38: Why I (Mostly) Quit Facebook

38: Why I (Mostly) Quit Facebook

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Why I (Mostly) Quit Facebook

One day I hope to have as good a life as everyone on Facebook.

~Author Unknown

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I’d heard how addictive it could be so I never signed up. But a few years ago, after my sister begged me, I reluctantly became a Facebook user.

I decided to treat my venture into Facebook as a lark. I would use it once, just to see what the buzz was about, and never visit the site again. I created a bare-bones account using my work ID photo. For about ten minutes, my sister was my only friend. As I looked at her page and her friends’ pages, learning new things about them, a dear high school friend “friended” me. Once I accepted that request things snowballed. In the next thirty minutes, I had sixty-three friend requests — all former high school classmates, many of whom I’d hardly spoken with since graduation. It was intoxicating. And interesting too — to read their profiles and see what they were up to and what we had in common. My life suddenly seemed richer. Why had I avoided Facebook so long?

After a pleasant lunch hour, I logged off, intending not to visit Facebook much in the future. However, the next day, a colleague sent me a friend request. After I accepted, I noticed that this colleague was Facebook friends with other colleagues. It seemed only polite for me to make these friendships official and public too. So I “friended” my colleagues. And while I was on, I “friended” all my college friends as well. I’d definitely stop there though.

I’d only been on Facebook a week when I felt an almost rabid need to collect friends. I had to have everyone I ever went to school with, worked with, the parents of my kids’ friends, and seemingly everyone I’d ever met. I made it my goal to collect 1,000 Facebook friends, and imagined how great it would feel to be so connected.

By now, if I had no lunches with friends scheduled, I’d check Facebook, laughing and sympathizing with the updates of my new online community.

I wasn’t sure about the etiquette involved with responding to posts. Did I have a responsibility to read all the headlines that Facebook generated for me and to respond to all my friends’ updates and photos with a personal comment or “like”? Need I acknowledge every Facebook friend’s birthday? Did my friends compare what I posted on other friends’ walls? If I liked someone’s new baby pictures, was I unintentionally hurting another friend’s feelings by not reading on to learn about and like his job promotion? Could I ever take a day off from Facebook? As fun and exciting as Facebook could be, it was also very stressful.

I updated my status rarely, crafting a breezy, but hopefully pithy, comment on life, or announcing something monumental like my wedding anniversary. Then I’d wait with bated breath to see who would respond.

I updated my photographs even more rarely, deliberating endlessly about my choices. What was I saying by only including myself in my profile picture, or choosing one with myself and only one of my three kids? Was I dissing my husband and other kids?

With my Facebook e-mail synced to my work e-mail, I’d get constant Facebook updates and e-mails all day long. It took tremendous discipline not to respond immediately. I could easily be lured into checking out someone’s status change, then sucked in deeper, marveling over shared experiences with people I was hardly friends with in real life. People sometimes shared the most ridiculous things, like how they ate a burrito at lunch, and yet receive 100 responses from fellow burrito eaters. They’d rave about the inherent deliciousness of burritos and debate the best and worst places to buy them. These threads would continue for days. People would post that their cat or kids threw up, drawing sympathy from forty-two of their friends. I hated devoting time to thinking about such things, yet was unable to stop reading. More than once I found myself looking at engagement or vacation pictures of friends of friends, people I’d never met.

I also found myself thinking a lot about people I hadn’t thought about for years, measuring their home and work situations, their kids’ activities, against mine, drawing conclusions about their lives based on their posts. I have severe motion sickness, and don’t particularly like sailing, yet felt intense jealousy when one friend bought a boat and posted a dozen photographs of her beautiful, happy family’s boating adventures. It seemed to follow that this friend probably also had children who did everything the first time they were asked, an easy commute, a self-cleaning home, and laundry that spontaneously washed, folded, and put itself away. I considered buying a boat.

Posts like these affected my in-person interactions. I got grumpy with my family for no reason other than I’d been feeling bad about things I’d read on Facebook. Everyone on Facebook seemed to be having more fun than me.

Despite my best intentions, I, too, could let Facebook eat up hours of my time on any given day. In addition to scheduling fewer lunches with friends, I was now devoting an increasing amount of family time to it. I resented when I had to log off to cook dinner, read to my kids, or watch a movie with my husband. As my online connections grew, my real social life stagnated. My husband complained, but I ignored him. I felt happier, and yet also unhappier, but completely addicted.

It was only when my four-year-old hit his two-year-old brother with an Etch a Sketch, saying he ruined his Facebook picture, that I knew I had a problem.

The same day, I lunched with an old friend. In the course of our conversation she said she’d realized lately that “time is the most precious commodity. It’s the only thing we really can’t make more of.” Her words hit me hard. Why was I wishing I didn’t have to read to my children or watch movies with my husband, activities I’d always loved? Why had I been devoting so much time to relationships that meant relatively less to me?

That night I changed my personal Facebook policy. Though I kept my page up, I now limit myself to fifteen minutes a week. If anyone has anything important to say, they can tell me personally. I’ll probably never quit Facebook completely; it’s helped me connect with old friends I might never have reunited with otherwise. But these days, I regularly meet friends in person for lunch again. I read more books, watch more movies, and take joy in spending time with my family. To paraphrase the great humorist Erma Bombeck, I now cry and laugh less on Facebook — and more while living life. It feels like time well spent.

~Kate Lemery

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