It wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t on a Fact-Finding Mission. I wasn’t doing an experiment. I wasn’t even mad. It just turned out that I fell off Facebook for a while. Every now and then, I would realize I hadn’t logged in for a while, and I would think, “Gee, I should probably get around to that.” I figured my automatic blog posts would keep people informed that I was still alive and well. (Before I got a smartphone, I used to get the occasional email asking, “Are you still alive?”).
I’m kind of a hermit.
Anyway, I figured I would share a few observations about the experience before logging in again.
Logging in was starting to feel like a chore. It’s the best way to get updates about almost every person I know. I live at least a five-hour drive from almost every friend and family member in my world, and I don’t have much of a social life outside of Facebook. Even then, it felt like work. It’s so hard to find the signal in the noise. It’s so hard to avoid seeing or reading things that leave me feeling unsettled, sad, irritated, disappointed, or wounded. Much of this negative emotional burden comes from “friends of friends” being belligerent and rude to each other in someone else’s thread. Very few people in my acquaintance make any attempt to moderate their threads. This makes Facebook barely one rung better than “reading the comments” in any forum that allows anonymous posts.
My typical Facebook experience has been about 50% politics, 25% memes I’ve already seen, 1% rants about game requests (FAR more of these than I see of actual game requests), 1% spoilers of movies and books, and 3% pictures of meat. The remaining 20%, when I can find it, includes pictures of my friends, personal updates, and other things I actually want to see.
What finally put me over the top was when I started seeing “holiday” stuff the day after Halloween. I hadn’t even seen what I was looking for, pictures of my friends and their children in their Halloween costumes, before I was bombarded with Christmas stuff. Militant decorators wear me out. As of February 6, there were still Christmas decorations displayed at two houses in my neighborhood. Two weeks of Christmas is too much for me. Can we agree that over three months is a tad excessive?
During the four months I wasn’t on Facebook, a lot happened. We moved. We packed and unpacked. We scoured two houses from stem to stern. I went out of town five times for at least three days. I took on new coaching clients. I wrote and published some new coaching programs. I posted a couple hundred pages on this blog. We planned out our New Year’s Resolutions. I joined Toastmasters. I went to some Mensa dinners. I read over 80 books. We watched Making a Murderer, which added time to my sabbatical, because I knew there would be spoilers on Facebook, just like I got hit with a major Walking Dead spoiler last time I logged in.
What changed? More people started texting me more often, which is awesome. I posted some things on my blog that made me nervous, not worrying about any comments that people might make. Facebook tends to make me abjectly paranoid about negative comments, even though they rarely happen. I loathe arguing or anything most people would construe as debate. What I’m looking for is a feeling of connection, warmth, and affection. Occasionally, I’m looking for sympathy. What I often get from Facebook is a sense of being corrected, scolded, rebuked, lectured, chastised, or privilege-shamed. That never happens via text or Skype. It certainly doesn’t happen when I meet people face to face.
I’ve decided to put more of my focus on leaving the house and meeting people in person. I want to try to put down roots here, in this new city where I’ve lived for barely three months. I was already limiting my screen time on Facebook to a certain number of minutes a day, and that little bit was a bit too much. I realize that I need to hide the feeds of a few more specific individuals and avoid reading threads on a few more specific topics. I’d like to know what my friends are up to, but unfortunately, a lot of the time that seems to be “posting about things that make me angry.”
My decision is to start going on an official sabbatical from Halloween through New Year’s Day. (I might start sooner in 2016, since this is an election year, for what should be obvious reasons). It’s been productive and relaxing for me. I doubt anyone even really noticed I was gone. My information page has my URL. My phone number hasn’t changed in the last 7 years, and my email has been the same since the 90s. I’m on Twitter. I’m easy to find by every other means. My social networking obligations are covered. The difference is that I will announce the break and change my profile picture, on the off chance that anyone is looking for me.
Now, I’m going to break off writing this post, log in, and see what’s actually in my feed. I don’t have Messenger on my phone, and I have notifications turned off, so I really have no idea.
The first thing I find is that I’ve missed seeing an inquiry from the estranged relative of a close friend. It is bloodcurdlingly creepy. Look, if anyone tells me “I am avoiding contact with Person X,” I respect that. There doesn’t have to be abuse or weirdness involved. It’s none of my business what happened one way or the other. It’s in the same category as calling people by the name they use to introduce themselves. If someone shakes my hand and says, “Hi, I’m Galaktikon-91,” I’ll be careful to use that moniker as stated. That being said, if there is an allegation of misconduct, I’ll assume it’s true. I’ll especially assume it’s true if I’ve known one party for several years and have never met the other party. If the only thing I know about someone is that my friend refuses to speak to them, why would I want to talk to that person? Facebook, you did this to me. Thanks so much for giving creepers an avenue to creep me out. Now there is an electronic door in my world with a giant sign reading ‘DRAMA’ in red lights.
The next thing I notice is that, yet again, Facebook has been redesigned. I can’t figure out how to do anything. As usual, I’m sure I’ll get used to it just in time to have it change all over again.
I can only see notifications from the past month. Whatever came up before that, I missed out.
Focusing only on notifications is a different experience entirely from scrolling through my feed. I only see things if I’ve been tagged in them or if someone has taken the time to post them to my wall. That means it’s 98% lovely. Funny stuff, cute stuff, photos of my friends’ smiling faces. THIS is what I want out of Facebook. THIS is why I have to figure out how to recalibrate so that it works the way I want the tool to work. I don’t come here to be agitated by hostility, aggression, contempt, and disgust. I come here to think about my friends and what they’re up to. I want to see mundane details of their daily lives. I emphatically do not want to know what anyone in my acquaintance thinks about politics or current events. Why ruin it? Let’s talk about… gardening, and soup recipes, and planning some camping trips. And how to teach my dog to jump rope.
I read the news, probably more than I should. I try to get my news from aggregators and international sources, so I’m sure to see a balance of what’s important on a global scale. I need to learn things from people who know more than I do. That means journalists, academics, and other credentialed professionals, not my peers. We can’t even agree on commonly accepted sources. We find streams of ‘facts’ that support our ideological positions (myself included) and talk past each other, until sometimes we can’t be friends anymore. I see it as a lose-lose proposition. No upside, extreme downside. In our culture we can’t even talk about phones or operating systems or Marvel vs. DC without getting into arguments.
Okay, scrolling through my feed, there is a lot of political stuff, just as much as I remembered. The other thing I’m seeing much more of than I would like is that a large number of my friends seem to be sick, hospitalized, and recovering from or preparing for surgery. Facebook is definitely the place we go when we don’t feel good. I know I personally have probably never missed an opportunity to post when I had a migraine or a night terror episode. This is just what I’m talking about – the search for connection and sympathy. This is the kind of ‘Facebook bummer’ I’m willing to handle.
There is one post from someone who has perpetually been in the same situation, at least half a dozen times in the last few years. It’s like Groundhog Day. I can’t even believe this person is right back in the same spot again. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t all cartoon characters being drawn by a giant comedic hand…
I can’t tell if anyone noticed that I was gone, or not. The truth is that I’m just one person among dozens or hundreds in the acquaintance pool of anyone I know. They all have other things to worry about besides whatever I’m doing. It isn’t about me. It’s about how much information I want regarding my friends’ lives, and how often I reach out and talk to them. I missed saying Happy Birthday and “I hope you feel better” to a lot of people. I’m ready to make a fresh start. I’ll try to hide the noise and turn up the volume on the harmony.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.