I don’t know who will read this. When I was using Facebook, I would have posted a link to a new blog onto my profile or home feed, and it would give me a thrill when people would ‘like’ it. I would have more of an idea about who was reading this.
If you’re reading this blog now, I won’t know unless you tell me.
You might think that’s sad or ‘social suicide’. But I find it free-ing. I can spill my thoughts without worrying about whether people will ‘like’ it or not, or whether they will even read it.
I have now been off Facebook for just over three months. Here’s what I’ve learnt from the experience so far:
- I’m average at remembering other people’s names
I used to pride myself on having a really great memory for names. Since deactivating Facebook, I’ve realised that, if I see a face at least three times in real life, I don’t usually forget a face. However, my name recollection is pretty average: I forget names of people who were acquaintances a few years ago, of children of people I used to know who I do not see regularly, and of people I’ve just met, unless I’m reminded of their name several times.
But I think this is normal, and it’s unreasonable to remember names of people you do not know well and don’t see any more and you’re not related to them. In turn, this has highlighted a benefit of using Facebook – it’s a really helpful tool to learn names quickly, and remember them over a long period of time. If you’re in a role where learning names is important (i.e. working for a church, teaching etc), it’s really useful.
I still think it’s important to make an effort to learn people’s names whom you see on a regular basis. It’s loving and a crucial step to get to know them better. However, I no longer get offended if people forget my name, and I don’t care as much about remembering people’s names as I used to.
2. Quality time with people beats screen time
I’ve always loved spending time with people in person, but now that I don’t use Facebook, it’s even better. If I meet up with someone, I won’t have a clue about how they are or what they’ve been doing, until they tell me. This makes it far more exciting, as there’s mystery, there’s much more to talk about and it’s far more meaningful. Within Christian circles, it used to really excite me when someone I had just met had mutual friends I only knew about through looking at their Facebook profile. But it’s much more exciting when I find out from actually speaking to them about it, because it’s now more of a surprise. Also, as I’m not going to be posting photographs of us together on social media, the time together is more meaningful, and definitely no danger of it being ‘for show’ or to prove that I have friends.
3. I worry a lot less about who my real friends are
I quit Facebook for two main reasons: a long-term reason and an immediate trigger.
The long-term reason was that I was painfully aware of how I had drifted from people whom I thought I would remain friends with for years. I assumed I would be invited to their hen parties, weddings, birthday parties and still be good friends with them. So it hurt when, despite my best efforts to stay in touch, I would find out about their life through my Facebook feed, or through mutual friends, and never straight from the horse’s mouth, and wouldn’t be invited to their engagement parties or weddings. This would make me feel sad, because 1) I blamed myself for being a shitty friend, or 2) I blamed them for being insincere and fair weather. This didn’t do wonders for my thought life, but I was afraid to quit Facebook in case I would be completely forgotten by those former friends.
The immediate trigger, which made me quit Facebook very quickly, was finding out that someone I saw on a regular basis, and whom I thought was a good friend for two years, hadn’t invited me to her wedding. I recall her telling me, shortly after the engagement was announced, that of course I was invited. However, as more mutual friends of ours started talking about the wedding, and my invitation never arrived, it slowly dawned on me that my invitation was not lost in the post, and, having assumed I would be attending, I wasn’t as good friends with her as I thought I was.
I believe her wedding is today, from what I have gathered, and we haven’t spoken to each other since I found out at the start of November. It hurt me deeply, and, as well as wondering how to relate to her when she returns from her honeymoon, made me question the authenticity of all my friendships.
Over this time off Facebook, I have been heartened by those who have stayed in touch via other means, and have certainty that these people are real friends of mine. It’s made me realise that I’ve been very sloppy with friendships over the last ten years, and that Facebook gives a false illusion about friendships – that they don’t take much work and you can call many people your friends. Quite the opposite – friendships take work, time, and will be messy and not perfect.
Quitting Facebook has also made me realise that other people are sloppy with friendships. There’s a Facebook group for our church where a lot of social events are organised online. Unless I ask someone in the group about things going on, I am never told about them. That hurts. And it hurts when people talk about events which happened and I wasn’t invited to them.
But at least I’m not constantly bombarded with images and updates of parties, weddings and social occasions I haven’t been invited to. The sadness I feel about being left out hasn’t vanished, but it is far more short lived. I’m not dwelling on it as much, and I’m freed up to focus on nurturing the friendships I already have, as those are precious to me.
4. Being Facebook-less doesn’t mean you’ll feel lonely or less busy
Before I made the step and deactivated my Facebook account, I braced myself for the pain and isolation to follow. On the contrary, I have felt very busy since quitting, and far less lonely as I focus on seeing people in real life and focusing on my hobbies. I actually feel like I have less time than I used to.
5. Facebook can be creepy, and detrimental to mental health
After a day out with my boyfriend in December, I met a couple of people at a service at his church a few days later. ‘How was the Science Museum?’ they asked, as soon as I was introduced. I was gobsmacked, ‘How did you…?’ Then I realised how they knew. As my boyfriend is a social media enthusiast, and had been posting photos of the day on Facebook, they knew from that. But I still felt creeped out (through no fault of theirs). (When I told them I actually wasn’t on Facebook, they were genuinely surprised and actually thought it was a good idea… but anyway…). I didn’t used to find it strange that hundreds of people can see things I post on Facebook, but now I really do. I wonder if this is more detrimental, rather than beneficial, for our mental wellbeing, and inadvertently puts pressure on ourselves to impress or reassure others that we’re normal/great/well-liked. No wonder so many who are reliant on social media are struggling with their mental health right now. I think this encourages us to focus far more about what other people think about us than is healthy.
6. I don’t want to activate Facebook any time soon
When I had ‘Facebook fasts’ during the Summer holidays at university, I was itching to log back in after a couple of months. At the moment, I have absolutely no desire to re-activate Facebook. The only reason I would use it again is to save photographs taken of me, which I can keep for old times sake. But that’s the only reason.
7. But it would be nice to have a smart phone.
I have been seriously considering whether to get a smart phone so 1) I can use WhatsApp 2) I can check my emails without logging into a computer 3) listen to podcasts and music on the go 4) use apps like Duolingo and PrayerMate to learn and pray on the go 5) take photographs to share, via WhatsApp and email and text, with friends and family. The only thing putting me off is the increase in how much I would have to spend each month (I currently just pay £10 a month) and how much more fragile a smart phone is. But eschewing Facebook has not put me off embracing the positive aspects of our technology-reliant society.
8. Facebook has such a hold on people… and they don’t even realise!
I used to post on Facebook, without even thinking about why exactly I was sharing whatever it was, and would check Facebook regularly without even thinking about it. It’s such an instinctive reaction for many to just pick up their phones every few minutes and scroll, especially when you run out of things to say in a conversation or there’s an awkward moment. I never really thought much of it before, but now I think it’s rather rude. If someone gets out their phone when I’m with them and starts scrolling, I instantly think that their attention is waning and it’s a cue to change the subject or wrap up the interaction. And so many people don’t even realise how enslaved they are to their phones. It’s like I can see the bigger picture and am painfully aware of this hold it has.
9. I feel less angry
I don’t feel completely calm and serene. I listen to BBC Radio 4 each weekday morning, and the things I hear sometimes make me rather cross. I also still get grumpy to and from work, at work itself and when I’m out and about. But I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I used to when I regularly used Facebook. I can switch off the radio and process the news slowly and calmly. I’m not bombarded with information which is useless, irritating, deliberately provocative or tedious. I feel much lighter and can focus on my surroundings much more.
10. I can read more books
I’m really making progress through the pile of books I’ve been meaning to read for the past four years. I don’t think this would have happened if I had been regularly checking Facebook. And this make me very happy.