Quitting Facebook

Originally published as “The Sosyal Network” in the Manila Bulletin, October 26, 2011

I recently shut down my Facebook account. This is partly for pragmatic reasons: doing so has saved me a lot more time for work and leisure reading. It is partly for security reasons: like most people, I live with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and am in constant fear of creepy strangers looking at my bikini photos.

I do not regret it. Getting rid of my Facebook account has liberated me from the bondage of constantly keeping up with my peers. I no longer know where everyone else is going and with whom and what they are doing there, and I no longer feel bad or uncool about not being there too. It has also saved me the trouble of trying to find good photos of myself to post, and evaluating my self-worth on the number of likes or comments that it gets, with extra credit if the comment or like is from a really good-looking guy.

I still have friends, still go out and have fun, and occasionally still meet good-looking guys, but I no longer make any public announcements of my activities after the fact. For the most part, life has been made much simpler.

I feel like I have become more myself.

One of my smart friends told me that the lightness I am experiencing is due to the fact that I’ve given up keeping up with our image-obsessed culture—this world we live in that is so saturated in external gestures, performance, branding.

Each gesture has a corresponding label: using an eco-bag makes you an environmentalist, quoting philosophers makes you an intellectual, having 3000 friends on Facebook makes you popular, and wearing a Louis Vuitton purse makes you sosyal (Is there an English equivalent that properly captures the essence of the word?)—even if it means, as the old saying goes, spending money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to please people we don’t even like.

We take all these externals, post them on the internet, and build our identity upon it—when in reality, they are all just projections, speaking volumes about what we do (or try very hard to seem like we do), but little about who we are.

People used to keep photo albums with actual printed photographs, and they would store them and have them accumulate dust and then dust them off and look at them with fresh eyes, because back then it was about the photos, not about the comments people made about them. The value was in the substance of the photos, not in the branding that they provided.

Not so now. The idea of intrinsic value is lost on us; the idea of being is alien to us. We have been reduced to statement shirts and popular (or even indie) music, to Friday nights out in the right places with the right people. And when there are no statement shirts to wear, no popular music to listen to or say bad things about, no clubs and cool company to be with on the weekends, we are nothing. We have no identity apart from the image of ourselves that we project.

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Even our solitude we post pictures of.

Ours is an impoverished generation that cannot deal with silence or solitude. We do not find value in having photographs and nobody to show them to. We cannot operate without knowing that we are being watched; we affirm our value only insofar as we get attention from an audience. We are incapable of sitting with our naked selves and being comfortable in our own skin.

We are always striving, always projecting, always putting on another layer of externals, always trying to seem smarter or cooler or richer, that at the end of it all, we end up empty, and lost and lonely.

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372 thoughts on “Quitting Facebook

  1. Reblogged this on Life after Epiphany and commented:
    I really think there is a great point to be made here about the way we experience things. The Facebook phenomenon is that so many people have forgotten what it is to live an experience and drink it in, enjoying it for what it is, living in the present moment. Now, experiences are lived with the future in mind – experiences seem to be lived for bragging rights. I think John Mayer made a similar point pre-Facebook, in his song 3 x 5 (listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pDiBno4ZfQ) from his Room for Squares album…

    • The John Mayer of my youth! Thanks for the link. That’s also the reason I never learned to take photos–I couldn’t manage being entirely present when I was thinking of what angle this would look good in or what pose to strike in front of this or that landmark.

      • The first camping trip I ever took was with my husband when we were dating. I brought THREE cameras and didn’t take a single picture. I was in love with him and in love with being outdoors so much so that I couldn’t stop long enough to dig a camera out. There is something wonderfully selfish about knowing that we are the only two people in the world that know what it looked like at that exact spot, at that exact time, and felt what we felt. 🙂

        Also, I think the same thing about reunions. I refused to go to my ten year high school reunion because anybody worth having a conversation with should still be in my life, right?

  2. I permentantly deleted my facebook account coming up for a year ago now and shamefully it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Feeling out of the loop or feeling as if it never really happened if it didn’t go on facebook was silly but dominated my thoughts for months – sometimes even still now. In the long run it was the best thing to do – no drama, no anxiety and no more worrying that one day a photograph of me will appear floating around in the internet somewhere. I’m a little nervous that I will lose touch with the people closest to me because we are going our separate ways relatively soon but you hang on to the friendships that are worth it. I tend to think now that if someone is shallow enough to choose not to be friends with me purely because I don’t have facebook then the saying applies – the people that mind don’t matter, and the people that matter don’t mind. Your article was very reassuring, thank you.

    • Yes I agree! I’ve managed to stay in touch with a number of friends who are continents away–besides, now there’s Viber and Facetime, you can talk and update each other and send pictures without having everyone else see everything. Keep on!

  3. hey thanks for a really inspirational article, ever since my uni days i have had a “no technology” rule for a month or two every year, and only those people who would bother to actually check up if im alive or take the time to call would remain on all my social networking sites. A little harsh but it helped remove all the fake,
    keeps it real 😛

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  5. I recently signed off from my FB account. I got so fed up with it but wasn’t entirely sure why. I think your article has covered it pretty well. I love that it’s been shared 105 times on FB since. I kind of feel like sharing it too but I don’t have an account now. Haha. It does feel nice. Was kind of wanting to have a peek at it again but nah. Thanks.

  6. I’m just over two weeks into no Facebook and surprisingly, I love it! I love having my free time back, I don’t feel too out of the loop, or like I am missing anything major. Sometimes when my husband gets to laughing over a post or asks me if I’ve “seen” something, I have to remind him–not on there anymore, send me an email link, or text me the photo, because I don’t see it. Or miss it. It was surprising to see the people who remembered my birthday this year, since it occured in the gap silence of no FB reminders, and the people who still text and message, without the crutch of Facebook.

    I think your commentary on constantly posting and needing validation, yet still ending up lonely, is spot on. I much prefer blogging–it feels more personal, like there is more content and context along with analysis instead of just a cute saying or a picture fishing for likes.

    I kept my Instagram account–not because I need the validation, but because I love the filters and like being able to link my Grandma (who is old, and far away) to one stream of my “best” photos for her to keep up with. Saves on printing!

    • True about birthdays, I’ve had quieter birthdays these last few years and without feeling the pressure of replying to every facebook comment. Yes i agree, at least blogs can be devoted to ideas and discussion rather than whats cool or not. Thanks for sharing.

    • The people who remembers your birthday without Facebook definitely made the effort to put a note in somewhere. I think it’s a nice personal touch. FB makes everything more convenient but it’s the additional effort makes you tell who really puts it on their minds.

  7. Such a great read! I quit Facebook for the reasons that you wrote about. I was sick of people trying to “one-up” each other and seeing public pity parties. There’s a whole lot of debauchery on Facebook!

  8. Wow, this is such a fascinating post to read simply because I feel the same way you’re feeling about Facebook. Many friends I have post stuff on Facebook to create ” externals” and they don’t realize how they’re not really reflecting who they really are. For example, I have friends who changes their profile pictures every week and get a bunch of comments. This “external” makes me want to believe that they’re very popular and thus, creates a projection of that person in my mind. By reading your post, I strongly feel that Facebook creates a blockade between people rather than building one.

    • Thanks! I keep thinking Facebook is most useful for people who have moved away from their hometowns/families and need a quick and easy way to share pictures and stay connected. For ordinary people though I think it tends to breed these destructive patterns!

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  10. Hi, I am still on Facebook, mainly because it keeps me in touch with my daughter. But, I find it very difficult to gauge what comments to place beside her comments or photos – I made the mistake recently of getting carried away and putting an “love you babe” for all the followers to see, to her acute embarrassment! As an oldie, I need to learn the strict etiquette of Facebook. Also, I do not have many friends (indeed hardly any!) on Facebook and often wonder if this is also something which may give her discomfort. However, for the time being, I stick to the “like” symbol and try not to be effusive! Thanks for your blog, it is interesting to see that people do turn away from it…..

    • Hey thanks for sharing. My parents were also Facebook users and it was okay, even funny, when they would make comments. My mom once posted on my friend’s page asking what time they could expect me home that weekend and it was more funny than embarrassing. I draw the line on posting baby pictures though! 😛

  11. I loved reading your article. So refreshing to know that there are others who don’t give a flip about Facebook. Facebook is constantly emailing me to say you have pokes, posts and whatever. I’m like so…. if it’s important they know how to get a hold of me!

  12. I’m well into 2yrs of being FB Free and I love it! At first I felt like I unplugged out of the Matrix. I didn’t realize until I was out, that I had been trapped by status updates, likes and comments. So I really enjoyed your post!

    • Hi, I actually don’t think so. Before this post was Freshly Pressed, my blog was quite obscure, with maybe 10 readers in total and it was okay. Sure it was a thrill to get so much traffic for a time and to have new followers, but I feel like the act of writing here is precisely for that purpose–to get the writing out there, let the internet do with it what it may. Whereas on Facebook, at least in my case, it was more about posting what would encourage the greatest reaction–it was all about interaction. I feel like blogging is a more quiet way of doing things, people can visit and read if they want, but you do not keep showing up on everyone’s news feed just because people keep “liking” or commenting on it. I’ve only written one post since getting Freshly Pressed and no one has commented on that, and I don’t expect people to keep commenting with as much enthusiasm as they did here. Maybe it’s that–the expectations are different with each platform.

      • Have just visited your blog again and have an observation that I would like to share. I learnt about wordpress on Facebook. I signed on, not to write but to read! And read I do. I certainly visit Facebook less frequently and wordpress much more. Thanks to all you bloggers!

  13. I, too, quit Facebook and do not regret it at all. I left about three and a half years ago, partly for the reasons you so eloquently stated, and partly because I was getting nauseated by the racist, sexist and filthy remarks regularly made by my nephews in that forum. Interestingly, none of the many people I kept up with so closely on FB has made any effort to keep in touch with me. Thought so. 🙂

    • Haha it’s interesting how much it reveals about our relationships! Thanks for sharing, glad you’re enjoying your time Facebook-free. 🙂

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  15. I quit Facebook two days ago. Today I went back on…..to download my Facebook history and then to activate the 14 day countdown to total deletion. I’m in my mid 30’s, but joined FB in 2007 because I had just returned to school and my new, younger, classmates were using the site. The site at that time was perfect for what it was for, social networking. A year later more of my friends my age, who were not in school, joined FB and I almost immediately felt more “plugged in.” Fast forward to now and I had close to 300 friends, a small number for some, but for me quite large. I felt connected to distant family that I had not spoke to in years, distant friends who I used to have great times with but due to time and distance no longer happen, and to other organizations and FB sites that catered to my interests.

    I started to notice, though, that Facebook was losing meaning to me, while at the same time bringing out a very negative side of me. It happened during the election and I found myself engaging in political bickering, fighting and sniping with a lot of friends of mine. It got so bad that I lost several of my friends and am estranged to others. It doesn’t even matter what political leaning you are, the election ramped things up.

    After Obama won I saw how much of a jerk I was and told myself I would limit my political rants and postings. And I did. But then I noticed that even though I had recognized what had happened past fall was said and done, I also noticed that FB in itself had become depressing. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but later, this past summer, I found out why.

    I wasn’t happy on Facebook. I didn’t gain anything from facebook in a positive way that outweighed the negatives. I had the tab up but never really checked when I was at my computers. Then the NSA scandal hit and even though in the back of my mind data mining was going on, I didn’t realize to what extent. Then thinking about that concerns over advertising came up. Now I knew about this from day one. But I saw that here I am, “liking” and “sharing” things that were being used by advertisers to sell me stuff. I felt like a pig at a trough: so much perceived benefits from FB yet its really all just a huge ploy to collect everything about us to either track us (NSA) or sell us stuff.

    To me this was almost the equivalent to the digital Panopticon. We think we chose to be on FB but everyone I know, and what I’ve read, says they can’t leave. We’re all addicted yet for what benifit? Zuckerberg gets the money that we give him freely. I don’t want to do that anymore. Plus, when it comes to connections, someone said there was a lot of “fluff”. They’re right! Most of the contacts I had on that page served me no benefit and I don’t think I served them either. The contacts that I did view as valuable, I already have their contact information to get a hold of them in real life.

    Sorry that this was long winded. But these are the reasons why I left.

    • Hey Dan,

      Wow thanks for that reply. Yeah I think after you get over the initial euphoria of rediscovering old friends, it does tend to breed so much negativity. I don’t suppose this is the case for everyone, but it’s a general observation. In my country we don’t have the same worry over the government spying on us and all that, but I get you. Great point about us thinking we choose to be on Facebook and yet can’t leave when we decide to. Congratulations on leaving! I hope you’re enjoying life on this side of reality 🙂

  16. Pingback: Why I Quit Facebook and Why I’m Back On | Giles Dickenson-JonesGiles Dickenson-Jones

  17. This is such a vicious cycle. I deleted my facebook 2 years ago because I was very depressed and my self-esteem was lower than ever, but now my friends exclude me. They were always hanging out without me and didn’t even know. I found out just recently when I saw their profiles from my sister’s account. I feel terrible and tired. Now I keep thinking about making an account again, but I know that it won’t solve anything.

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