I was growing tired of Facebook. It was April 2018, post Cambridge Analytica, and I finally decided that I wanted off Mr. Zuckerburg’s wild ride. It was not because of the data scandal the month before (which was only a foreshadowing of things to occur in 2018 and 2019), it was not the privacy-invading practices, nor poor management of everything that seemed to happen. Instead, I was tired of the FOMO, the seemingly constant need to keep up-to-date with everyone and everything, and the obligation to share myself with the people I allowed to read my posts (not to mention keeping the algorithm happy so people would actually see my content). I finally decided that enough was enough, and over the next six months, I slowly disconnected myself from Facebook.
In the course of four months, I removed the app from my phone, forcing myself to only be able to use the mobile Web interface. I removed the Messenger app a month after that. I signed out on my phone’s browser, forcing me to only have access on my laptop (in a non-primary browser that I only used for Facebook). I signed out of that browser but kept the password saved. Throughout all this, I posted less and less. Eventually, I removed the saved password, forcing me to go to my password manager if I ever wanted to sign in. I began cleaning up my content. I trimmed my friends list, deleted photos, posts, tags in photos, posts on other people’s walls, profile info, and replaced my profile photo with a picture of my dog.
I deactivated my account. I did this twice, actually. During the cumulative month and a half of deactivation, people around me, whom I communicated with on Facebook and through other means, noticed that they could no longer tag me in things. I told them I was taking a break and had deactivated my account for a bit. It was a bit frustrating to them, but they couldn’t do anything about it. That was exactly why I merely deactivated my account, to see what kind of impact not being reachable on the platform would have. Finally, I decided to delete the whole account. I had never intended this to be the end game but as the months went on, I realized that it was the best course of action for myself. Besides, it only seemed to be a minor inconvenience and I was not missing out on much. I was still finding out about things in good time and if I needed to be reached, there were other methods. I pulled the trigger on October 1 and on October 31 (an absolutely fitting day), my account imploded and I was free from Facebook.
Fast forward to the middle of November 2018. A friend was asking my opinion about a certain thing. Upon realizing that I had no idea what she was referring to, she said she made a post about it on Facebook the day before. She had not realized that I had effectively stopped using it three months ago. The next month, a buddy said he was throwing a Christmas party and I was invited. When I asked for details, his reply was “It’s on Facebook.” A lady told me she kept trying to tag me in stuff but couldn’t because I hadn’t restored my account “yet”.
The impact of not having a Facebook account anyone really culminated in early January 2019. It was Sunday evening at my church. I was helping a three-year-old put on his shoes while talking to a girl. She had been coming to church for a few months with a guy already in the church. She was his girlfriend. She asked me if he had talked to me yet. “About what?” I asked. In absolute confusion she replied, “Um, the wedding? We’re engaged. It was on Facebook?”
As it turned out, the two had gotten engaged back in November and announced the event on Facebook. I had seen them every week since then and did not know they were engaged. I did notice one evening she was wearing a ring but thought nothing of it (much less noticed what finger it was on). I know girls who wear rings because they like to wear rings. Promise and purity rings also exist. When she said they had been engaged for months, I was genuinely surprised. “At least tell me you know [another lady in the church] is pregnant!” she insisted. That I did know, but I didn’t have to heart to tell her that I only knew because I overheard the lady talking about it two weeks before. I can safely assume she had announced the event on Facebook and, obviously, I missed it. The dad of the little kid whose shoes I had been tying this whole time, had been sitting there listening to two two minute exchange. At that moment he interjected “Sounds like you need to get a Facebook account again.”
I recount these tedious and boring events in my life because they show the impact social media has on society. Despite the well-documented issues, social media has succeeded in its original mission: to bring us closer together and allow us to communicate more easily. In hindsight, such a shift was bound to happen. As the Internet became increasingly available to access, it was only a matter of time before someone would have the idea of leveraging it to enable communication on a massive scale. Social media has increased the availability of information and lowered the barriers to communication, particularly in rural areas of the United States where one may have to drive over an hour one way to the nearest Walmart. The people I associate with are spread across the entire state, with the people I’m closest to living an hour from me. Being able to access Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms from my pocket at a moment’s notice and contact anyone I desire is a huge boon.
And yet, I have been growing tired of it. This almost sound contradictory to my very being, considering that I am an IT major and absolutely love technology and what has been created and yet to still be created in this Digital Revolution. Yet the more I get into tech, the more I pull out of it.
I’m 24 years old. I got my first cell phone at 20 and first smartphone at 21. I’m not someone who grew up hooked on technology, but it has always been a part of my life. I grew up with 56Kbps dial-up Internet and early-generation DSL but didn’t use the Internet in earnest until I was 17. There’s home video of one year old me gripping a computer mouse sideways and starting at the moving cursor on my dad’s Packard Bell Windows 95 computer. I played Putt-Putt and Pajama Sam on a Windows 98 computer. I remember when dad bought an HP tower computer with an AMD Athlon x64 CPU and Windows XP 2005 Media Center Edition and how cool it was to record live TV on your computer to watch later. I personally have used and updated/downgraded multiple computers from Windows XP through Windows 10. I have been doing Web development and programming for nearly seven years. I am well-versed in technology and I love it. But the more it enters my life, the more technology I cut out of my life.
I’ve deleted my Facebook account. I generally don’t follow people I know and places I go on Twitter. My Instagram is private and not posted online. Steam gets opened every once in a blue moon and games on it played even less frequently. I occasionally resume wearing my analog watch so I don’t have to pull out my phone to check the time. I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb and/or disconnect from WiFi for hours at a time. I have a time limit on Instagram to restrict my daily usage. I download music to my phone using Spotify Premium so I can listen without using WiFi or data. Once, I left my phone off for a day and didn’t communicate with anyone for over twenty-four hours. I got texts, calls, and DMs in that time but I didn’t see them until the next day (for some people, a day and a half after they sent them). I removed most social media from my phone over Christmas 2019. For a bit, I stopped participating in the daily #vss365 writing challenge I enjoy. Occasionally, if possible, I will withhold asking someone a question over text if I will likely see them in person in the near future. There are probably other things that I do without realizing it but I think you get the gist: I am a very digital person while simultaneously not digitally connected.
Maybe I am an extreme or edge case in this world. Maybe this is a normal reaction to investing oneself in the digital technology world. I am not wishing to purge technology from my life. The career I have chosen demands that I keep it around. But at the same time, I am learning to keep it within certain bounds. I have come to immensely value face-to-face conversations and interactions instead of talking over a laggy, pixelated audio/video stream. I want to know about all aspects of my friend’s lives and not just what is acceptable to post on Instagram. I want to be able to be a help, an encouraging word, a shoulder to cry on, a trusted contact when there’s trouble. A person’s well-being and the status of their soul is more important than any number of retweets or latest “Facebook official” status. Technology and social media help with these things, absolutely, but when they begin to consume you and you spend more time using them than in actually talking to a person and living life together, there’s a problem.
In 2020, I want to continue to rely on technology less. I'm talking limits, time restrictions, discipline in how often I reach for my phone. The older I get (and I'm still young!), the more I want depth, not breadth. There's nothing wrong in having people and contacts and being a part of a group of people you enjoy. But if being connected is becoming your priority, you have a priority problem. Look at the people you can truly trust and call your friends. How many are there? How many can you genuinely be open and vulnerable with and get deep into your life problems? Not that many, I'm sure. Those are the people I want to focus on. Those are the people I want more in my life because they know me at depth and not merely breadth. I encourage you to pursue depth as well in this coming year. Unplug yourself. Get disconnected. It did happen, even if there's no pics. Big love happens in the small moments, and it's the little wonders of life that make everything worth it.
But that only happens when you get unconnected.