I am not anti-Facebook.
In fact, after some misguided self-righteousness (read: pig-headedness) that saw me quite vocally (and repeatedly!) proclaim my intentions of never activating a Facebook account, in 2010 I caved and jumped in with both feet. I’ve enjoyed it to varying degrees ever since. That is, until I’d had enough and uninstalled it from my phone two weeks ago.
The truth is I probably wouldn’t have even joined in the first place had I not lied on a job application about my “extensive social media experience” and then shockingly gotten that job that would start three weeks later. And although my tenure at that job lasted an excruciating two months, I’m glad for whatever the impetus was to get me more engaged with the people I choose to be connected with.
Because that’s the beauty of all social networks. They’re all entirely opt-in. You cultivate your own feed based on the merits of your social circle. I remember when I joined Twitter in 2008, the most common reason given for avoiding it was something like, “I don’t want to see what a bunch of people had for lunch, y’know?”
My response was always, “Then don’t follow anyone who posts such meritless banality.” I see the same thing now when people bitch about the quality of their own Facebook feeds. It makes me laugh. That’s not a criticism of the people in your feed, that one’s on you.
Don’t like your feed? Get a better one. Mute the most obnoxious and dull of your circle and follow more interesting folks. I have a great number of folks muted/blocked on my Twitter/Facebook pages, and I feel great about it. Occasionally I’ll get curious about someone I no longer receive updates from, go and look at their stuff again, and then – yep, I don’t miss you.
And yet, I still get it. Sometimes the noise becomes too much and overwhelms to the point of inspiring hopelessness or despair. I don’t remember exactly what the trigger was, nor does it even really matter in the endless churn of the whirring social media perpetual motion machine, but my staunch liberal friends were all – “shouting” is the wrong word since I’m friends with incredibly civilized people, but their insistence and intensity were a tick and a half higher than normal, so, okay, shouting – about something, and my staunch conservative friends were doing the same, but about a different issue. They weren’t yelling at each other as much as they were all just shouting into the night.
As I scrolled and scrolled with no end in sight, I finally just dejectedly closed the app, pressed my thumb into it until it started wiggling and jostling like a cartoon that had too much caffeine, and hit the small “x” on the top right corner. If you don’t like the shouting in the street, just close the window once in a while.
I describe the feeling of deleting the app as equal parts relief and regret. I was relieved, sure, since the cacophony felt punishing, and the immediate stop I put to it was freeing. But the regret was harder to qualify. It wasn’t fear of missing out or anything similar, it was more like I was letting everyone down.
Before you misunderstand me, this is not intended as ego stroking. I don’t believe my contributions in any way are of higher merit than anyone else’s, but by eliminating them altogether, I know with absolute certainty they were of lower.
This returns to my original point about cultivating your own feed. On the whole, I see posts from people on Facebook I like and respect, and anything they choose to add to the machine is a gift. That’s not to say I enjoy everything everyone posts – I certainly don’t – but to say many choose to post nothing, and it’s only because of those who are brave enough to offer something for consumption (Note: This does not take into account motive, but if your feed contains a great number of trolls who post blatantly inflammatory, monotonous, uncreative or otherwise terrible content, see again my point about the opt-in nature of this tool.) that we all have anything to look at anyway.
And in a weird way, more often than not I appreciate the political stuff. That someone so deeply cares about an issue or a candidate, they’d offer it up for discussion in a semi-public forum is, all things being equal, a heartening way to think about our democracy. Granted, all things are NOT equal, so this point is mitigated, but still.
We are engulfed by issues of import in this world, and while grotesquely imperfect, Facebook, when done correctly and thoughtfully, is a terrific way of beginning to engage with them. That’s why deleting the app off my phone caused me some regret.
A week later I re-installed it, and nothing had changed… Which, now that I think about it, is imprecise. I had changed. I was recharged. It was nice being away from the noise, and while I didn’t really miss it, I was happy to see the people I liked and respected again.
It’s important to step away and take a breath every so often, which is why I’m a fan of the Facebook hiatus. But it’s even more important to come back. The only way our engagement gets any better is if we’re all more thoughtful, intentional, and caring about the way we do it.