For many years, I was very active on Facebook. For the past several now, I have not had an account. But how has not participating in one of the most popular social networking sites affected me? It is almost assumed that everyone has a Facebook account, even one’s parents and grandparents nowadays. It can feel ostracizing and anti-social not to have one, like you’re a weirdo existing on the fringes of society. I figured I’d share my own related experiences here.
When I first made my account back in 2008, I found it a lot of fun to reconnect with people with whom I had once been close and since lost touch. These included elementary school friends I hadn’t seen or talked to in over a decade. It was a novelty and something I found fun, but unnecessary, and I could go days without checking it or thinking about it.
As the years wore on, I felt myself becoming more and more dependent on the site. It was simply too convenient to be able to catch up on politics, weather, gossip, and upcoming events all on one site. I began to find myself unable to stop scrolling down my news feed, and it was taking up a lot of my time. I’d get caught up in taking silly quizzes, the results of which mean nothing. I became much more involved in what was going on in politics than I should have been, which took a toll on my mental health as I felt powerless to change anything. I also became wrapped up in what my Facebook “friends” were doing, what wonderful lives they seemed to be living, which made me feel I was missing out and not measuring up. I’d worry if I knew I had missed writing “Happy Birthday” to someone if I hadn’t been on the site that day, even if I hadn’t spoken to or really had anything to do with that person in years, and even if we had never really been that close. Which is crazy and self-demeaning and unreasonable and made me feel like a prisoner.
I realized that some people are meant to be in your life for a little while, not forever. It’s okay to think back on people you have known with fond memories and well wishes for them without feeling a need to re-enter each other’s lives. Relationships used to be made and maintained organically, through staying in close physical contact with each other, having things in common, and sharing both the good and bad parts of our lives. Now, social media allows us to feel like we are still a part of each other’s lives just by hitting the “add friend” button and seeing your friend’s list gain numbers, even though we might have grown into completely different people and can’t relate to each anymore. Honestly, after having had my curiosity quenched about what So-and-So is doing for a living, if they got married/had kids, and where they now live were answered, I didn’t see the point of staying in contact. And those are questions that historically have been answered “through the grapevine”, anyway.
Having social media felt like I was an insecure teenager again, dependent on everyone else’s perception of me for my own self-esteem. If someone didn’t accept my friend request, had more Facebook friends, if I didn’t get many likes on a post, or if I saw pictures of people hanging out without me, it made me feel horrible. Which only made me want to scroll down my newsfeed for longer to see what else I was missing and further confirm how much of a pathetic, no-friends-having human being I really was. Facebook in many ways gives a warped perception of real life, because most people only post the positive, non-embarrassing, successful, and enviable parts of their lives, not all the other stuff. They’re less likely to be honest if they’re having problems with their spouse, hate their jobs, are having financial troubles, burned their dinner, or are experiencing feelings of uncertainty or lack of self-confidence.
There were also times that people would pop up as “recommended friends” or comment on a post I was reading that I would rather not ever have any contact with, such as an ex-boyfriend. It is very hard to forget painful memories attached to certain people if you are both on Facebook and especially if you have mutual friends. I also found it hard not to “stalk” certain people (former friends with whom I had fallen out or mean-spirited, estranged relatives, for example) to see what they were now up to.
I no longer participate in social media culture, and I can honestly say I am happier. I feel less obsessed with what other people are doing, less critical of myself, more focused on what I can control, and, therefore, more in control. I definitely feel I have gained more than I lost. And the people who were meant to stay in my life have my contact information and have in fact stayed in my life. It was interesting to see the number of people who disappeared from my life when I disappeared from social media, even after notifying them I’d be leaving. It’s a good way to measure how many friends you actually have. According to researchers, it is only possible to have about 5 close friends, anyway. And if you’re not close to someone, why do you need to see daily pictures of their child or be informed they got a promotion at work?
I don’t have to worry about employers or coworkers finding me and trying to add me. In fact, I have even heard of employers asking job applicants for their login information or trying to add them as a “friend” before they’re even hired in an attempt to find any dirty laundry. I don’t have to worry about this at all. And even though it’s easy to say “just don’t overshare”, it can be easy to fall into the trap of oversharing without even realizing it or someone else posting something that could get you in trouble.
I’m not bashing social media or those who participate in it. I think it can be a healthful, beneficial facet of one’s life if kept in its place. It can be a great tool for easily sharing updates and pictures with loved ones who live far away but want to stay in touch. It can be a great resource for finding out about events and groups in one’s area. It can be an incredible business asset to be able to market yourself and your services to a wide array of people. And while I’m not saying I would never get back on it if the time was right, that time is not now. When someone tells me they tried to find me on social media, I simply tell them it’s because I don’t have one, that I used to have one, but that I don’t feel the need for it anymore. Although I sometimes get surprised reactions from people, they also seem to respect it, and usually come back with, “Yeah, I’m not on it much myself”, “I barely check it”, or “I just use it for…”
Has anyone else had similar experiences? Anyone else had social media, gave it up, and feel their decision has greatly benefited them?