The Facebook Hiatus


Two weeks ago I decided to take a Faceook hiatus and deactivated my Facebook account. (Those that know me well know that I have had a love/hate with Facebook since it's inception). My reason for removing myself from the social slipstream? Purely attention deficit. I was spending more time reading status updates than reading essays or books.

Now, I'm a self-professed obsessive about time management and a fierce opponent of life-wasting activities. I have been a regular reader of Nicholas Carr's blog (author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain) and a staunch advocate of the "Getting Things Done" methodology of David Allen. I'm keenly aware of most people's attitudes toward social media as a time waster. You would think I would know better but I found myself hurtling along the social consumption channel with so much regularity that I decided to stop the flow. Since I'm no Facebook acolyte, I had expected to confirm Facebook as the massive life-suck it is often accused of being: a crutch for the listless and an opiate for the masses (elitist, I know).

I was wrong.

What did I miss during these two short weeks? I suffered no withdrawals as some have when they deactivated but I most certainly missed my network of friends and acquaintances. I also, surprisingly, missed the simple act of sharing on Facebook. Life's simple pleasures (running five miles, seeing a famous historical artifact, reflecting on a good book) are sweetest when shared with friends. Moreover, I missed glimpses of these small celebrations in the lives of my friends and family. What did I not miss? Random invites (Sims, Mafia Wars and its ilk). Indiscriminate invective of the passive-aggressive. Random inanity from people whom I definitely want to stay connected to but don't necessarily want to talk to everyday (surely I'm not alone in that, am I?). I also didn't miss that little black frenemy cloud. You know the one, the little dark useless puff that follows what you say and comments only to be dismissive or derisive. Not that I've had a ton but one troll/hater/stalker is enough to blighten any day.

The real question is, did I accomplish anything in two weeks? Yes. I started running again (long overdue). I read The Body Artist by DeLillo, Darkness Visible by Styron and Paul and Me by A. E. Hotchner (guilty pleasure). I finally read an author that has been high on my wish list, the renown Native American writer N. Scott Momaday. I finished House Made of Dawn and read (and reread) A Divine Blindness: The Place of Words in a State of Grace (beautiful essay). I resolved to crank up my commitment to this blog (no posts in that time, but, hey, gotta start somewhere) and I spent a lot more time outdoors. An interesting sidebar: I also spent more time sharing text messages and images with my family first rather than loosely connected friends first. (It's hard to lose that sharing impulse once it becomes a part of your DNA. It reminded me that text is a far more intimate form of conversation than "status updates"). Final thoughts on the Facebook Hiatus experience?

1. Facebook, though not a life-suck for many, is a life diminution. Our Facebook posts are not the sum total of who we are though they are the sum total of the persona we create (intentionally or unintentionally). Fact is, we only share a fraction of who we really are. Human beings are far more sacred and complex to be reduced to social sound bites. I try to remember this about my friends, we should give more social deference than we often submit.

2. Develop the habit of rich consumption first. Because we hold in our hands the wealth of the world's knowledge and ostensibly, libraries larger than the vast horde of Alexandria, we posses a powerful freedom: the freedom to educate ourselves. The biggest Facebook lesson for me was to fill life's tiny moments with ingestible insight from sources other than Facebook and twitter and make this heuristic act an impulsive habit. (For example, when standing in line at the grocery store, I instinctively picked up my phone and started reading where I left off in my current digital book, Storyteller Uprising: Trust and Persuasion in the Digital Age. Prior to the Facebook Hiatus, I would have simply slipped back into the social stream).

3. Though I am a happy introvert, I secretly relish those movie moments in period films where friends gather for multi-course meals and indulge in profusely intelligent conversation. Like the woman who resolved to visit all her Facebook friends, the Facebook hiatus forced me to think of ways to extend social media to include more social connectedness.

I am glad to be back on Facebook with my friends and family but I endeavor to practice moderation, at least as it relates to that which I consume. Social media in all its forms (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) are delicious snacks and at times are are even founts of fascinating insight but taken as a whole, scarcely hearty enough for one's only diet.

This article was cross-posted on Bobby's blog, Branded Matters.