Quitting Facebook Was The Best Decision I Ever Made

Quitting Facebook Was The Best Decision I Ever Made
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I really need to quit Facebook. It’s Saturday afternoon. I have things I could be doing. I could be watching television. I could be playing a video game.

I could be volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old folks home – Christ I don’t know. I could be exercising, or cooking, or going for a walk with my kids.

My kids.

I could be interacting with them. Sitting with my family and friends who are happily playing a board game in the next room. But nah…

I’m moping on the couch refreshing Facebook. Over and over again. Endlessly. Compulsively. I’ve decided that’s way more interesting. That is the life experience I’ve chosen.

A weird paralysis. I run through my options, the possibilities. Maybe I’ll do this thing, or that thing instead. Nope. Nothing feels inspiring. Nothing convinces me to drag my arse off the couch into action.

But I’m not happy either. Not content. Far from it. I’m not indulging in scintillating discourse online. I’m not laughing with friends. I’m not developing new relationships. On the contrary I’m miserable, frustrated. I’m waiting for people to ‘like’ my thing. Because that feels nice. Because that makes me feel good about myself.

It make zero fucking sense. I don’t need affirmation. I don’t need this. I am a content person. I consider myself ‘happy’. I don’t suffer from anxiety. I’m not depressed. Yet in this moment I feel completely lost. Tired, wasted and broken.

I’m still on my phone. I’m still on Facebook.

Refresh.

Refresh.

Refresh.


On some fundamental, sub-conscious level we all understand that social media – in particular Facebook – is an unnatural method of communicating with other human beings.

Another way of putting it: Facebook is fucked.

Thisisfine.jpg. I signed up for this. I understand the benefits. I’m Scottish. I live on the opposite side of the world to my parents, my brother, my friends. Facebook has made keeping in touch with those people exponentially easier. That’s great.

But Facebook is also a tightly woven Skinner box that encourages narcissism, anxiety and refresh refresh refresh. An echo chamber. A perpetual noise box. Padded walls, fake news, baby photos, selfies, racist grandparents, fucking-all-the-time cats, idealised selves slithering between the bandwidth cracks of reality.

It’s fucked. Completely fucked.

My Facebook in particular.

My wife. Very serious: “you spend too much time on Facebook.”

Me, throwing my head back, eye-roll: “naaaaaah.”

“Facebook is making our relationship worse and you’re setting a bad example for our children.”

Naaaaaaaah.”

Textbook denial.

Because I work in media (and therefore a tremendous wanker): “I need to use Facebook for my job.” Worse: “I am a digital native.”

Jesus H. Christ. I say these things?

I use the words that addicts use. “I can stop any time.”

So why didn’t I?

It’s hard to be completely honest about the reasons why I use Facebook. It requires taking a long hard look at myself and accepting hard truths that reflect poorly upon me. That I’m selfish and narcissistic. That sometimes the opinions of strangers matter more to me than those I take for granted. My family, my closest friends. My wife.

That I find it comforting to dictate conversations. Facebook allows us to determine when we communicate, what we communicate and what we have to listen to. It’s the reason, I suspect, why so many people disappear into their phones during actual social situations. In comparison to Facebook real life is a chaotic mess of misread visual cues and tonal subtleties.

And crucially, one must abandon a certain level of control in order to participate.

In Facebook you are the master of your own social universe. You construct that universe meticulously.

I have no issue with that. For some that’s empowering. Some need that – myself included – but my own personal endgame was a problem.

I was ignoring people. Friends would visit. I’d be on Facebook. My wife and I would spend time together. I’d be on Facebook.

I’d take my son to the park.

I’m on Facebook.

It makes me desperately unhappy to write and read those words.


So one Sunday morning I decided to quit.

More precisely I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. For a month. Just to see what that felt like.

For the longest time I’d been extremely defensive about my use of Facebook, but I’d made a personal realisation. Two actually.

The first: Facebook was making me unhappy and my behaviour was compulsive. It was a bizarre habit and it was making me anxious.

The second: Facebook was stopping me from doing other things. Most importantly it was literally stealing time from my family.

Deactivating Facebook was actually incredibly difficult.

It was actually literally difficult.

First of all, de-activation. It’s buried in the settings. Right here…

You have to click ‘security’, which honestly isn’t where you’d expect the deactivate tab to be. I suspect this is by design.

Yep, there it is. All the way at the bottom there.

But that’s where the fun begins. Click through and you find this…

An incredibly manipulative, last ditch attempt to change your mind. Your friends will miss you. These very specific people (almost certainly selected based on some sort of terrifying algorithm) will miss you.

Facebook won’t let you leave until you select a reason why? A dangerous, spurned lover bolting the door shut. “Why? Who is she? WHO IS SHE?”

As soon as you select a reason, another pop-up.

“I CAN CHANGE! I CAN CHANGE FOR YOU. JUST GIVE ME ONE MORE CHANCE!”

De-activate.

The lock unbolts, I slide through the door. I escape. I run like fucking hell. I’m free.

And then: the relief.


The sheer overwhelming relief. That surprised me. Being perfectly honest I expected to miss Facebook more. I expected a certain tension in my stomach. I expected to be seduced by my fear of missing out. That people were talking, talking about me and I wasn’t there to take part or defend myself.

I expected some sort of withdrawal. A social media detox.

That didn’t happen.

What happened: I suddenly had more time. A lot more time.

Like most addicts I constantly underestimated the impact my bad habit was having upon myself and the people around me. I procrastinated with Facebook, but it also sucked up much of my free time meaning that – post de-activation – I found myself able to do the things I previously complained I didn’t have time for.

TV shows. Video games. Fun stuff.

Over the last month I’ve been able to look after my kids, take care of household chores, spend time with my wife. This time literally didn’t exist before but now it does. I literally drew this time from the Facebook void and my life feels more fulfilling as a result. It’s almost terrifying.

These benefits also transferred to my work-life. At work I always had a Facebook tab open. I had good reason for this — in my line of work there are numerous benefits to remaining active on Facebook – but I couldn’t believe how productive I was without it. It wasn’t just the fact that the Facebook tab was removed from my browser, it was the knowledge that — with my account de-activated – there were no notifications for me to check, no conversations to contribute to. Nothing. To me, Facebook literally didn’t exist.

I cannot explain how liberating that felt.


More than a few times, out of pure habit, I found myself typing ‘facebook.com’ into my browser, but then I’d stop. I’d remember. “I’m not doing that now.”

But there were some issues.

In sharp contrast to how incredibly difficult it wass to de-activate a Facebook account, it’s troublingly simple to re-activate it. Literally all you have to do is log-in. The same way you would if your account existed in its regular state. On multiple occasions I accidentally re-activated my account by simply using Spotify. So many aspects of our lives are tied to this motherfucker.

But outside of those ‘accidents’, I was able to stay off Facebook successfully. It was actually relatively easy.

A large part of that was tied to my initial commitment to leave the site. Ironically, the trouble I went to when de-activating my account forced me to invest fully in that decision.

Also, the knowledge that I didn’t exist in that space was powerful. My photos weren’t being looked at, my statuses weren’t being read, discussed or ‘liked’. It was almost as though my online existence was locked in a temporary stasis — a comforting oblivion, a blank zen state.

And the realisation: none of this fucking even matters.

The longer you stay away the less important Facebook feels. Your photos don’t matter. Those petty little arguments in the comments don’t matter. Those likes and loves and laughs from the complete strangers you’re trying to impress don’t fucking matter.

At one point I logged back on. A moment of weakness inspired — of course — by my own narcissism. I published an article I’d been working on for months. I wanted to post the link on my page.

I pretended it was to help traffic, to help the site. It wasn’t.

I wanted to be congratulated. I wanted people to tell me what a good job I’d done. That what I’d been working on was important. I wanted people to type “another stellar piece of work by MARK SERRELS”. 100 ‘likes’.

I wanted to be at the precise centre of my own little universe.

But it was temporary, and the self-imposed Facebook vacation was enough to make me acutely aware of why I left in the first place.

Even today, with my account re-activated, I’ve become incredibly cognizant of what I post and don’t post on Facebook. I think about the burden of posting: the notifications, the cycle, the replies, the drama. The need to check and check and check. The compulsive nature of that behaviour.

The day I went back to Facebook was the day of Donald Trump’s election. On my Facebook page: wall-to-wall despair. On that day Facebook was in the midst of an audible, collective wail. It was brutal to watch.

Arguments in comments, blaming, shaming. A potent, fluid negativity leaking through the cracks. A post I kept seeing over and over and over again: “I’m taking a break from social media” “I’m struggling with anxiety/depression” “This is overwhelming”. On that day it felt as though the negative impact of posting and engaging with social media platforms was exacerbated to the point where many people couldn’t take it.

The day I de-activated my Facebook account was Sunday and it was a beautiful day. It was hot outside and I got sunburned. My wife and I took the kids to Bondi Beach for Sculptures by the Sea. It was crowded and windy as hell. The sand beat about my face. My three-year-old son couldn’t deal, so I had a 15 kilogram lump of flesh on my shoulders for most of the trip.

I took some beautiful photographs of my family. I didn’t upload them. We had an amazing lunch, but I didn’t feel compelled to share that with strangers. As we drove home my wife said it was the best Sunday we’d had in ages. That didn’t feel like a coincidence.

I felt content.

I thought about the Sundays where I might have been absent. There, but not present. My mind elsewhere, on the discussions I was having, the comments I’d made. The days spent dreaming up the perfect post, the perfect retort. My contentment morphed into a tremendous sense of guilt.

And I mourned for the hours and minutes I’d allowed to slip away.

Comments

  • Alternatively, you can delete the Facebook App from your phone, then just access Facebook on your PC.

    And stay away from Reddit. That addiction can be worse than Facebook.

    • I did just that.

      I deleted the app from my phone as I still require Facebook as a lot of my apps and some websites use Facebook API to sign me in. It’s so liberating to not have Facebook in my life. I still use the Facebook Messenger app to stay connected with Friends and Family.

      My partner often flips through Facebook when we are just ‘chillin’ which usually prompts me to join her and scroll through her feed… sometimes I miss my own but it’s only been about a month or so.

      Reddit is the devil indeed.

  • 100% agree. I’ve pulled back from Facebook and Twitter since I stopped developing stuff that used them, and I don’t miss it either. I check each once a week or so just to see if somebody is having a baby or something, and that’s about it. I’ve also pulled back from commenting on Kotaku etc as a complementary but not completely conscious side effect.

    I do still post things myself, sometimes, when something big happens. Like I won a grand final, or saw a band that I know my friends like. Things that I know I would be interested in hearing from others. But day-to-day banality can fuck off.

    These social interaction machines do not generally make me happy. They chew up my time which I already feel like I don’t have enough of. It’s compulsive. It’s effectively emotional gambling with all the associated connotations of real gambling, like cost, compulsion, and denial – and you demonstrated in this article. I’m much happier focussing on my all-too-rare face-to-face interactions.

    In short, good work Mark. Glad you’ve seen the light. Though I will miss your posts (which always appear at the top) on the rare occasions that I do open the app. But I’ll live, and my world won’t be that much lesser for it 🙂

    PS: Face-to-face – Christmas KFC some time? What dates are they on?

  • The one issue I’ve always had with being able to (figuratively) walk away – managing business pages. If there was an easy way to administrate business pages without needing a personal account, I think more people would be able to distance themselves in the way that you have.

    • Yep, same here. Business pages and also the page for my photography business. If I could seperate the two I’d kill my personal FB account in a heartbeat. But then that’s precisely why Zuckerberg would never instigate such a change – our likes and dislikes are what keeps the FB money cogs turning.

  • I stopped using Facebook when the majority of my news feed was photos of kids and lunches posted by people I hadn’t seen for years.

  • I’ve never really understood why people can’t just not use Facebook if they don’t want to it to take up all their time. I usually check my feed in the morning when I am waiting for the bus, and then again in the afternoon as I am on my way home. I use Messenger to keep in touch with friends – especially the ones overseas – and I run a couple of business pages. It’s no more of a time suck that I let it be.

    Then again, I guess it’s comparable to something like an alcohol addiction. Some people can have a glass of wine here and there, and other people are alcoholics.

    • I continuously wonder the same thing. Facebook has its place, but it doesn’t need to take over your life. I check occasionally, but I’ve never been one of those compulsive users. There’s just so much crap on there, especially when it comes to the ‘type amen if you agree’, or ‘if you don’t forward this you don’t care’. I don’t get that tripe, it’s pretty sad actually.

      My previous two years have been spent studying and the small group of us in the course started up a facebook group where we could share ideas, advise others if we were going to be late, or miss classes etc. It became a really useful place for us to communicate when we weren’t together in class. Apart from that, I barely use it. People don’t need to know what I’m having for dinner, or if I’m having an amazing time on holiday and they’re not…but I guess some people just need to share everything. Meh.

      Everything in moderation.

      • Good point on the study group – my gym had a group for a fitness challenge and used the group to post about upcoming seminars, ask for feedback on classes, etc. Plus it was a great way to put names to faces I kept seeing in classes 🙂

        I loved this article from Wait but Why that talks about both the ‘what I’m having for dinner’ and ‘having an amazing time on holiday’ situations: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/07/7-ways-to-be-insufferable-on-facebook.html … I would say to check it out, but I think it would just be preaching to the converted 🙂

        • Haha thank you, that link made my day. Quite a funny read because we all know people on Facebook that fit that mould perfectly ?

  • Good article. I haven’t quit fb but have scaled it right back, mainly because it became the default way I would use my free moments. 2 minute wait for a coffee? Open fb. 1 minute elevator ride? open fb.

    You’re right. It’s mostly pointless. But I have a few use cases that are hard to replicate. I have young kids, and their grandparents live interstate, so photos of the kids are a joy for them. Also I find that it’s very hard to get social events organised without fb. I also have some friends for whom Facebook messenger is the only easy way to reach them. So I didn’t want to delete my account.

    I scaled it right back. I use the Freedom app on my computer and phone already. I added a daily scheduled blocks of fb and twitter between 8am and 7am – so now I have a 1 hour window to open Facebook on any device. I deleted the fb app from my phone and signed out of my mobile browser. And I changed the password to a random alphanumeric string which is written on a piece of paper in a drawer at home. I can’t access fb remotely even if I want to.

    I can still use messenger when I like – it isn’t affected by the block I have in place.

    And you know what – I get just as happy and get just as much value from fb as ever, but now it’s no longer the enormous time suck it once was.

  • Great post Mark. I did the same a few years back and don’t miss it for one second. I’ve recently cranked it up a notch and stopped watching/reading any official newsfeeds (the little news I now get is via Lifehacker and Giz).

    It used to be the first thing I did while I made my coffee in the morning. Most of the time after listening/watching the headlines I’d head off to work angry/frustrated/depressed/etc after hearing about what our so called politicians said or someone getting murdered, etc.
    Now… bliss! Sure, some would reason I’m in a state of denial but I don’t miss the constant diatribe of junk that our media obsessed world categorises as news.

    You think you’ve got more time on your hands with FB. Try dropping newsfeeds…

    • OMG, that’s another thing I forgot to mention in my post, idiots who feel the need to shove their political views down your throat. ARGH!

      Ok, sorry.

  • Well done! Now the next step is to delete it. If you want to. I couldn’t handle just de-activating it. The temptation to come back was too strong. So I deleted it. All gone. All the photos/videos/groups/comments/history. All gone. GONE FOREVER! Phew it was a big deal and I still feel a pang of regret and longing to be back.

    But it was making me doubt myself. I started getting anxious and self-conscious and I stopped sharing things that genuinely made me happy because I would be scared of the judgment. Also, when a friend or family member passed, Facebook just became a terrible, false and shit place full of casual sentimentality. Come to think of it… I actually deleted my account just before my mother passed, just cause I couldn’t face the onslaught of strangers being temporarily nice.

    But I did it, about a year and a half ago, and it really does feel good. Problem is there’s always something new to replace those Facebook feels. I found Reddit recently and it’s also quite addictive. Think the best solution is to become a Monk. And not the ones with Wi-Fi. Or more realistically, I try to leave my phone at home now. If the kids and wife are with me, then the rest of the world can wait. Pretty hard to do though. I still have a lot of progress to make before I’m free.

    I have a secret Facebook account with about 8 friends. I use it to follow things like Kotaku. I also share all my awesome gaming moments with my 8 friends, free of the judgement of non-gamers.

  • If you think leaving FB is liberating, have you thought about getting rid of your home internet? I’ve only had the ‘net at home for the last six or seven years and it does my head in how easily I can waste entire evenings, or whole days on the weekend, doing nothing.

    Before I had home internet, I’d just stay back after work and do my personal browsing for an hour or so, and maybe take advantage of McDonalds’ painfully slow free wi-fi on a lazy Sunday morning now and then. It was easy and I didn’t feel like I wa smissing anything.

    Even in this era of smartphones it would work for me because I basically hate using it for anything but the basics, although Continuum fixes that with my new phone, I suppose. But I often lament how much more productive my life was before I had home broadband.

  • Something to try in lieu of deleting your account is simply doing a thorough cleanup of it. I recently spent a week un-following anything or anyone that I found to be posting objectionable or negative stuff, hiding all game requests and their apps and all of a sudden Facebook is a wonderful place where I can only see interesting articles and pics of my friends and family. Basically I added rose coloured glasses! Facebook is now very tolerable and I don’t feel the need to waste hours on it or get upset by it….

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