It's been a few weeks since my official breakup with Facebook, and I'm still here, alive and well. I've survived the lack of habitually checking my phone for updates. My fingers have stopped the endless scroll for something new to read. I'm even OK not knowing the 30 things to know about things I didn't even know I needed to know. I've texted more, emailed more and (gasp) I've actually handwritten a few letters to people I miss.
And yes, I know I sound dramatic. There are far, far more important things going on the world than my disconnecting from the most popular website ever created. But I've thought about it and I believe this conversation is way bigger than just me. It's an issue for our times: our cultural relationship with social media. Facebook, and its global position and influence, is worthy of our consideration. My decision to stop participating on Facebook is deeply personal. By no means do I think it should be universally adopted; it's the conversation that matters.
I became a Facebook member when they opened registration to the would outside of college campuses. For the first year, I didn't do much with it, but eventually, the trickle of activity evolved into my primary source of personal and professional communication. When I officially deactivated my account three weeks ago, I had a little over 950 friends, was a member of dozens of groups and had liked hundreds of pages. Still, I left without much notice to my online community. I wasn't sure how to leave, so I just did.
Here's why: Gradually, over the past several years, I noticed my day-to-day relationships lacked an element of discovery. Instead of beginning at "catch me up since the last time we spoke," conversations among friends began at, "catch me up since your last post." Suddenly, entire chapters of our lives were reduced to status updates and a few images. That sweet sense of discovery among my closest friends had vanished. I missed it.
People are supposed to come and go in life. With Facebook, they come and they never go. The collective social norm that allows relationships to fade for flourish based on the personal investment they require went extinct when we signed up for Facebook. I carry grief and guilt over my decision to leave. It essentially cast a blanket of rejection upon people I truly cared about, or had cared about at some point in my life, whose connection to Facebook is entirely different from mine. How one-sided. How selfish.
You see, four years ago, the same thing happened to me. The one-sided crash of rejection came through email, not Facebook, but its ripple touched every aspect of my online and real life. My best friend of nearly 18 years broke up with me. Over email. Her brief note said she couldn't be the friend I needed and she wished me well in life. And then she went silent.
Not knowing why, or at least living in my own twisted world of speculation and overwhelming rejection, brought me to my knees. Our lives, intertwined through the connections of high school, college, marriage and friends, meant every aspect of my life was shadowed by the dark and lonely mark of her one-sided decision. The shadow made its way into my online world, too, with mutual friends taking sides in a battle I didn't know existed.
She never called me names in public, she made no grand announcement, my secrets were safe with her. It doesn't matter: Silence cuts deeper than melodrama. I called it a modern-day shunning. And just when I thought I was moving forward through my grief, images posted to my feed through mutual friends would smack me back down. They were my ghosts, appearing when I least expected it, haunting my heart as it broke for the thousandth time.
My absence from the grand conversation on Facebook is not the same thing as the grief over a friendship gone wrong. And I didn't leave because of her or anyone else. Instead, her shunning clarified how destructive being tied to the past can be. Choosing the present means letting go of a past I wouldn't otherwise be connected with. Pre-Facebook, our lives would have been far easier to extract from one another.
When I was truly honest, Facebook had become a quick ego fix, one I justified by saying because the masses were doing it, it had to be done. My work, my public persona and my personal life combined to make a false construct of who I wanted people to see and like. What's worse, my circle had evolved into a commodity, blurring the lines of my integrity. I take full responsibility for it; there are no smoke and mirrors with Facebook. The platform is designed to make money, and my participation in the game equals my acceptance. No hard feelings here, Facebook. You do your thing.
What began as a benign way to connect evolved into a freight train moving me away from highest ideals surrounding community, relationship and living authentically. Over time and like a drug, I needed more of it to fill the hole in my heart, growing deeper each day -- the endless scrolling, the incessant search for something new, the countless clicks and tangents that filled my spare and not-so-spare minutes. Like a forbidden fruit, its sweetness masked its poison as it pulled me farther away from living with intention.
I've stopped digging the hole. My relationships, my network and my future does not depend on a platform just because the world chooses it. Facebook's value in modern life can't be denied and I may not be able to ignore it forever. Someday, professional or personal obligations might mean I have to reconsider. If that time comes, I'll have reinvent a new relationship with the beast. And I will. And it will be fine. But for now, while I still have a choice, I have a book to write, I have letters to mail, I have a phone to put away, deep inside my purse, so I can enjoy the life unfolding before me.