Facebook-free at 4 months

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s been four months since I pulled the plug on the Facebook account I opened years ago. Honestly, I do miss it … sometimes.

I miss the posts from out-of-town friends and relatives. I miss updates from fellow writers and newspaper colleagues — especially the ones who post links to articles, books, or films I’d enjoy. I miss the automatic birthday reminders. I miss the photos of cute kids, dogs, and (especially) cats posing in costumes.

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I keep promising friends who ask why I’ve “gone missing” that I’ll return … someday. And truly, I will. All I have to do is type my password to get back in the game and start playing again. Meanwhile, Facebook abstinence has forced me to schedule more face time with local pals, many of whom I didn’t see as often when we were keeping in touch via social media. Gotta love irony.

Still, the things I don’t miss override the occasional bouts of FOMO (fear of missing out). Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.

For starters, I like people a lot more when I’m not on Facebook. As human nature dictates, other folks seem more intriguing and attractive when we don’t know too much about them. Or, as rock star Stevie Nicks said: “Little girls think it’s necessary to put all their business on MySpace and Facebook, and I think it’s a shame….I’m all about mystery.”

On Facebook, however, nothing is left to the imagination. It’s not unusual for users to post photos of their bathrooms or discuss personal hygiene products. If you can’t name the top 10 things you should never share on social media, you’ll want to read this article.

When I was following the ever-flowing stream of updates — from more than 600 “friends” — I was often annoyed or baffled by so much weird behavior. Facebook may be a social network, but not everyone who comes to the table follows the basic tenets of courtesy, let alone the Golden Rule. Some users don’t communicate online with same degree of sensitivity or social savvy they’d practice face-to-face at a business function or a cocktail party. Social media is a free-for-all.

For instance, I enjoy civil political discussions with folks who’ve earned my trust and respect over the years. (Even the ones who don’t agree with me.) But I got weary of Facebook users who ranted ceaselessly on their pet causes or candidates, some deliberately inviting war-like hostility from opposing sides. Reading those updates just added more acid to my morning coffee.

Bragging rights?

On Facebook, you can share way too much of a good thing, too. Maybe that’s why they’re called “status” updates.

All too often, I felt as if I were eavesdropping when I visited friends’ FB pages — especially when I stumbled on overly cozy exchanges that should have been kept private.  “My new haircut (six photos included) was worth $125 dollars, don’t you think?” … or … “We just hosted a huge party and hired a rock band” (And, oops, not all of your friends were invited.) … or … “Honey, I am so proud of your perfect SAT score!” … or … “Look at the five-course meal (eight photos included) I just whipped up to surprise my darling hubby!” 

As most of us would agree, even the most clever show-offs tend to alienate the people they’re trying hardest to impress. Real friends, after all, don’t present an over-crafted public persona at the risk of damaging key relationships.

As far as I could tell, Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies were the only ones profiting from my self-promotional activity on Facebook.

To be totally fair, I questioned my own carefully curated status updates, too. Was I bragging or sharing news? Was I overstepping healthy boundaries? And who among those 600 “friends” really needed to know my business? Was I morphing into a … narcissist?

At the suggestion of another published writer, I started a professional Facebook page — to keep self-promotion separate from personal updates and family news. Problem was, fewer than half of my Facebook friends bothered to visit my “author” page, which sort of defeated the purpose. Or maybe my “friends” were sending an unspoken message that reflected their disinterest in my work. Either way, it was twice as exhausting to keep up with both pages. As far as I could tell, Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies were the only ones profiting from my self-promotional activity.

If and when I reactivate my Facebook account, I need to rethink all of this. In the meantime, I’ve joined legions of others taking longer breaks from Facebook, some with no intention of returning.

Wise advice for users

A few years ago, I interviewed Linda Weltner for a Writer’s Digest article. Having admired her work for years, I asked the award-winning Boston Globe columnist to share her advice on crafting personal columns that others can’t wait to read.

Of course, Facebook updates aren’t exactly newspaper columns. But given the public nature of Facebook and other social media, I believe its users would do well to borrow a page from Ms. Weltner.

“Never base a column on anything that costs a great deal of money,” Weltner began. “There’s an upscale consciousness that can lead to complaining about decorating your yacht, if you know what I mean. You must constantly step back and ask, ‘Is this an equal-opportunity experience?'”

Weltner also told me that she always questioned her own motives whenever she put anything out there for public consumption. She never used her columns to “prove” she was right about anything. “It can’t be done without bragging,” she said. And bragging turns people off, no matter where or how it’s published.

UPDATE: 

This post was featured last week on BlogHer, which prompted many new and thought-provoking comments from around the country. Please check the “Comments” section below to read the continuing conversation on this topic.

Savoring summer vacation

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” — Sam keen

SunfaceAfter taping her last television show in 2011, Oprah Winfrey announced on Facebook that she was planning to kick back and savor her free time. “My new ambition is to make a treasure of the small moments,” she wrote.

That’s not what you’d expect from the super-achieving Winfrey – or from anyone else who’s built a career out of interviewing A-list celebrities and unveiling The Next Big Thing. But her ambition to play small, at least for a little while, left a deep impression on me.

Like everyone else in Michigan, I look forward to summer all year long. According to my day planner, there are nine precious weeks left – weeks that will fly off our calendars faster than a Sea-Doo on Lake Michigan.

Taking inventory of what I’ve accomplished since June, I realize, sadly, how little time I’ve spent puttering in the herb garden or chilling out with a “beach read” in hand.  Real life keeps getting in the way. So, before summer packs up its beach bag and clears out for a new school term, I’m borrowing a page from Oprah and indulging in some low-tech, simple summer pleasures. Here’s the rest of the plan:

Summer vacation unplugged

–I’ll reread Ray Bradbury’s classic, Dandelion Wine, a semi-autobiographical novel chronicling the author’s magical summer of 1928. Unabashedly nostalgic, the novel is both a love letter to summer freedom and a sonnet to childhood innocence. You can borrow a copy from your local library, then read parts aloud to your kids on the front porch swing if you’re lucky enough to have one.

— At least once a week, I’ll splurge on a cup of chocolate-peanut butter ice cream from the local Baskin Robbins. (Note to self: If I walk or ride my bike to the shop, the splurge will be easier to justify.)

— In lieu of pulling weeds, or fretting over slug damage, I’ll admire what’s blooming in the garden.

— I’ll make at least one more trip to northern Michigan, where I’ll hunt for Petoskey stones, skipping stones, beach glass, and perfect pieces of driftwood.

— As author Sam Keen wrote: “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” Which is another good excuse for brain candy. With or without the beach, I’ll crash in a deck chair with a beach-worthy novel and a stack of fashion magazines that have little or no redeeming social value.

— Movies are another wonderful way to escape reality, not to mention sweltering temperatures. To cool off last week, I laughed my way through “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. A few days later, I was first in line to see “The Conjuring” — exceptionally scary and free of gratuitous gore.

— I promise to “unplug” from technology at least one day a week. That means no compulsive Web surfing; less e-mail checking. Instead, I’ll indulge in some local “people-watching” at one of Royal Oak’s outdoor cafes.

The benefits of chilling out

Psychologists agree that even a day or two of unstructured loafing ultimately enhances our productivity long after we return to work.

“Some of the best thinking we do happens when the conscious mind is on a sabbatical,” Veronique Vienne notes in The Art of Doing Nothing (Clarkston Potter; $17). She reminds us that Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb filament “while idly rolling kerosene residue between his fingers.”  Likewise, Einstein pondered the mysteries of the universe with a cat in his lap.

“So don’t get up from your lawn chair yet,” Vienne advises. “Contribute to science. Stay prone as long as you can.”

Of course, it’s always fun to anticipate and celebrate the major milestones of our lives. But we need a reprieve from pithy graduation speeches about beginnings and endings. And we need a break from wedding receptions, family reunions, baby showers and other “special” summer events that require a gift or a new outfit or another dish to pass. We need flip flops and ordinary time.

Come August, I want to say good-bye to summer knowing that I’ve squeezed every last drop of its sweetness and savored it all.

Top photo credit: Cindy La Ferle

Mrs. Lindbergh’s gift

It is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

IMG_2378Visiting southwest Florida several years ago, I finally made a pilgrimage to the tiny island of Captiva.  With our only child away at college then, it was the first time my husband and I had returned to the Sunshine State without plans to tour Disney World.

Barely four miles long and ½ mile wide, Captiva is where Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea during a brief ocean-side sabbatical. I’ve collected at least five different editions of Gift from the Sea, and I can’t think of a close friend who hasn’t received a copy from me.

First published in 1955, the little book spoke volumes to women on the brink of social change. Using seashells to describe the various stages of a woman’s life, from early marriage to the empty nest, Mrs. Lindbergh gave voice to the ache of the feminine spirit.

A thoughtful friend loaned me her copy when I was in my early thirties — when everything in my small universe was spinning faster than I could keep up. I was learning how to be a wife, raising a preschooler, working as a travel magazine editor, and trying to make a home out of a 1940s handyman special.  As much as I’d welcomed so many options and opportunities, I was too exhausted to understand why I felt something was missing.

Mrs. Lindbergh explained my dilemma.

“There are so few empty pages in my engagement calendar,” she wrote. “Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures –- an excess of shells — where one or two would be significant.”

BeachRereading those lines two decades later, I recall the epiphany that struck when I first read them. Like most young mothers I knew, I wanted to have it all — but didn’t realize the price I’d pay until “all” was piled high in my lap. It’s not that I was ungrateful for the richly textured life I’d crafted. I loved my husband, my child, my home, my writing career.  But I desperately needed to fill an unnamed void.

Thanks to Mrs. Lindbergh, I discovered that feeding my spirit was a necessity, not a luxury. I had to teach myself how to be still in the midst of suburban chaos, if only for a few moments between meeting deadlines and driving my carpool shift. As Mrs. Lindbergh wrote, my real challenge was “how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life.”

On Captiva Island, I had time to revisit these key issues with a hard-won midlife perspective. Even then, I was still inclined to overbook myself and neglect the call of my spirit. I still made the mistake of confusing my self-worth with my achievements. Today, as the sole caregiver of an elderly parent, I often need to be reminded to repair myself when my seams feel as if they’re unraveling.

“By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class,”  Mrs. Lindbergh wrote.

Decades after Gift from the Sea was published, we’re still overwhelmed by the banquet of options available to us. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s message remains as fresh as ever — and I’m grateful for her enduring gift.

Wish you all a beautiful summer vacation! — Cindy La Ferle

 Photo credits: Cindy La Ferle