thought I used it for reasonably long periods, but since I was suffering from it it was obviously excessive for me.
I find some Facebook features to be indeed a bother, like “people you may now” (Yes, Mr. Zuckerberg, I KNOW this person, and there is a reason why we are not friends, so please back off), or mistaking the popularity of a break-up post and suggesting that you re-publish it a year or two later (luckily this has not happened to me). But at least in my case, leaving taught me more about myself than it removed the causes of my discontent.
For example, I realized that a big cause of feeling overwhelmed came from an inability to set boundaries regarding when and how to reply to comments and messages. The problem followed to other social media until I finally understood my own responsibility. I had spent years refining a set of rules for taking calls and replying to emails, so why is social media different? I suspect it’s partly due to the affordance of smartphones as permanent extensions of ourselves. Not being in front of the computer is no longer a valid excuse for not replying to that anything you just received. But were the apps and services to blame? No. I should have kept the upper hand.
3. I enjoy other ways to stay connected much more than I enjoy using Facebook
Facebook is not necessarily bad for this purpose, but right now it matches neither my interests nor preferences. It also started clashing with my personality during the last two years (when my Facebook daily use spiked). As an introvert, I love being social, but also need time and room to recharge. Yet I spent that time “hanging out with people” on Facebook, which still used as much energy, leading to even more tiredness.
Since leaving Facebook, I feel my social batteries are quickly recharged and rarely depleted. I also pay much more attention to the kinds of relationships I nurture. I try to stick to settings that allow for a full presence, where it it possible to focus on quality conversation and paying attention to one or few people at a time.
Might this be considered a bit too old-fashioned now-a-days?
After these weeks, the high is still running. There is still much to do and explore, and going back to Facebook still feels like self-sabotage. It is possible that in time this feeling will fade and I will return to the network with a different approach.
But what about you? Have you recently quit or joined any particular social media? Has it made you happier?
Update: I broke my Facebook sabbatical in late February because I needed to use it for work. Most of my bad habits regarding the use of the platform were gone, and I actually forget to check it for days in a row. This of course does not please my colleagues, but they are sweet and understanding, and at least I am not expected to be around 24/7 as I was before.