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.

Facebook-icon

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.

Why we need to unplug

Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail — as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.” — Martha Beck

IMG_2355I didn’t realize the damned thing was missing until my husband caught me off guard.

“Where’s your cell phone?” he asked. “Does it need to be recharged?”

“Gosh, I don’t know,” I said, faking genuine concern. I couldn’t even recall the last time I’d used it — other than to take photos of the cats to post on Facebook. Trying to appear responsible, I dug through drawers and underneath the car seats. No cell phone.

That’s when my husband remembered we’d just dropped off a carload of discards, including old clothing and purses, for a church rummage sale.

And that’s how we ended up back at church the night before the sale, rummaging through my discarded handbags and coats. Just as I suspected, my phone wasn’t there — and it hasn’t turned up since.

Cell phones are essential if you’re a traveling executive, a detective, or a pregnant woman close to labor. And they’re a godsend when your teenager is out past curfew or your car breaks down after midnight on a deserted rural highway.

But I refuse to treat any gadget as if it’s part of my anatomy. In my ongoing quest to achieve serenity — at least on a part-time basis — I find it helps to unplug as often as possible. And that’s why I’m often caught without a cell phone. On purpose.

Despite the fact that I’m solely responsible for the care management of a parent with advanced dementia, there are times when I need to be unavailable. And despite the fact that I’m an outgoing, social person, there are times when I simply don’t feel like gabbing. And I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of “missed calls” and new messages in my purse or my pocket. When I return home, I know I’ll find enough of those in my email and in the voicemail on the house phone.

Lately I’ve noticed that most people seem more stressed, desperate, and frantic than ever — as if life were a series of dire emergencies to be handled right this minute. Some psychologists suggest the problem is linked to our cultural addiction to cell phones and social media. Or, as author Loretta LaRoche observes, these days we can’t even run an errand to the supermarket without a cell phone, a pager, and other electronic devices.

“We now look more like a member of a SWAT team than someone shopping for groceries,” LaRoche writes in Life Is Not a Stress Rehearsal: Bringing Yesterday’s Sane Wisdom into Today’s Insane World. (Broadway Books). “God forbid we should be out of touch for ten minutes,” LaRoche quips. “And since we have the contraptions there with us, what the hell, we can call home and tell everyone we got bread.”

I don’t want to carry another electronic reminder of ‘missed calls’ and new messages in my purse or my pocket.

At a writer’s conference I attended a while back, somebody’s bleeping cell phone disrupted — three times — a wonderful lecture given by a best-selling author.  Days later, the same thing happened at a funeral service. At the drug store last week, I had to listen to another customer’s cell conversation while waiting in line for my prescription. Oblivious to everyone within earshot, the woman chattered on her phone, punctuating every sentence with the “F” bomb.

On the road, every other car is driven by an idiot with one hand glued to a cell phone and the other barely guiding the steering wheel. I’ve watched these drivers swerve in and out of lanes, fail to use turn signals, even run red lights.

“We all know that technological advances have made connection easier than ever before. They’ve also led some people to think that breaking away is a violation of the social order,” writes Martha Beck in “You Have the Right to Remain Silent,” an essay on why being disconnected, periodically, can be good for one’s mental health. “Friends call to chastise each other for being slow to return text messages or e-mail, as though the ability to communicate in half a dozen new-fangled ways makes constant attention to every one of them morally imperative.”

As it happened, I did end up replacing my missing cell phone with another one. Right now, the thing is dutifully recharging on my desk, where it’s likely to remain until I need to take a quick photo of the cat.

Facebook: Why I’m back

When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” — Clay Shirky

My husband was the first to deliver the happy news: Two of our son’s best friends from high school had announced their wedding engagements on Facebook last week — within a few short days of each other. As the family reporter, I’m usually on top of these things. But because I had deactivated my Facebook account in January, I was totally out of the loop.

And I felt like one of the Flintstones. I’d been living under a rock while everyone else was throwing a big party in cyberspace without me.

Which is partly why I tip-toed back to Facebook after cruising along happily without it (most of the time) for the past four months.

Before I go on, I need to tell you that I’m not the least bit sorry for taking a break from it. My self-imposed sabbatical from social media — Facebook, especially — helped me appreciate the positive aspects of being connected 24/7 to the Big World Out There. At the same time, I thought long and hard about the difference between online friendships and 3-D friendships and how much attention I can (reasonably) give to each.

During my time away from Facebook, I missed a lot of good news from a lot of nice people. And I rediscovered how much harder it is to communicate with out-of-town friends and colleagues. Facebook makes it so much easier to share announcements of any kind in one fell swoop — writing classes; new blog posts; wedding engagements — something I had taken for granted while using it.  Though posting my updates seemed awfully impersonal at times, that was part of Facebook’s ease and charm. When I wasn’t on Facebook, I was sending more email announcements, which were probably more annoying and more invasive than status updates.

What I didn’t miss about Facebook was its dangerously addictive aspects. Once I got through the initial withdrawal period, I rediscovered luxurious bolts of time to write and sell more essays and articles. More time to meet friends for lunch. More time to catch up on the phone. More time to get my home in order. More time for long walks outside. In other words, after pulling away from the distractions of social media, I felt more focused and balanced — even in the midst of my elderly mother’s ongoing health crises.

In other words, I figured out how and where I’d been wasting all the time I thought I didn’t own anymore.

In other words, I realized I’d been abusing Facebook.

Like any tool, Facebook is incredibly handy. But there’s a right way — a respectful way — to use it. So, this time around, I am setting tighter limits. I’ll be checking in less often, and won’t be leaving as many comments as I used to. I’ll continue to exercise most of my bragging rights — and personal info — here on my blog. I plan to enjoy Facebook for what it is — and refuse to feel guilty if I can’t keep up with it daily.

All said and done, I still believe it’s essential to strike a healthy balance between the time I spend “communicating” online and the time I spend with loved ones in the real world. And yes, I remain conflicted about Facebook — and worried our culture’s obsession with social media. A recent article on Facebook in The Atlantic‘s “Culture Issue” articulates many of my concerns. How about you? How do you use Facebook?— Cindy La Ferle

 

More Facebook?

Facebook’s initial public offering of stock is likely to make a lot of developers and designers of the site very wealthy. But for many users, frequent Facebooking may not be so beneficial.” — Stephanie Pappas

The Facebook debates are heating up this week, thanks, in part, to the announcement that Mark Zuckerberg filed an IPO for the world’s largest social network. Some are peeved by Zuck’s greed; others are justifiably worried about some thorny new privacy issues.

My own post about quitting Facebook (Jan.24) had nothing to do with the IPO. It was, essentially, about my efforts to spend fewer hours online and to reclaim some quiet space in my overbooked life. (Part of my New Year’s resolution was to live a more “examined” life, which also meant I had to start questioning my online habits and routines.) In other words, my FB piece really wasn’t “anti-Facebook” — nor was it a criticism of the wonderful people on my Facebook friend list.

In any event, the piece was syndicated on BlogHer.com. As of today, it earned close to 23,000 “reads,” which is a lot more traffic than I’m used to — at least for a blog post. On Monday, I was quoted in “Now is the Time to Quit Facebook,” by Chicago journalist Alicia Eller.

Readers’ comments following Eler’s post are fascinating. Among my favorites: “I wasn’t on Facebook before it was cool to not be on Facebook.”

Apparently the topic is so hot that Eler posted another piece on ReadWriteWeb titled “It’s True: You Have Too Many Facebook Friends.”  This article offers some fresh analysis on why it’s probably not healthy to spend too much time on Facebook — and why it’s really not cool to have too many Facebook friends. (Hint: It makes you appear insecure.)

In another interesting post, LiveScience journalist Stephanie Pappas discusses new studies on our emotional reactions to Facebook. Check out “Facebook Takes a Toll on Your Mental Health.”

If you’re fascinated by the culture of narcissism and social media addictions, don’t miss these thought-provoking pieces. — CL