Rather spontaneously, when my parents were in town around Ash Wednesday, I decided that I would give up facebook for lent. At the time I wouldn’t have called my facebook use problematic. I already have StayFocusd installed which is set to limit my facebooking to 20 minutes per day on all of my computers. I gave up drinking for January, and I guess you could say that I’m just in a phase of investigating how I live my life, by taking things out and noticing what’s different. facebook was just another experiment.
facebook certainly has utility value. Its become the de-facto way to find out about engagements, pregnancies, promotions, parties and friends visiting from out of town. That said, I find that I use it more often than not as boredom relief. Nothing happening at work? Check facebook. Avoiding a deadline? Check facebook. Waiting for the wife? Check facebook.
So what did I learn from cutting it out? Well for the first week or so I found myself unconsciously starting to type “fac…” into my browser without even thinking about it. That’s a clear sign of an unconscious habit right there, but after about a week it went away. Instead when I found myself feeling bored I would pause, and think about things that interested me, or questions I had about the world. Then I’d type that in instead. If I was curious about something that one of my friends might know about, or if I just wondered how they were I’d pen them an email.
I discovered that my Internet usage became a lot more self-directed and conscious. The facebook timeline seems like its curated for our particular interests, but in reality its really more of an indiscriminate firehose of shallow clickbait. Instead I found myself visiting websites I hadn’t frequented in over a year like the wonderful BLDGBLOG.
Emailing and chatting with friends directly rather than through facebook was nice as well. I didn’t get daily selfies or “what I had for breakfast” posts, but what communication I did get had more depth and emotion. I also found that my writing improved since I was giving myself time to properly compose my thoughts rather than just responding to the torrent of posts, comments and likes that makes up the facebook timeline.
I started a photography blog that I’ve been quite happy with. I’ve been getting out more in my local community and just generally more active and productive. When I see someone else on facebook, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, in fact I kind of laugh.
If I had to summarize what I like most about being off of the ubiquitous social network, it would be that I am once again the master of my own attention. I pay attention to the things that I care about, and I spend as much or as little time as I feel appropriate to them. facebooks’ infinite scroll doesn’t threaten to crush me with endless updates.
Lent is over, has been for almost a week, and I’ve yet to return to facebook. I just haven’t felt the need or the desire. Eventually I’ll get back, to get in touch with someone I don’t have an email for, or to promote an event or crowdsource something. Will I return to using it as I did before? I don’t think so. Even after I started drinking again, its been much much less, and so I hope it will be with facebook. I hope to be mindful and strategic about how I use it, not just typing “fac…” when I start to get bored…
- Shout out to Douglas Rushkoff (who I saw speak a week ago here in SF) and his books Present Shock and Program or be Programmed which definitely had an influence on my thinking about my online behaviors.