I am a millennial in every sense. I haven’t had cable for years. I go nowhere without my Kindle. I use a tablet at work, instead of a notebook. I have six figure student loan debt, for a degree that no one thought could make a career (suck it bitches). More than once, I’ve answered the phone with “Did you mean to call me?”, because what year is it and why aren’t you texting? I met my husband on a dating app. I actually started typing this blog post on my smartphone. I love technology and all the ways it makes my life easier and makes me more connected. So, naturally, I’ve been an avid user of computers and social media for… well, my entire life.
In middle school, it was AIM, or AOL Instant Messenger. I’d get home from school and chat with my friends all night long, while posting comments and reading articles on gurl.com, browsing online at Delia’s, or participating in a Roswell RPG chat room. Eventually, I took up blogging, with Xanga, and graduated to Myspace, when the time was right. At 21, I joined Facebook and have never once deactivated it, since. I tried Twitter, but quickly realized I care very little about the lives of celebrities and ultimately deleted it. Instagram filters drove me mad, but I enjoyed the photos of friends from high school and world travelers I’d never meet, so I maintained a lazy relationship with it, which consisted mostly of cat photos. Despite it’s peaks and valleys in popularity, however, Facebook was consistently my jam.
I think my Facebook obsession can be attributed, in part, to having lived alone for so long. While I enjoyed my single girl peace and freedom, living alone could be, well… lonely. Facebook made me feel connected, especially once messenger took off. I could be at home and still be in contact with acquaintances, friends, and family. I could both play the hermit and be in-in-the-know about everyone from high school. I could strike up a conversation with any random friend from the 9th grade and ask what was going on in their lives. We could get lunch or a drink and catch up, and we did on multiple occasions. I was never truly alone, as long as I was on Facebook and that was comforting when I was alone in every other sense. Because I lived by myself, I never worried about my relationship with social media. Who cared if I spent two hours on the couch, thumbing through my newsfeed, reading linked articles, or falling prey to Modcloth advertisements? With the dog curled up in my lap, I was neglecting no one.
Gail has always had a love/hate, on/off relationship with social media, deleting and reactivating her account on the regular. I, however, only stopped rolling my eyes at her and started to consider my own Facebook usage, around the time I met Jake. If things went well, I’d eventually be living with another person, and I couldn’t neglect them for my phone. In a sense, however, it remained Future Belle’s problem. I saw no need to immediately cut back. Then, the Mother’s Day before last, I saw the post of a friend of a friend, the result of Facebook’s annoying practice of displaying every item a friend likes or comments on, instead of just their own posts. She was sharing the ‘About My Mom’ worksheet her daughter had completed at school, stating from her daughter’s perspective, what she did for a living, her favorite color, how old she was, and what she liked to do. It was that last one that stuck in my mind.
“My mom likes to…”
“… play with her phone.”
Several people thought this was adorable. Maybe I’m a judgmental cow, but I thought it was deeply depressing. There are so many ways my hypothetical children could respond to this question:
“Play with daddy”
“Play with me”
I think the most horrifying one would be “play with her phone.” I don’t want my kids to remember me with a smartphone plastered to my hand like some kind of nuclear fallout victim. I don’t want them to keep things from me, because my default setting is to ignore them for technology. I don’t want to look at my 18-year-old and realize I missed her childhood to keep up with people from high school I didn’t even like enough to attend my reunions. I especially don’t want my children to think that I care more about how fun our daily lives, holidays, and vacations appear to be than how fun they actually are. It was at that point that I realized, Gail was right, and I would need to extricate myself from Facebook, entirely… eventually.
Indeed, after I got married, I realized social media was taking me out of the moment. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures and actually carried a film camera around with me throughout high school, but I wasn’t just chronicling our memories for us. I was reporting my every moment to everyone I’d ever met… and it was none of their business. It was starting to make me a bit uncomfortable, sharing so much with people I barely knew, but when I cleaned out my friends, I’d feel guilty when they requested to follow me again. I began to post less. When I wasn’t posting, though, I was constantly checking the feed and responding to Messenger. I was immediately available to every person on my friends list, no matter how remote. It reminded me of the way I used to watch TV, not as something I actually enjoyed, but because it was present and easy and just plain addictive… and it ultimately kept me from doing and/or discovering those things I did enjoy.
I thought a lot about my long term relationship with social media. I considered my already exhausted parent friends, further worn out by the virtual mommy wars telling them they could never do anything right. I thought about the girl from high school who shared pictures of her twin girls’ naked baby butts at bath time, my cousin who shared photos of her five-year-old in a bikini posing like a grown up, the guy from high school who was charged with soliciting teen boys, the IT guy of the local school district who was just arrested for distributing child pornography. If I was uncomfortable with strangers looking at pictures of me, I really didn’t want them looking at pictures of my children, one day. With children just around the corner, no longer was I worried about just my time and personal privacy, but that of my eventual family and my well-being as a parent.
I definitely needed to pull back and knew it would be hard to make such a change after having a baby; so, several months ago, I decided to delete the app from my phone to lessen my own posts and scrolling. When that didn’t work and I found myself just using the browser, I decided I would keep the app, but stay logged out and only check it once a day. I’d only use it at work or I’d only use it before work or I’d only sign on for Messenger or I’d only check it for an hour once a week. Back and forth I went, with variations on Social Media Light, month after month, lending just as much head space to not being on Facebook as I did to being on Facebook… and failing miserably in each attempt.
Then, six weeks ago, the final girl drama broke out among my friends and I decided I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t spend so much energy on cattiness and gossip and drama… and in addition to all of the aforementioned problems, Facebook had made these things that much worse, with friends, family, and even complete strangers. The group chats and photos of events that excluded me… the family dinners and evenings out that I was never invited to… the controversial virtual slap-fights with friends of friends of friends… it was all so draining and beyond ridiculous that an online relationship could affect a real one. So, on a whim, I deactivated my account and deleted messenger.
I’ll be straight with you, folks. In the beginning, I thought I was being rash. I knew I would reactivate to check in on the goings on of my friends and high school acquaintances, the happenings of the library world, the photos my family shared…and I did spend the first couple of days picking up my phone, only to remember I didn’t have a reason. I quickly realized, however, how little I missed updates from people I never really knew, political commentary from both extremes, affirmations in the form of likes and comments.
In the first week without Facebook, I crocheted three hats, sewed my Christmas stockings, finished three books, called my Gramma several times, and cleaned the house. Jake was gone hunting that weekend and I watched all five Twilight movies while crafting all night. I actually met up, in person, with friends I’d previously neglected, because I’d felt like we were somehow still virtually connected. I had so much fun and felt so rested. No longer did I wonder why I felt like I was working constantly, despite a pretty consistent 40 hour work week, because I was reading endless posts on library boards. No longer did I snap at Jake that I couldn’t discuss some current event for another second, because I’d spent the day reading every possible viewpoint of the church shooting online. No longer did I feel completely emotionally exhausted with other people’s drama and opinions. It was so life-altering that I signed into Facebook one last time: to download my information and request permanent deletion. I followed this with similar requests for Instagram and Pinterest, to avoid replacing one vice with another.
Over the next few weeks, I was more productive at work and more energized at home. Jake and I had more sex and valuable conversations and I actually experienced movies and shows and nights out with him far more, because I wasn’t checking Facebook every 10 minutes. When my Gramma told me she was disappointed that she couldn’t see my pictures anymore, I created an immediate friends and family only Instagram and showed her how to follow it, finding it far less tempting to share only photos or scroll through the photos of about 20 people. I put the account under a false name and denied acquaintances who’d previously followed me, because I don’t owe them anything. When my family expressed their horror that I’d deleted my Facebook account, I reminded them that my phone still works.
I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but in time, I’ve come to realize that I value privacy more than being connected. Perhaps it’s simply because a live person now takes priority over virtual ones. Perhaps, it’s because I have more free time and realize the sheer volume I’ve been wasting. Perhaps, it’s just because so much natural distance has formed between myself and the people I was once knew. It sounds trite, surely, but without social media, I feel free… free to pursue healthier friendships, take up more fulfilling hobbies, have conversations with family and friends about things they haven’t already read about on Facebook. I feel free to continue blogging anonymously about my life, without the discomfort of people I barely remember knowing the intimate details, because I need an outlet. I feel free to look back on my life one day and not regret that I missed out on it for a virtual one, because I’m afraid that’s going to be the case for so many.
I admit that some people can have a healthier relationship with social media, than I. Maybe they aren’t millennials, used to a technology driven world. Maybe they don’t have jobs that place them in front of a computer, with a healthy dose of downtime. Maybe they just have better self control. I, however, am glad for my escape from social media.