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.