Two months ago, I did the unthinkable: I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Since then, I have felt more at peace with the Internet than I had in years.
After two or three years of near-obsessive behavior with social media, I reached a breaking point. I found myself tethered to my phone, checking for updates on blog posts or Instagram photos or just scrolling to scroll. My thumbs and wrists were getting sore, too.
It was time to say goodbye to Facebook.
When I deleted the app, I didn’t post an “I’m leaving FB for a month” message. As much as I (we?) wanted to believe that Facebook was all about sharing with others, it’s always really been for one person: myself. I wrote posts to see what kind of response I could get from others. An “I’m leaving FB post” would’ve been just another narcissistic opportunity to see what people would say about me and my “bravery” for leaving FB.
I also had to remind myself that Facebook is a business. FB wants to make as much money as it can. My mindless scrolling and constant checking filled the bank accounts of FB executives and shareholders. It filled me with anxiety and obsession.
I did give myself a few caveats.
While I deleted the FB app from my phone, I kept Messenger and Pages for my photography business. I kept Instagram, too, to keep my running business portfolio. Since I don’t update my website often with new photos, I try to keep IG current. While my decision wasn’t for a complete social media cleanse, I rid myself of the #1 thief of my attention.
My intention was to begin my one-month FB cleanse on August 1. I looked at my phone on July 31, almost opened FB, but said to myself, “You know what? Let’s just delete a day early.” So I did. What follows are my thoughts along the way.
The first thing I noticed was all the times I’d randomly pull out my phone just to scroll, which was way more than I would probably admit to. I’d pull out my phone at stupid times, like walking the dog or standing at a urinal (I actually did that). The digital pull from my pocket seemed to be a reflex, not a choice.
By about lunchtime, though, I’d almost completely forgotten about the lure of the FB app. By bedtime, I had forgotten completely. The only thing that brought me back to the ecosystem was the FB pages app for my business. Someone had commented on a post. (It was nothing earth-shattering. I could’ve ignored the notification icon and gone to bed.)
I kept checking Instagram, though. I told myself that I was checking on my business, but I wasn’t. I was just doing my FB habits of scrolling and liking on a different app. Thankfully, I did tend to scroll less since my IG feed isn’t random rants or memes. I also love that IG introduced a “you’re all caught up” line. What a great, small way that app is trying to keep us all mindful of usage. (Though I had to shake my head when I saw the message after one photo… go to bed and stop scrolling, Aaron…)
24 hours after I deleted the FB app from my phone, I checked FB on my computer. I had 20 notifications! Jackpot! The old me would’ve jumped for joy at all of the attention. But how many mattered? Zero. Nine were just alerts that “friends” had posted on various groups, and one was my business page, which I’d already seen.
Later in the day, I checked again on the computer (I had to feed the waning obsession): I had nine notifications. Eight were useless. It made me wonder: will FB notice that I’m gone? Clearly, they know I deleted the phone app. They know the exact times I’m checking. What will they change on my feed and notifications to bring me back?
I woke up to see if my latest Columbus Moms Blog article was published. I checked the CMB FB page. But there were so many memes and pinned articles and videos on the page that I stopped scrolling the feed and just went to the website. I said to myself, “I am not missing FB one bit.”
Long ago someone said to me that FB was really just fancy email. Four days in, that recognition rings true. That’s basically what I’m using FB for now, and I’m not missing out on anything else.
If I was a big company or a politician, I guess I’d care more. But as a regular, insignificant person, losing the digital chatter is really nice.
Then I had this thought: where are all the messages from people asking, “Where have you been? Are you off FB now?” No one had seemed to notice my absence. Maybe no one noticed because FB really isn’t about connecting with others. Like I said in the beginning, it’s about getting attention for yourself.
I didn’t even check on the computer at end of the day. I didn’t feel itchy, either.
I turned on phone notifications for Instagram. I figured that way I wouldn’t constantly check IG for action. I opened it less. Could this same tactic work with FB? Would it help me keep the app and stay sane? Maybe. Though it’s the scrolling that gets me…
I grabbed my phone to FB stalk twice—I just wanted to see photos of some people I had just met—and realized I couldn’t. I was partly surprised that it took six days for me to see that I couldn’t immediately look up a person’s account to scroll through photos and posts. Now I’m disappointed that I even had the (shallow) thought in the first place.
I am beginning to miss things on local community FB groups. But my wife checks them, so that’s good enough, right?
I had his thought: what if the whole craziness with election interference on FB changes things drastically? Why do we assume that FB is permanent? (AOL Instant Messenger or MySpace, anyone?) As a professional photographer, our confidence in FB’s permanence really has me worried about using FB as a time capsule. Who’s to say FB will be around in five years, let alone 20 or 30?
I mentioned this on Day 6, but I do have a real communication issue now: FB groups are being used for my kids’ school stuff. My two oldest are starting at new schools, and a bunch of groups and classes use FB for announcements (see, it is a special form of email) and photos. Right now, I’m basically missing it because I’m never checking and don’t think about it enough to check when I’m on my actual computer. My wife is on it, though. Do I have to be, too? Do both parents need to know all of the messages? Maybe. But we’ll see…
I just returned from a trip out of town. My wife asks me about all these things on FB that I haven’t seen. I’m surprised by how much of our shared experience has been FB posts.
Here’s the biggest pull I’ve had to FB since deleting the app: I have a big milestone occurring. I’m heading back to teach high school English after two years at home with my kids, and I want to write an update status. I want to hear from old teacher friends and students. I want to write words of encouragement for my wife. This seems like an actual way to connect digitally. Maybe there is some good in FB…
In the end, I didn’t do the milestone post.
I wrote my first post in two weeks. I had the urge to make it cover several things, kind of a summary of the time I’ve been away from FB. Instead, I just gave it one purpose: my newborn baby boy turned two months old. I had to resist the huge urge to check back for likes and comments. By the morning of Day 15, I still hadn’t checked.
I read a New York Times headline about 652 FB accounts closed due to political interference and misinformation. Seriously, will FB survive the next few years? With election hacking and trolling lurking in every FB corner, I have my doubts about its longevity.
Also, one of my CMB articles posted, and I logged in to share it.
Later I was tempted to log in on my phone using the Safari web browser to see any comments on my article. I resisted the urge. Plus, I figured that the comments would mostly be “great article!” or “yaaasssss”.
And that’s it.
Those are my notes. Did you notice that after the first week I stopped taking daily notes and reflecting on life without Facebook? Life just became life. I had enough going on that I just didn’t care about FB anymore.
As of this writing, it’s been 65 days since I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. It’s still deleted. And I love it. I check FB every few days on a computer, but that’s it. Social media has loosened its grip on my attention.
Do I have any regrets? Do I miss it?
I regret missing some of the special things being posted about my kids at school. My daughter’s teacher posts photos every day, and I don’t see them unless my wife shows me. I also miss photography FB groups and the daily chatter about anything and everything photography. I’ve learned a lot from those photography groups, but I also tended to stress about responding to things. So I miss them a little but not enough to revert.
I also miss posting observations about my life as a parent. I always enjoyed distilling some daily craziness for my friends and family.
I will say that my wife uses the FB marketplace with great success. Whether she’s selling old toys and clothes or finding great deals on the same, my wife does prove how parts of FB are beneficial. (By the way, I can’t believe FB doesn’t take a cut of each sale. Sooner or later that will happen, I’m sure.)
What about my business? Has it suffered?
Nope. Not one bit. In fact, I might be even busier now than before. The real relationships I’ve cultivated continue to thrive. I’ve used Instagram for a contest or two, but I’ve also connected with businesses and nonprofits to grow my client-base. My business is doing just fine without FB.
One More Thing
I’ll leave you with one more thing to think about. I was reading a magazine article about building relationships between businesses. The article touts real, in-person relationships over social media, and the author gave a salient analogy.
The author cited an experiment from the middle of the last century that used three groups of rats. The first group of rats had a lever they could pull to receive food. Every time the rat pulled the lever, it got food. The second group had a lever, but pulling it did nothing—no food or anything. The third group had a lever that would deliver food at unpredictable intervals. Sometimes the rat would have to pull it three times before food arrived, sometimes eight or nine, sometimes just one, sometimes seven, and so on randomly.
The first group did just fine. The rats pulled the lever when hungry and went on with life. No ill effects or negative outcomes. The second group was fine, too. They quickly learned that the lever was meaningless, so they ignored it. The third group had trouble. The unpredictable nature of the lever and its reward caused the third group of rats to constantly check. They ignored exercise wheels in favor of checking the lever. The third group exhibited anxiety and obesity.
Social media is the third lever. You never know when you’ll get a notification or comment or like, so you have to constantly check. Social media turns us into the third group of rats, constantly checking to see if this is the time I’ll get a great comment or see a share-worthy meme or get a message for a great business opportunity.
Take control of your habits. Stop pulling the lever. Don’t be a third rat.