Unfriending My Social Media
Hello from the other side.
By Gwynn Lyons, Stanford University
I’m happy to say that I’ve been clean for seven months.
I no longer crave the diminishing returns my vice brings, no longer allow it to distort real life. I’ve kicked it, finally.
Seven months ago, I deleted Facebook permanently. I had been struggling over the decision for months. Years. I secretly hated the way it controlled me, making me conscious of everything I said and did, every “like,” every inopportune photo. When some acquaintances liberated themselves from the shackles of the social networking site in high school, I applauded them. “I wish I could be as strong as you,” I said.
Flash forward to half a year ago. One of my best friends, a veritable social butterfly, deleted his account. I was inspired. I figured, if he could do it, why couldn’t I? (Turns out he had only deactivated it, and decided to reactivate it a week later when he simply had to see some photos of him that had been posted—but this is beside the point). The next day, I googled “how to delete Facebook,” dutifully went through each step, and found myself suddenly, startlingly free of my personal leviathan.
That first week was a test of willpower. I had previously gone without Facebook for brief stints using apps like “Self Control,” but never for more than twenty-four hours. I found myself blindly typing “Facebook” into my web browser, hitting the enter button and realizing, with the feeling of being slapped in the face, that I could not access it.
The blue portal invited me like a siren to rejoin, but stoically—nay, valiantly—I hit the “X” button on the tab before I could let myself fall into the trap. And then I did the most unexpected thing: I went back to my work.
It’s been seven months since then, and apart from the first week, I have had no thoughts about returning to Facebook. It’s been great. The time I would have used to mindlessly peruse profiles and watch cat videos can now be spent on more edifying endeavors, such as mindlessly perusing Reddit and watching episodes of “South Park.”
“Facebook wastes so much time,” I explain to my friends, who somehow still know that I have not become a bastion of productivity.
The best thing about not having Facebook, though, is being given license not to care about one’s social image. I can get cornrows, an “I love Mom” tattoo and a crappy spray tan all in one day, and without photo evidence circulating on the internet, no one will know about it until I see them in person, at which point I can give them a serious explanation for my activities, or just claim to be my identical twin. No more anxiety about likes, shares, or turd emojis; instead, I can confine my weirdness to real life.
Another great thing is that I am no longer inundated with news, fake or otherwise. To be honest, it is quite exhausting to be bombarded with headlines such as “Neighbour from Hell Ate My Guinea Pig” and “Kindergarten Teacher Quits to Make Six Figures Twerking for a Living” all day. I’d rather have my head under a rock and get my news secondhand, even if doing so flouts my civic duty to stay informed about the world.
It’s always fun to hear about Trump’s latest misadventures two weeks after they happened, when the din of the media circus has died down enough to allow one to hear one’s own thoughts, half bewildered, half vicariously embarrassed.
One thing that I only realized about Facebook after deleting it was the degree to which it affects how people gather information on others. It is true, I have stalked my crushes relentlessly to see which dorm they live in and which activities they do so that I can appear at those places “by chance.”
But it was blood-chilling for me to realize that people were probably doing this to me too.
I imagined my crushes reading my obnoxious capitalized posts about my views on Hannah Montana in eighth grade and my soul cringed. Worse than that was realizing that I could never be surprised when my friends told me about recent developments in their life in person, because I had already read their posts online. What fun is real life without the element of surprise?
Facebook does have some redeeming elements that I miss, though. For one, event announcements. Frat parties, birthday parties, Tea Parties—you name it, if the host is on Facebook, you bet the invitation will be on Facebook.
Occasionally, hosts have the foresight to realize that not all of their friends are on Facebook and kindly send out invites on email to me and my fellow Luddites, but most people either forget or don’t care enough. As a result, I have missed more events than I will ever know. Strange as it sounds, I don’t mind; in fact, I like it, because now that I don’t know about events on campus, I feel like I’m never missing anything. Out of sight, out of mind.
All this is to say that deleting Facebook was the right decision for me. There still are times when I have a burning desire to get in touch with random classmates from elementary school, or to poke my aunt, but I am willing to give them up for the peace of mind granted by a Facebook-free world. I don’t care if I am in the minority. Even when the world has joined into one network, each person becoming one with their screens, I will be the last holdout, the Atlas holding up the real world while my fellow humans languish in a sea of smileys, turds and gifs.
If you’re strong enough, come join me in my quixotic quest, and you might be rewarded in ways you could only dream of.