About two weeks ago, I stopped reading Facebook entirely.
I dropped an email about this to some people I was close to, encouraging them to stay in touch. I didn't delete the account, because I have a number of pages I manage that I do want to keep there, for the sake of both exposure and avoiding having them squatted by someone else. But I logged out of it on all my devices, removed the app from my phone, removed the bookmarks from my browser, and let out the deepest sigh of relief
Two weeks later, the most immediate effect I have noticed is that I feel like have my brain back.
The first and most basic way this manifests is the way Facebook is no longer a compulsive timesink. It's too easy to sit there and just paw through what other people have taken from their life and pushed out into public, to let this endless carpet of voyeurism/exhibitionism drift past you in the hopes that something really interesting will come up. (More on this phenomenon later.)
The second thing I noticed, once I was no longer being hit with it, was how much of a cognitive drain it was to have this constant, morbid, numb, low-level curiosity about people you barely know. Or the cognitive drain of constantly feeling obliged to speak up because someone is wrong on the internet. This typically manifested when someone would post something stupid that I disagreed with, and I'd catch myself before I ended up participating in one of those wasteful circular internet arguments that inevitably degenerates into nit-picking pedantry.
Having the bad impulse was only half the problem. The constant kicking in of this mental circuit breaker was another, less immediately appreciated source of psychic exhaustion. It's just as bad to hold yourself back from constantly wanting to lash out as it is to constantly lash out in the first place; both are signs you're surrounded by negative stimuli.
All this was after some pretty brutal pruning of my feed. At the rate I was going, I reasoned, I would be left with only the people I already talk to all the time by way of other channels. That right there was a hint as to how Facebook was a lousy way to "stay in touch" or what have you. The way it's built, the way it's designed to present (and monetize) both your behavior and other peoples', works directly against real intimacy and genuine sharing.
It's not that I think other people's lives are uninteresting. Other people are fascinating, and their lives interest me tremendously. It's just that if the whole way I'm supposed to keep up with my friends, or vice versa, is through something as bletcherous as Facebook, I'd rather just not bother. I'll call them. Facebook is a terrible way to learn about what's going on in other people's lives, because it substitutes one-on-one sharing and communication for many-on-one exhibitionism.
"Okay," you ask, "how's that different from blogging?" Well, for one, the formatting and construction of Facebook's site are designed to further addictive behaviors on both the part of the reader and the poster — the infinite-scroll layout, for instance. The whole thing is like a slot machine, where you put in tokens of attention and get back tokens in the form of bits of other peoples' lives. (Again, channel-surfing comes to mind.) And the longer you're kept on the site in any form, the more Facebook — not you or the other people on it — benefit. A blog, being entirely your own, doesn't have such things built into its design unless you go to some length to put them there.
Again, the real difference is in why those strategies exist for Facebook to monopolize your time. My blog is created for me and by me, and I have absolute control over every aspect of not only its presentation but its reasons for existing. Facebook was created by and for Facebook, and any interactions I have with it are entirely for its own ultimate self-aggrandizement. In short: it's not mine.
I know that observations like these are not original to me; other people have made them, and done so better, and at far greater length than I have. I echo them here only because I agree with them entirely, and find that the more I confronted myself with them, the more appropriately nauseated I felt. This stuff was making me sick, and it had been making me sick for a good long time. The sooner I owned up to it all, the better.
The hardest parts, or at least the most logistically difficult ones, do not involve Facebook directly. One of them is how the various sites I run all have Facebook presences, and I'm obliged to maintain those in some form. If This Then That helps automate those interactions in a hands-off way. That's also part of why I haven't removed the "share" buttons from this blog — at least, not yet. I don't mind having a presence on Facebook in the abstract; I mind having to curate it, to give it the kind of attention I feel it is wholly undeserving of.
The other, tougher part is rebuilding direct connections with people I whose primary means of contact with most everyone they know was Facebook, and there I had to resign myself to the idea that I wasn't likely to get them to suddenly start writing me emails. Actually, one person I know has taken the time to do that regularly, long before Facebook ever became a thing, and I'm duty-bound to respond. God love ya.
In truth, I never really wanted to bother with Facebook in the first place. It was something I joined mostly because a great many people I knew were getting harder to reach save by any other means, and because I didn't want some rando taking an account in my name and creating havoc — something disturbingly easy to do when you have a name as singular as mine. But one by one, the annoyances and betrayals of trust mounted up: the way it kept trying to upsell me on its horrible, annoying messenger application; the constant sneaky reworking of the privacy settings and the interface generally; the BB-gun spray of pokes and game requests and god knows what else, and the time-sink involved in swatting away or silencing that crap; the slow creeping consumption and subsuming of other things into The Big F. It was time to put my foot down, and stop pretending this stuff was some inevitable part of my life, or of modern life generally, because it's not.
Postscript: I've also noticed that apart from my Twitter account for work, I've also pretty much shrugged off Twitter as well. My relationship with it hasn't been anywhere nearly as fractious, but I'm struck by how unessential it, too, has proven to be for me.
Other Lives Of The Mind