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Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

3 Weeks Off Facebook and I learned I’m an Addict

This shouldn’t be surprising. And it probably wouldn’t take quitting to arrive at the same conclusion. But let me back up and see how I got here.

How I Got Here

Social networking really took off with MySpace in the early 2000s, where teenagers (at my time) created online profiles and had “friend” connections—at the time these were mainly just links that said something about who you were close to. You could interact slightly and comment on things, but it was really all about the profile, and people like me had fun customizing theirs and “rebranding themselves” occasionally 😜. Then came Facebook that really won the connection battle, more closely mimicking real relationships (even romantic ones!), allowing better sharing of content with discussions, and popularizing the News Feed™ stream of everything our connections were doing/posting/saying/liking. We hadn’t seen anything like this online, and it was so exciting in college to connect with new “friends,” learn about (stalk?) them, and keep up with people.

Why It’s Great

Since inception, Facebook really has been an incredible product to watch. Things were changed and added constantly, and it almost became its own phenomenon to see what my profile was going to look like next week. Facebook is the one-stop hub of our online presence. We can stay in touch with people from high school, learn about distant family updates, and discover what our best friends are doing today. We can form public or private groups, market businesses, and share and debate opinions with the largest free audience available. This is all very empowering and makes us feel important (even if we’re really not)! The list goes on, but I can’t overstate how convenient it is to spend 30 minutes on Facebook and gather more information about so many people than ever before.

Where Things Go Wrong

Seth Godin says “every interaction comes at a cost” in the attention economy. His advice is for the marketer, reminding her how brittle and valuable attention really is; however, the advice is the same on the consuming end: every interaction comes at a cost. Every time I open my phone, subconsciously type into a browser “face” + Enter, or scroll up one more time to see if anything’s new, I am interacting with a piece of technology I think is going to bring me joy, or value.

But does it really? For me, the answer is most often “no”. Instead, these interactions are an addictive trap that keep me going back to my phone or computer, take my mind off of something more important, and the cycle continues.

My wife and I went on vacation to Monterey, California last Fall and turned off all internet connection. We spent a week walking, driving, eating, learning about the town, and getting to know the neighborhoods. I walked to a local coffee shop every morning, finished an entire book, and felt more mentally relaxed than I have in years. I felt present with her and the people around me.

I came to the conclusion that for all the connection Facebook offers, it feels distant. I had over 1,100 “friends” at the time, but it’s different to learn information about people and to really know them. Facebook offers no shortage of information, and it’s built in a way to feed it to you incrementally to keep you coming back. But I want to know people, not just know about them. By the end of the trip, I reduced my list to ~250 friends to more accurately reflect my life.

Choose Where Your Time Goes

In Deep Work, Cal Newport admonishes us to tell our time where to go and meticulously assess the net benefit every tool brings to our lives. In other words, make somewhat of a pros-and-cons list for everything we’re going to spend time doing. Does it offer more pros than cons (does it bring net value to your life)? Then go ahead and use it—but at least you thought about it.

There are a few things in my life that I think may violate this principle, but one is clear: Facebook. I’ve been reducing my use of it over the years already, but these days it brings me the most value in church groups/connections and getting updates from local businesses (because it seems to be the primary way they interact with customers). Sure, I like seeing updates from friends, but I’d argue it’s going to be a lot more enriching to spend a night over dinner than comparing from afar how much snow 40 people got in their neighborhoods.

Goodbye for Now

I want to look back on life and be proud of the decisions I’ve made, how I spent my time, and the impact I left on my family and friends. Facebook is too much of a crutch, too hard not to be bound to, and not worth all the distraction necessary to bring a few benefits. I’m not sure I’ll be back, but for now it’s goodbye 👋

In pursuit of a calm, productive life.

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