A dedicated NPR junkie, I find myself most frequently able to tune in during The Diane Rehm Show due to my continuously changing work schedule. This morning, a story called “Social Media and Loneliness” was playing when I got in my car after yoga. You’ll definitely want to listen to the hour-long show, so turn it on as you cook dinner this evening or while you work tomorrow. Rehm’s guests discussed “what increasing digital connections mean for the epidemic of loneliness” (Source). Similarly, CNN just released its Living Without Facebook assignment. Check it out here. With so much Facebook-free news surrounding me lately, I decided to write my “A Year Without Facebook” post. The end of May marks my 365 days of Facebook freedom, and since I gave up the social media website, my life has changed for the better.
First, I no longer compare myself to others on a daily basis. In turn, former everyday feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and self-doubt are no longer present in my life. I don’t compare my life with others, and I don’t need “likes” to validate my ideas or “friends” to feel loved. Sherry Turkle, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that there is “pressure to put your profile out there and be validated by a lot of people” and “pressure to present yourself as the self you want to be – the ideal self – not as who you are but as who you want to be” (Source). Facebook preys on our most basic insecurities, needs, and desires: the desire to be loved and the desire to belong.
When I used Facebook from 2004 to 2011, I found myself constantly comparing my life to the lives of my Facebook friends. Everyone else’s life looked so perfect: one friend had the perfect career; one had the perfect wardrobe; one had the perfect home. During the year I’ve lived Facebook free, I’ve realized that Facebook is less about being your authentic self and more about presenting and performing the person you want to be. It’s all an act! For the past year, I’m no longer acting, and I don’t feel the pressure to act… I can just be who I am and live my life without the constant worry and fear of scrutiny from 2,000 Facebook friends. Additionally, I no longer live with that daily reminder that my life is insignificant when compared with the “perfect lives” of my Facebook friends. Jealousy is no longer a constant emotion. My life is instead focused on living the best life I possibly can for me. The faking and the pretending, those phony elements of Facebook, have been completely eliminated from my life. I find myself at the end of this year more positive and truly happy; I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments. And I don’t have to compare my success to others on Facebook… I can compare my present to my past and focus only on what works best for me and my personal growth.
Second, I am not the first to see, hear, and know about things. For example, a dozen friends either got engaged, married, or pregnant during the year I’ve lived without Facebook. I’m always the last to know about anyone’s big news. On a local scale, I might be the last to find out about a party or social event. I eventually find out. I may be the last to know, but I’m okay with that. Living Facebook-free allowed me to delay that instant gratification and to be fine with knowing I will frequently be out of the loop.
One of the guests on The Diane Rehm Show uses the acronym “FOMO” – the fear of missing out. We really feel that without Facebook, we’ll miss out. If we don’t check our Facebook pages, somehow, we’ll miss something. Facebook feeds our desire to know but also to know immediately.
I won’t say this transition is easy. Sometimes, I will feel a little pang of jealousy in my heart when I’m at work and hear everyone laughing about an inside joke I would understand if I had a Facebook account. However, coping with this teeny negative downside is worth the positive changes in my life.
Third, being able to manage my small symptoms of jealousy has been easier because I’m no longer on Facebook. How? I am more comfortable than ever spending time alone, reflecting, reading, writing… just being still and thinking. Sherry Turkle says, “Solitude, the restorative capacities of solitude, are the bedrock of our ability to form relationships. And now, you see people at a red light, you see people at the checkout line of a supermarket, and they look like they’re in a panic; they need to connect […] And that compulsion to connect is really not good as the foundation for the kinds of friendships where you really get to know another person” (Source). Some people have a hard time just existing alone by themselves. They have to constantly look at other people’s lives on Facebook, text, IM, and Tweet. I’ve found that during this year without Facebook, I am back to being completely happy all by myself.
Living Facebook-free for one year takes me back to that harmonious place of loving who I am and continuously working to become better as a person instead of continuously updating a Facebook status. For many years, I couldn’t enjoy or appreciate that stillness. In fact, during 2008-2009, when I was miserable, full-time jobless, and broke, I spent more time on Facebook than ever before. Especially during that time, Facebook was an addiction for me. I spent hours a day on Facebook. From 2004, when I first developed a Facebook profile, to 2011, when I deactivated, I spent at least an hour a day checking the social media site. That’s approximately 2,500 hours of my life completely wasted.
My students are similarly addicted, so I know it is a problem for a great number of Facebook users. Every time we have a break in class, my students are logging in, updating, and looking. If they spend 30 minutes a day in my class alone on Facebook, imagine how many hours they’re spending total…
It boils down to this: only a few rare folks can use Facebook in a positive, meaningful way without becoming addicted. You probably think you’re one of those people, naturally, but I challenge you to log your Facebook time this week. After reviewing your one week tally, consider how much of that time could have been spent doing something worthwhile. What did you actually accomplish on Facebook that you couldn’t accomplish using the phone, email, or an in-person meeting?
Fourth, Facebook feeds into our celebrity-crazed culture. One of Diane Rehm’s guests suggested that the connections on Facebook are “shallow” and “narcissistic,” and I agree. As opposed to focusing on keeping in touch on a deep level with close friends, many people use Facebook to create the largest network possible: a sea of adoring fans to help the Facebook user feel more and more like a celebrity. But from what we know of celebrity, it is a shallow, hollow lifestyle…
Living without those 2,000 Facebook friends has an upside. These days, actual friends will text me or call me. They will email me. They’ll reach out and say, “I haven’t seen you in so long! Let’s have lunch.” If I were still using Facebook, this person wouldn’t reach out and make the effort, as they’d feel they were connected and know what’s going on in my life. I have seen my relationships deepening… or, on the opposite side of the coin, eliminated altogether. The superficial “friends” and folks who were just there to build my “Facebook Friends” list are no longer around, and I don’t mind it. The live relationships I have in my everyday life are real, meaningful, and rewarding. The petty superficiality left along with my Facebook account, and I feel so much more like a satisfied adult and less like an awkward teenager trying to be the most popular girl in high school.
In the past year without Facebook, I’ve been focusing on myself and what’s important in my life. I’m now making positive steps toward true happiness and self-fulfillment. I work… a lot. When I’m not growing and evolving as a superteacher, I’m volunteering with my sorority’s alum chapter or with JLGO. Putting in all that time volunteering scored me a position on the 2012-2013 JLGO Executive Board! I’ve also begun to exercise; developed better eating and drinking habits; used my free time to read, write, and blog; gained stronger and deeper friendships; and eliminated so many horrible feelings and emotions. Living without Facebook is a lifestyle change. Now that I’m a year free from its clutches, I realize Facebook doesn’t meet any of my needs, goals, or wants. What does it do for you?