Discoveries on a Facebook Vacation

A few months ago, maybe almost a year, I left Facebook. The reasons aren’t important, and they’re not exciting or dramatic, I simply worried that my usage was causing more harm than good and I wondered what would change without it so prevalent in my life.

There were a few surprises. The first was the amount of time I found myself with. I didn’t use Facebook in marathon sessions. I was rarely on it for more than 30 minutes at a time. Most of the time is was 5 minutes here or there, waiting for a tarball to uncompress, and installation routine to complete, or some similar thing.

But those moments added up, even though some of them were now simply spent reading for education or pleasure.

I had so much more time that I began to repair and build guitars. I bought recording software. I started research on no fewer than 3 massive writing projects, including becoming an intern writer for a computer game with a scope beyond anything ever published. After spending literally hundreds of hours on each and still feeling that I need more time to perfect either the project or my skill, it became clear that I might have been wasting my time with Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a technophile and I believe the Internet is the greatest invention of humankind since the Library at Alexandria (the burning of which I consider to be hands down the greatest tragedy ever). Facebook is a marvelous resource for keeping in touch with people we normally wouldn’t because it can be as active or as passive as you desire. So while I may have drifted from friends who moved away and have different lives, I truly value the ability to know that they’re doing work that’s laudable or sharing opinions I have or don’t have.

But there’s that fact. After I stopped using Facebook, I found myself growing and creating and having my pattern of thinking generally changed.

I should state that I’m a 34-year-old white male. So this isn’t a mid-life crisis or the college revelation that “the world is, like, so out there, man.” I’ve not gotten married or had a child or lost a job or gotten a huge raise. I made one conscious change that led to several other changes, but the background of my life is just as it was before.

The second discovery was brought to my attention one day when I needed to get on Facebook to find something I’d posted some time ago. Scrolling through my own timeline became scrolling through my news feed, as the site is designed to encourage. It had been months since I last read anything posted by anyone, and things were different.

They just didn’t matter.

Before, I would be excited about a chance to make a joke, or to point out bigotry, or to call attention to a scientific inaccuracy. Facebook was a playground of interaction. It was a recess yard filled with children who both impressed me and depressed me and I enjoyed the way those experiences wove together to make a Facebook fabric of burlap satin.

The posts that would irk me for their inaccuracies or latent homophobia or thinly veiled racism no longer elicited much of anything. Even being aware of it caused me no elation or despair. I simply stopped scrolling. I knew there was more to see, but I had no desire to see it.

The value of the content had changed. Or the way I valued it changed. Sides of the same coin, perhaps.

I think it’s because I truly had better things to do. Every moment I spent reading a promotional status update or a vague or direct shaming of someone’s shameful or reasonable behavior was a moment I was at least half-way thinking about a better way to open a biographical stage play or a better way to EQ a guitar across a stereo spectrum (it did not work out as I hoped) or how I might use a spreadsheet to plan a hiking trip more efficiently.

I don’t know if that’s how everyone else has always felt. Maybe I’m just late to that particular party. Or maybe we all get trapped in the playground and we forget that there is work that’s more fun than any verbal jungle gym, that there are projects more delightful than any post with hundreds of likes. We’re not putting likes in quotation marks anymore, are we? We all know that it’s a noun that indicates someone verbed, yeah?

Anyway. It’s interesting that I also lost my desire to post. There’s no reason I couldn’t return to post things that are more constructive than caustically jovial. There’s no reason I can’t take part only in those portions and areas of Facebook that I find rewarding. I may still do either some day. Or I may return to my old ways. I don’t know. I do know that, for now, the idea of creating or learning is much more appealing.

I am not recommending anyone quit Facebook. Not only because it definitely has reduced the frequency of social activity in my life. Now, I go to bars without knowing if I’ll know anyone there. Well, I go to a bar. And I miss out on many things because personal invitations are a thing we don’t do anymore, a change which is neither bad nor good.

So no, don’t quit Facebook. But maybe examine what you intend to gain from it. Maybe assess whether you’re acquiring what you seek. I don’t know that anyone will discover anything in the vein of what I discovered and I don’t think any of this examination will make the world a better place. But it might make your time a bit more pleasant. Or maybe you’ll make something that I’ll enjoy. Which is really one of the few reasons I acknowledge the existence of anyone other than myself, anyway.

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