Why I quit Facebook

Posted on January 24, 2012
Filed under Columns & essays, Events & news | 26 Comments | Email This Post

I’m a Facebook friend of Bob Dylan, which probably means I have a deeply meaningful relationship with his publicist.” — Daniel A. Farber*

UPDATE: The following essay was syndicated by BlogHer last week.  So far, the post has earned over 22,000 “reads” on the BlogHer site. Click here to read the comments. Maybe I hit a nerve?

Before it became an attractive nuisance, Facebook was fun — really, really fun.

At the start, I enjoyed reconnecting with old pals and coworkers I hadn’t seen in years. A few had published books or become grandparents; others had moved to retirement homes in Tampa or Hilton Head.

In addition to cute family photos, I got an eyeful of political rants and viewpoints that took me by surprise. (An editor I’d pegged as liberal, for instance, turned out to be a closet conservative.) It was all so compelling that, instead of tackling a new project, I’d spend entire mornings reading Facebook updates from literally hundreds of folks, a few of whom I’d met only once.

How many friends do you (really) have?

By the time I deactivated my Facebook account last week, I had accumulated 555 friends. The list included former classmates, relatives, students from my writing workshops, readers of my columns, and background actors I’d met on film sets. My posse also included good neighbors who lived just a couple of blocks away, which seemed like overkill, but what the heck?

I wasn’t exactly a friend whore (someone who collects random friends to appear popular) but I rarely turned down friendship requests, and I un-friended only one person whose political comments were ill-informed and cruel.

In any event, with so many people to look after, Facebook soon became another task on my ever-expanding to-do list, and I was conflicted about using it.

In 2009, Sheryl Sandberg reported on The Facebook Blog that the average user had 120 friends. Today, Facebook reports that the average user now has 130 friends — and we all know users who have upwards of 1,000. But in my admittedly old-fashioned view, even 130 friends are difficult to keep track of in a timely, courteous fashion — unless you have nothing to do but twiddle with your computer all day.

Facebook and theatre provide contrived settings that provide the illusion of social interaction.” — Jesse Eisenberg

Either way, I’ve always believed that real friendship is reciprocal, not promotional. And certainly more than virtual. Real friends do more than punch the “like” key on your status updates. Real friends call you directly on the phone, send cards, help you move furniture, meet you for breakfast, babysit your cats, or otherwise make three-dimensional efforts to be there for you.

Of course, you need lots of extra time for real friendship like that. My “networking” on Facebook was devouring some of that time, and I was starting to feel guilty about it.

Along the same lines, it also struck me that Facebook fosters laziness. Even in a crisis, I wasn’t getting as many emails or phone calls from family members because, as one put it, “We already read your updates on Facebook.”

Forget you. It’s all about me.

Worse yet, I worried that Facebook was making an egomaniac out of me. (Isn’t it enough to be writing a blog?) Along with photos of my latest art projects or links to my articles, I started posting attention-getting tidbits, which, before Facebook, I would have shared with a mere handful of trusted, longtime friends. Why in the world did I need to broadcast to 555 Facebook users that my cat suddenly decided to pee in the toilet in our master bathroom?

In short, Facebook was becoming a tool to promote myself, with a few family photos thrown in for good measure. I’d gotten so busy that I wasn’t taking time to comment on my friends’ updates and photos — unless they left comments on mine.

I’ve always tried to avoid one-sided relationships, but good lord, there I was, conducting one of my own.

So, here are the questions I asked myself when I considered pulling the plug on my Facebook account:

1. Am I giving up my family’s privacy in exchange for building a platform or a following on Facebook?

2. Do new acquaintances on Facebook deserve the same attention as my oldest friends and relatives?

3. Do I care as much about other friends’ status updates as I want them to care about mine? Am I using or exploiting my Facebook friends?

4. How much time do I have to reciprocate comments?

5. How much do I need to know about other people — and why?

6. Do the “friends” I’ve met only once need up-to-the-minute details of my life? Who should be informed that my mother is ill? Or that I attended someone’s 50th birthday party last night? And is it safe to broadcast when I leave town on vacation?

7. Am I becoming an “all about me” person?

French mystique, oui!

In her new memoir, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris, Jennifer L. Scott chronicles the year she studied in Paris and learned a thing or two about the elusive French mystique. Scott, who now lives in Santa Monica, found that an abiding sense of privacy is decidedly French.

“French people, as a habit, do not reveal too much information about themselves. Not to people they know and certainly not to strangers,” Scott writes. In other words, Je ne sais quoi isn’t simply a matter of knowing how to tie a gorgeous scarf.

Scott also notes that most French people do not gab in public on their cell phones; it’s considered boorish to allow others to eavesdrop on conversations. Furthermore, she says, the French are not likely to ask what you do for a living when they first meet you at a party. Out of courtesy and respect, personal details are shared only with intimate friends who’ve been nurtured over time.

Which got me thinking about how much we share on Facebook.

Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun.” — Pete Cashmore

To be a person of mystery would be very un-American, wouldn’t it? In a culture of celebrity, it stands to reason that so many of us fear we won’t exist if we’re not seen or heard from 24/7.  Maintaining a Facebook profile is one way to keep your name “out there” while everyone else is squawking, yelping, chirping, and Tweeting for attention.

At the same time, I’m not opposed to social networking for the right reasons. If you’ve got a product to market — or you are the product — courting a big audience on Twitter or Facebook is undoubtedly good for your business. I won’t argue with that.

What’s for real and what isn’t?

Yet, from a totally personal perspective, I’m secretly thrilled at the thought of wearing a cloak of privacy as I go about my daily routines. I’d like to shop for groceries or visit someone in the hospital without feeling compelled to announce it ASAP on Facebook. I’d like to spend more time reading the novels stacked next to my bed — the novels I’m too tired to read because I’ve strained my eyes staring at a computer screen all day.

And I’d like to spend more time nurturing — and deepening — the three-dimensional friendships I’ve neglected while meeting the challenges life has thrown at me lately. If I cut back on the time I spend playing with social media, these deceptively simple goals would be easier to reach.

Of course, there’s a lot I’ll miss about Facebook. I’ll miss the news from out-of-town friends, links to thought-provoking articles, and all those adorable cat videos. But until my life is back in balance, I have to bow out.

For now, blogging is a less intrusive way to share. And while it’s as public as a newspaper, you can pick and choose which items you want to read. Or you can swim back into cyberspace and surf elsewhere. You’re reading these last paragraphs right now because you found the topic interesting and wanted to dive a little deeper than a sentence or two. That matters a lot to me.

And hey, if you want to share photos of your kids or your cats, I’d still love to see them. Bring your photo albums when we meet in person at our favorite local restaurant.  — Cindy La Ferle

— Top quote (from Daniel A. Farber) is from the article “Are 5,001 Facebook Friends One Too Many?” in The New York Times, May 28, 2010–




26 Responses to “Why I quit Facebook”

  1. cindy on January 24th, 2012 11:33 am

    Well said. What I would really like to do is only read a handful of Most Important People updates. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet on FB. They make it easy on Twitter. I’ve noticed that I’m writing less fiction and status updating more. I joined Twitter a while back as a marketing strategy (it doesn’t work for that but I’ve “met” many cool people), and between Tweets and FB, I often forget to look at my favorite blogs! And I adore blogs. Especially yours!

  2. Cindy on January 24th, 2012 11:37 am

    Thanks, Cindy! I hope someone will share this on Facebook — LOL 🙂

  3. Cindy on January 24th, 2012 12:00 pm

    Sharon, all true, everything you said. There’s a place for FB and parts of it I miss already! (Glad you have a blog so I can come and read you!!) Anyhoo, thanks for posting on FB … you made my day!

  4. Sharon on January 24th, 2012 11:53 am

    I do wonder how people have all kinds of time to spend “on” FB. I have fewer than 4 dozen friends and “see” regular updates of about a dozen. The others I check in with periodically by going directly to their page. I joined to see the status and photos of my kids, two now living across the country. I loved seeing photos of my son’s ski trip this past weekend, which I wouldn’t have seen without FB. I think there is a time and place for everything, and you’ve made the right choice for you right now, Cindy. It’s not easy to “unplug” and I give you lots of credit. If I can figure out how to do it, I will post a link to this post on my FB page. *smile*

  5. Jennifer L. Scott on January 24th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Great article Cindy, and thank you for mentioning my book Lessons from Madame Chic! I have included your article (with link) in my blog post this week on my favorite deodorant (which ironically is probably oversharing and very unmysterious! But as bloggers we are in a tricky situation- mystique wise- non?) 🙂 Best wishes to you xx

  6. Cindy on January 24th, 2012 12:26 pm

    Jennifer, I’m smiling back at ya in Michigan! Merci, mon ami!

  7. Leslie Wyman on January 24th, 2012 6:11 pm

    It’s ok – I still know how to find you when you have something to say –

    I remain, happily still subscribed to your blog through my RSS reader,


  8. Cindy on January 24th, 2012 7:14 pm

    Leslie — I wish you had a blog, so I can keep up with YOU! Keep me posted, OK?

  9. Bridgette on January 24th, 2012 8:39 pm

    And I would much rather have 3 dimensional relationships any day. Makes me feel sad for what our kids will miss by being plugged in 24/7.
    Hang in there friend, you’re doing a great job 🙂

  10. Cindy on January 24th, 2012 9:53 pm

    Thanks, Red Shoes!

  11. Debra Darvick on January 25th, 2012 7:02 am

    Amen. I have never gotten into Facebook,and didn’t understand how people managed to fit that into their days. Can’t figure it all out, not interested in who makes bean soup on Thursdays. I have a page and would love to take it down but have better things to do with my time.

    Can’t wait to read Jennifer Scott’s book, however. French women do have that inimitable je ne sais quoi.

  12. Marlynn on January 25th, 2012 11:06 am

    WOW – you did hit the nail on the head with this post. Interestingly, I got on FB because my niece insisted on it so “the family” could keep up with each other. I have resisted adding a lot of friends since I don’t know them and they don’t know me. I have done the almighty “UNfriending” especially when overrun by ads and shares from the friends. On some I just blocked and can go over to read them at my will. Anyway, I am going to share this on FB. You have a lot of good things to say in this post and they should be shared. Love ya!

  13. Cindy on January 25th, 2012 11:09 am

    Thank you, Marlynn!

  14. starrlife on January 27th, 2012 1:18 am

    Oh all of these boundary issues are so fascinating to me! I protect my privacy by my bloggy moniker and have an IRL Facebook page for another dimension and then they overlap at times with some people! Thanks for your thoughts and observations, got me thinking as always Cindy!
    I rarely post my status but I am a great stalker. Wish I had more people in my life to have lunch with- coming to VT?

  15. Cindy on January 27th, 2012 8:54 am

    Starrlife, I would LOVE to come to Vermont to have lunch with you — and maybe I will one day! Thanks for your kind comments. Late in the game, I did start a new Facebook page just to promote this blog and links to my writings (it’s still active, but not updated). Problem was, I then had 2 different FB pages to manage in addition to this blog.

    Again, I am trying to balance my life and budget my time with great care, because I have so much to handle with my elderly mom these days.

    But I like the idea of separating personal news from promotional stuff, when possible. In a DIY, self-promotional world, it IS getting harder to sense when you’ve overstepped boundaries between friendship and business, isn’t it? Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore?

    Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office & Blog began as an extension of my newspaper columns and writing life, then morphed into something more personal. Like you, I’m fascinated by how much personal information we ALL share now. I’m drawn to the new books and articles — many by respected social psychologists — that question how “healthy” all of this is. And in this personal post, I didn’t even touch on the bullying (on Facebook) that goes on among young students — or how social media can make some users feel even more lonely and excluded.

    I get embarrassed by my own over-sharing sometimes, yet find it cathartic too. And hey, I also write *personal* essays and memoir, so maybe I should shut up about all of this! 🙂 Anyhoo, it’s really a matter of deciding how much is right for us — and where and how we want to spend our time.

  16. Cheryl Wright on January 27th, 2012 10:39 am

    I hear ya girlfriend. Enjoy the break.

  17. Jennifer L. Scott on January 31st, 2012 10:09 pm

    Cindy thank you for letting me know the post was picked up on BlogHer- what an honor for you! Thank you for mentioning my book again. Best wishes Jennifer x

  18. Cindy on February 1st, 2012 8:30 am

    Thank you, Jennifer — I hope it brings more attention for your book, too.

  19. Only the Half of It on February 3rd, 2012 12:57 am

    Well said. I have long been skeptical about the virtues of FB and Myspace before that. But then I thought I should try them before putting them down. Sure, they can be fun, but mostly, after the novelty wears off, more time wasting than enriching.
    I’ve always been fiercely private and have never felt comfortable sharing as much as I see many people share. I’ve at times wondered if I’m a privacy freak having become expert at the privacy settings. But I’m glad I am. Though even that is getting tedious to keep up wiht with each FB redesign.
    I’m not on there as much lately and life is just fine. And I admit, the other day while yet again updating my privacy prefs, I saw that deactivate button and wondered: Hmmm. What if…?
    I do miss you on there but am glad I know where to find you (here, email, phone, and address!).

  20. Cindy on February 3rd, 2012 8:29 am

    Ellen, thank you. And like you, I think it’s important to try Facebook, and other social media — at least for a while. The worst thing, at this age, is to bury our heads in the sand. I know a few people in their 50s — which I still consider young 🙂 — who don’t feel comfortable with a computer and rarely even use email. I think this is a mistake, as technology opens the world to us in many ways. I’ve met people in their 70s and 80s whose lives have expanded because they were willing to learn how to use email, social media, etc.

    That said, the key is balancing our time — or paying attention to how MUCH time we spend on a computer vs how much time we spend connecting in person with close friends and loved ones.

    It’s about civility too. I do notice that social media also fosters rudeness and lack of sensitivity lately. People feel they can say things they wouldn’t say in person, and “silence” (not responding to email or a Facebook post, for example) can be misread or misunderstood.

    All in all, this is about respecting our own boundaries. I think someone else used the word “boundaries” earlier in this discussion. Technology/social media often invade our personal boundaries, and I notice that younger people could use a wake-up call in that area.

  21. Agatha Zabeeh on February 5th, 2012 5:18 pm

    Thank you so much for these great points you made in your post. I have been feeling Facebook Fatigue lately, and now I know why! I joined 5 years ago and frankly most of the FB statuses I have read from so-called friends sound forced, or contrived. Your article brought to light all the nagging thoughts I surpressed in the back of my mind…

  22. Cindy on February 5th, 2012 5:46 pm

    Thanks, Agatha! I like the way you described “Facebook fatigue” — perfect!

  23. Cindy Gray on February 12th, 2012 12:03 pm

    Brava! I’m really glad this was posted on FB b/c I’d forgotten about your blog, which I truly enjoy reading and probably wouldn’t have remembered how to access it (comp. challenged). FB has become overwhelmed w/many jokes, etc.–just like email used to be. Of course, now my emails read like the ad pg in a newspaper–really frustrating. So I will continue trying to find you, my dear friend, b/c truth be told, it was due to FB that we reconnected and were able to share the experiences we have in common. Many blessings to you and your family. Love and peace, Cindy

  24. Cindy on February 12th, 2012 12:11 pm

    Cindy, thanks so much for this comment. And I agree — if it weren’t for FB, we wouldn’t have reconnected! That’s why I hate to throw the baby out with the bath water, and it’s likely that I will return, later, to Facebook after I get things in order with my mother, my own routine. She is still experiencing problems in the assisted living residence, still requiring a lot from my time and energy. As I started typing this, I just got a call from the nurse telling me that my mom’s heart rates are still WAY too high this weekend, so I need to get her to the cardiologist asap … almost had to take her to ER on Friday night. So, in short, it still is best for me to have as little “distraction” as possible in my life, for now. But again, I truly enjoyed reconnecting with you, and other CHS pals, through FB. Truly! Miss you too, Cindy….

  25. Susan Lambert on February 12th, 2012 8:31 pm

    Hi Cindy…absolutely love this article but I must admit that I miss your postings on FB! Loved seeing your artwork, Doug’s art and hearing especially about your mom. I am one of those fifty-plus people who isn’t terribly computer savvy and I am still trying to figure out FB but I truly enjoyed reconnecting with you! I begged my daughter to set-up my FB account and I still need to call on her when it gets a little crazy. Some day I will find the balance we all so desperately seek but at this point FB is almost like a lifeline for me. It lets me read about people that I have lost touch with, connect with new friends, promote the Cathy Cares page, and just relax for a few minutes each day. Please come back to FB soon cuz girlfriend “I MISS YOU”!!…and I do NOT know how to work the other pages on this danged computer, LOL!!!!

  26. Cindy on February 13th, 2012 7:49 am

    Just sent you an email, Susan! Thanks for your comment xxoo

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