Facebook Break

Friends of mine (and at this early stage, I think it’s only friends reading) have asked about my “Facebook break”. Why did I do it? What has it been like? How long will it last?

There are a few reasons why. The most obvious is what a time sink it has become for me. It is such an easy spot to go when bored or lazy and see what’s happening. If I’m lucky there are messages or notifications. If I’m not, there’s always the feed – an infinitely long road filled with statuses, photos, and shared links.  Some of it was interesting, but for the most part, Bruce Springsteen nails it:

But despite that you scroll – because sometimes there is something interesting.  Sometimes there’s a news story you can’t possibly believe about yet another anger-inducing move from one politician or another. Or just a regular guy being hideous to his fellow men. And sometimes there’s someone commenting on that that is so ignorant you just can’t stop yourself because…

What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!
Via xkcd.com – who else?

Wasn’t that satisfying? Didn’t you put them in their place? And you used facts, not personal attacks like they seem so prone to.  Better make a mental note to come back later and see who liked that comment and if that troll dared to respond.

Scroll down further, there’s something snarky. Join in the snarky fun. Come back later and see who thought you were cool.

Every once in a while, read something interesting about someone’s life. Or see a photo of their family having fun and be genuinely happy to hear about what’s going on in their lives and to see what they’re up to.

And then you look up and see that 45 minutes has passed. How can that be? You just sat down.

Now go out to see a show. Wait for the bus, check again, go down the rabbit hole. Turn off the phone for the show (you guys do turn your phones off, right? Good.) and when the show is over power up. Did that troll comment? Who thought your comment about Barry Manilow was worth a “ha ha” reaction?

It eats up a lot of time. And for me, if you read back you can see that while there were lots of things to light up your monkey brain, the one thing that was 100% enjoyable without any side effects were the conversations about people’s lives: something increasingly missing from what Facebook was providing me.

And so, the experiment started about 3 weeks ago: Lock myself out for a week. See how it goes. And surprisingly, without the temptation to log in (what’s temptation going to get me? Not the password, that’s not due back for a week), I didn’t really miss it. But what I did do was send and receive emails with friends. I spent a bit more time out in the world, and the scariest (and maybe most embarrassing) part. I biked faster.  How, you might ask? Easy. On many rides, as my friends know, I like to take photos. If I saw something interesting, beautiful, or funny I would stop, take and post the photo and move on. But then that stop would be an excuse to check all other manner of social media. And then after the first stop it was an excuse to read and respond to reactions to what I’d posted on the ride. Lunch breaks would get similarly longer as I caught up on the whole feed experience I talked about above.  Last weekend was a great example of what it could be instead. Ride for 55 km, take one photo on the way, a couple at lunch, and then a couple more while I sat waiting for the rain to clear. Instead of that I was riding, talking (including talking to complete strangers also trapped in the rain).

I got my password back after the first week and went down the rabbit hole for a day. It didn’t hold my interest as much but I kept looking – I know this used to be fun, let’s find that again. Finally after a day I locked the door again for another week.

And that week was really amazing. First off, after almost a decade of not writing regularly, I started writing here. I remember the inspiration to blog disappearing a few years back as my presence on Facebook increased. I suspect it was simply that on some level I got to share my thoughts so there was no motivation to share them again. After all, what would I say that wasn’t already in my various social media feeds?

I also got together in real life so much more than before. There were several different chats over coffee with friends, and a campfire and card games in the park and of course a long weekend ride and a meeting to give away the first Chromebook in our project to help get technology to Syrian refugees newly settled in our city.

Yesterday morning I got an email from myself sent last week thanks to lettertomyfutureself.net. In it was a long string of gibberish characters: my Facebook password, secret even to myself. So secret it couldn’t even be recovered with a Facebook password recovery email because the email goes to another similarly inaccessible email account. It’s a bit of a complicated system but it enforces a Facebook break more effectively than any other measure.  I sat on the password for a day before logging back in this morning.

I logged in and there were a couple of messages (people getting me their email address mostly) and 97 notifications. Digging deeper, though, I saw that most of the notifications were just others’ activity. A few were about posts from a couple of pages I co-administer and about 3 were actually related to anything I’d posted before. (Why would I expect more? After all, I’d been gone a week). But what I find really interesting is that percentage. Essentially 3% of my notifications were for things I was interested in. The rest were just generated to make things look exciting. “Look at all you missed! Imagine if you’d been around, you’d be getting over 10 notifications a day! How much fun would it be to come here every day?”

Then I scrolled through the feed. And it was about the same as I talked about above. A couple of links that I saved for later, a couple of updates about family and friends’ lives that I was glad to see and made me make a note that I should write a few others.

And then I kept scrolling.

And scrolling.

And scrolling.

And then, 30 minutes after I logged back in, I reset the password, went to write another letter to myself and set the send date for next month and logged out.

Then I went through my RSS reader (remember those? Yes, I am living in 2007), and came across this article about Cait Flanders’ social media detox. At the end of the article I removed Reddit and Instagram from my phone. Now, like Cait, I find myself reaching for my phone in moments when I normally would (waiting for the elevator or bus) and then remembering that there’s nothing there. If I get a call, message, or email it will call me. No need to go check it.

Let’s see how I use all of this extra time and headspace…

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