Easter is here, Lent is over, and I’m back on Facebook after 46 days. Here’s what I learned living a Zuckerberg-less life.
I don’t love a lot of things about Facebook. Pick any one of the 100 valid reasons why somebody wouldn’t love parts of Facebook, and I’m sure it applies to me.
But it is an unavoidable part of my life and feels like a necessity to, if not update, at least check the app multiple times a day. So, looking for something challenging to give up for Lent, I decided to drop it. Here’s what I learned.
[Caveats: I continued updating my professional page (which you should like if you already haven’t, because I need all the help I can get) since it’s career suicide as a striving media personality to not have an active social media presence. Other than that and one post on my personal page to publicize a friend’s fundraiser after her apartment burned down, I did not scroll my news feed, reply to any messages, or post anything.]
- The thing I missed least: all of the political discourse. Surprise. Not having to see the thoughts some random classmate I haven’t talked to since high school shared on David Hogg took such a load off my mind.
- And yet: I did miss contributing my own political opinions. It felt like all this knowledge and insight I could provide to open people’s minds to the issues was being wasted. And just like that, I realized I’m a huge part of the problem with our current political climate: I don’t always want to hear what anyone else thinks, but I never have a problem telling people what I think.
- Legitimate benefit to Facebook: birthdays. I forgot so many birthdays and I don’t even want to know how many people feel offended or mad at me that I didn’t wish them a “HBD!” on their wall this year. If you’re reading this, sorry. And HBD!
- I also missed stalking. If a friend asked “do you know this person?” I couldn’t check. If I wanted to do some recon on a first date before meeting her, I had to go in blind (how novel!). This made me feel very much like a pre-Facebook college sophomore again, when I wished I could’ve known more about that person in Philosophy class but had no recourse in doing so.
- I didn’t realize how big a role Facebook played in my daily routine. Every morning on my commute (back when I had a job; more on that in a sec), it would be part of my social media roundup through all the apps. Same thing at night before I went to bed. And for the first couple weeks — after I checked Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat — I’d go to instinctively check Facebook, only to realize it wasn’t there, like some digital ghost limb I’d long ago had amputated.
- Turns out that, amid all the political posts and baby photos and TBTs, there is the occasional important news people share on Facebook. Like the fact my company shut down and I was now unemployed. Normally, I’d post that and everyone in my life would find out. This time, I went to a family party a month after losing my job. Almost everybody asked me how work was going. Nobody knew. How could they? I never updated my status.
- I missed news too: a friend moved to Colorado. Invited me to her going-away party. Didn’t find out she left until a month after she did. A cousin-in-law’s grandmother died. Had no clue until someone asked what time I’d be going to the wake. This app has grown into a legitimate personal news hub that threatens to leave you out of the loop if you don’t participate.
- More than anything, though, I realized Facebook has become a sort of Museum of Mike. It contains such a compendium of photos, old statuses, past events, and memories that it’s become my go-to source for anything archived in my life. When news breaks that Jersey Shore is coming back and I want to dig up my picture with Pauly D to text someone or tweet about it — I don’t know where to find that original photo. But I do know where to find it in my Facebook albums. If there’s a debate about whether a particular house party we threw happened in July or August of 2013, I can go back and look up the exact date it happened…on Facebook. For better or worse, Facebook has turned into a personal Google for everything that’s happened to me since the spring of 2005. It’s scary. But — it’s also realllllly convenient.
Now I’m back. After just one day on the app, I already feel weary. Scrolling through my news feed often feels compulsory, not enjoyable. And that, I guess, is my grand realization in all this. While there are exceptions, Facebook long ago stopped being fun. But it also long ago started being essential.
After the Cambridge Analytica breach, a “Delete Facebook” movement picked up some steam. And the idea is nice. But for that to work, the entire way of life for millions of people needs to change. If I were to delete Facebook for good as just one individual, I’d lose out on a lot more than I’d gain.
Bachelor party planning, birthday reminders, the NBA Desktop video series, easy access to “Ireland Trip 2011” photos every St. Patrick’s Day: these are all benefits I’d lose without that tiny blue box on my iPhone screen, maddening drawbacks be damned.
Facebook’s original mission statement said, “Making the world more open and connected.” Well congrats Mark Zuckerberg; you’ve permeated my life so much to the point that, in the same month you inadvertently caused me to lose my job, you made me realize just how disconnected I feel without your product.