In the years leading up to 2019, I drastically changed my approach to how I use Facebook.
In the earlier days, I used Facebook for all manners of arguing, and while it was useful in terms of being able to work out my thoughts, sharpen my thinking and argumentation skills, and maybe influence some bystanders (because, let's face it--you don't often really convince anybody you're directly arguing with on Facebook), it really was thoroughly unpleasant.
I was so chained to my phone and to notifications of replies to my comments. I felt an intense desire to answer everything. It was a great magnet for and magnifier of my anxious-preoccupied tendencies, particularly my need to overexplain and be defensive about ALL THE THINGS.
It's not that it was without its value, even in that realm, but I don't think the ROI justified it. The nature of my engagement on Facebook led to frenetic anxiety, and that cost was too high for me. Plus, it gave me a disproportionately negative sense of the world around me and of humanity, to say nothing of how it eroded my relationships and genuine, benevolent connection with people. The other thing that I had come to realize is that it's just not my job to save other people's souls; however right I may think I am or actually be about any particular issue (and however much I may fervently believe in the urgency of others' understanding the truth about a matter), everybody needs to take their own journey and figure out the truth on their own timeline. I can be a positive influence on that journey, but it certainly won't be through intentionally trying to logic them into a particular viewpoint. Instead, I've found it can be much more helpful to just share my own experience and journey without insisting that anybody else needs to follow the same path or get to the same destination. I don't think that Facebook tends to be the best platform for that, and it's probably why I've been more attracted to writing things out in longer form on my own website where I don't even have any particular intended audience (and where the audience is much much smaller).
What actually brings me joy from Facebook is seeing pictures of animals and babies, updates about jobs and life goals, posts about vacations and outings with friends, gym progress and food photos, and all the other million big and little things that make life wonderful. So while I've long had a policy of never unfriending anybody on Facebook (since to me, a Facebook "friendship" just means we've met in real life or interacted some amount online), I did start unfollowing people rather scrupulously... Basically, if someone too frequently posted on topics that I did not want to dominate my attention, I would unfollow them. Posting viewpoints I disagreed with was a magnifier for my wanting to unfollow a person, but I did plenty of unfollowing of people who posted things I agreed with, just because I did not want to be confronted with that subject matter. And so the quality of my Facebook experience improved dramatically, as the number of posts about politics and other contentious topics in my feed declined precipitously. (Let me tell you--given what's been going on in the world since 2019, I'm so relieved to have not been confronted with what I'm sure would have had an extremely demoralizing effect on me.)
In October 2019, Adam and I went on a trip to Cabo San Lucas for a week, and I used the opportunity to just completely unplug from Facebook altogether: no scrolling and no posting. (The only exception was wishing people a happy birthday or a happy anniversary.) It was a minor way of staying present and connected during our trip.
But then we got back, and a week without Facebook turned into another week. And then another. And then a month. And, well, you get the idea. It's now been 29 months since October 2019.
I don't really know exactly when I slightly altered that policy, but there were still a few things I would use Facebook for, in addition to birthdays and anniversaries:
- posting in, commenting on posts in, and interacting with people in specific Facebook groups (eg, the Personal Development School)
- specifically looking up the contents of individual people's profiles
- using the event RSVP system
And I would occasionally read the top post in my feed (and its comments) when I opened the app for some other purpose, but I wouldn't engage with it.
Emphatically, aside from the posts in specific groups (which has more the feel of a message board around some topic), I would not just passively scroll on Facebook. I didn't maintain the same prohibition for Twitter or LinkedIn, but those also didn't captivate my interest and time nearly as much as Facebook did.
And I continued my abstention from posting anything of my own. While that started out being motivated by a very different reason back in October 2019, I just didn't have it in me to post on Facebook. Here's why:
As you may know, if you know almost anything about me at all, it's really important for me to be understood. So people's believing anything that's untrue, regardless of whether it would reflect positively or negatively on me, feels intolerable. That means that I didn't want to give people a false rosy impression of what's going on in my life. The end of 2019, all of 2020, and the first part of 2021 were all nearly intolerably hard for me. That mostly had to do with the difficulties Adam and I were going through in our relationship, and I was pretty severely dysregulated and depressed for what feels like a really long time. But it felt completely inappropriate to share all that on Facebook: I knew that that kind of venting would drive me deeper into despair, and it would have been a complete violation of Adam's privacy. And while there were also good and pleasant things happening in my life, posting on Facebook was not the way to lean into them and celebrate them with my friends, since that (coupled with no indication of what's been going wrong) risked giving people the impression that things were just fine, when the reality was that, overall, my life was very very far from fine. So I just stayed away from posting on Facebook, even though I still had other people tag me in their own posts, when they mentioned me or snapped photos of me. (Whatever else is going on, I can't say "No" to proper and complete metadata.)
It's taken a while, and things are far from calm, but 2021 was on an overall upward trajectory for me. And despite the fact that I specifically moved to a tiny mountain town to get away from people, I do feel more ready to reengage on Facebook.
I'm not yet sure exactly what form that will take. Since taking my break, I started posting most of my thoughts and updates on my website. So maybe I'll end up just writing more blog posts and linking to them instead of writing the posts natively on Facebook itself. Maybe that'll also have the benefit of being a quality filter on engagement, since many fewer people are likely to click through than would just read the post as they happen to be scrolling.
But maybe I'll also end up using Facebook reactions on people's posts and posting comments here and there. For the sake of jealously guarding my time, I think I'd still like to avoid passively scrolling, so I might end up missing a lot of the pleasant things that would otherwise help keep me connected to my friends' lives. I'll have to ponder on that more.
But for now, I'm cautiously optimistic about my return.