This past winter, I stopped using Facebook for a couple of months.
It’s really hard to not be on Facebook. But if you can last, you might just learn a little bit about how social media messes with your brain.
I used to really like Facebook. I’d go on there to tell stupid jokes and share links in a setting that felt at least a little more intimate than Twitter. I mean, they’re your “friends,” right?
But after the umpteenth thread derailed by people wanting to have their own conversations in my own feed and ruining the fun for everybody else, I decided it was easier to just stay quiet. Those few things I did post, I would anxiously check every so often in fear that everything had jumped off the rails. It became a source of some anxiety.
My hiatus wasn’t part of a grand personal statement on the role of social media in our lives. I didn’t write a dramatic manifesto on how I was quitting, or delete the app from my phone in a grand gesture. I just realised I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and so I started checking it less, until I stopped looking at it at all.
Once I realised I wasn’t really looking at Facebook anymore, I challenged myself to see how long I could go. I made it just about two months, sticking to Twitter and Twitter only.
But it’s hard not to be on Facebook.
First, because everybody uses it, my social life had come to be defined by Facebook invitations.
I’m almost positive I missed some parties, not to mention all the life milestones that get put on Facebook and not shared directly with friends because who doesn’t check Facebook twelve times a day?
But in a much more literal sense, it’s hard to not be on Facebook. Apps on my phone use Facebook to login. Events I wanted to go to would ask for a Facebook RSVP. Stores would offer coupons for liking them on Facebook. Lots of brands tweet or otherwise push out links to Facebook content across their entire social media presence:
Again, there were no rules to my self-imposed challenge, and it wasn’t like I was forfeiting anything. But it wasn’t fair how often Facebook ended up in my face. Suddenly, I noticed just how pervasive it’s become.
It also taught me something interesting about the ongoing Twitter vs. Facebook debate.
On Facebook, you’re at the center of a network of friends, and friends’ friends, and friends’ friends’ friends. On Twitter, you’re just another user.
The Twitter philosophy results in the kind of online harassment we’ve seen as GamerGate and the like, which is an awful result. But Facebook’s more intimate setting means that your life is basically always on display for the people who theoretically know you best. I found Twitter to be more comfortable.
I came back to Facebook in early March to announce that I had started working here at Business Insider.
All in all, my time away wasn’t a huge deal. Most people didn’t even seem to notice I was gone before I said something towards the end of the experiment, which was a small blow to my ego, but a very helpful reminder that you are not your Facebook profile.
My hiatus helped recenter me and reminded me of something very important: Social media is supposed to connect us, and at its best, it can make us feel a larger part of the lives of those around us. But it can be a distraction, a crutch, and a way to feel more alienated than ever before.
And so it’s with mixed feelings that I report that for better or for worse, Facebook is the glue that’s holding large portions of the web together, whether we want it or not. No matter how it changes, and no matter how much it stops being fun, we many Facebook users aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.