I have been a member of Facebook since 2005, when the site first launched and my college, SUNY Purchase, was added. I remember when the status was a sentence starter, that began with “Kara is…” It didn’t have photos when I first joined, nor did it have events or pages or anything like that. When I first became a teacher, I thought about deleting my account but couldn’t bring myself to do it because I had so much history on there. Facebook has been my go-to social network for over 10 years.
In recent months, however, my Facebook feed has become less and less posts from people I know and care about and increasingly more posts from news sources, memes, and articles – especially political articles. I admit I’m more keen on news and politics than many others but the political articles are rarely neutral or objective. Facebook has become a breeding ground for what everyone has been talking about as “fake news,” where sensationalism and fear-mongering rule the day. In the last year or so, Facebook has stopped being a hub to connect with friends and family and has started becoming a political horror show full of click-bait, all jumbled up with ominous posts from distant acquaintances that Facebook insists on showing me in favor of people I actually care about in spite of all my attempts to influence its algorithm with feedback.
Last week, I came to the realization that political action over Facebook in the form of debate and discourse is not feasible. Further, I realized that the stress and anxiety of teaching and being pregnant is more than enough to occupy my concerns without being constantly reminded of American political turmoil. I lose enough sleep at night without that added anxiety. So I came to the decision to quit Facebook, late Wednesday night. (Or was it early Thursday morning?)
I posted a signing off message and logged out, deleting the app from my phone and the bookmark from my browser. I resolved not to log in again for an indeterminate amount of time. Until I can determine how Facebook adds value to my life, I will not be returning.
But with Facebook gone, I feel a void of connection with my friends (which is odd, especially given the fact that Facebook scarcely showed me what they were doing anyway). In the spirit of living like great grandma, I decided to look to the bygone days to find a solution.
When I was a teenager, I had a rotary phone in my bedroom. I would use it to call my friends and make plans for the weekend. Sitting on my swivel chair, I’d spend about thirty minutes calling everyone to find out who wanted to go and then calling everyone back to confirm when and where we would meet. Those bygone days were not so long ago at all.
For my great-grandma, the telephone was just beginning to become a household item. I wonder if they looked upon it with a measure of disdain, missing the bygone days of letter-writing and house calls, when people made real connections! After all, in the words of Mark Twain (1890):
“It is my heart-warmed and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone.”
My replacement for social connection, in the absence of social media, is to make more phone calls. It’s been fun so far! I’ll call a friend out of the blue, ask them how their week has been, and off we go. Sometimes people don’t pick up or they’re busy but then I just call them later. Just the other day, I talked to my friend Sean and discovered that he was baking butterscotch cookies!
In addition to making more phone calls, I’ve been trying to invite people over to the house for dinner. Instead of going out and spending money drinking (which I can’t do anyway), it’s been nice to have a reason to clean the house and make a nice dinner to share. And unlike a large house party, I get a chance to spend quality time with people rather than provide them with a venue to spend time with each other.
A lot of other people I know have expressed distress with their Facebook feeds and with feeling disconnected, even though we are all more connected than ever! One of the complaints of people in the 1920’s about the new telephone was that it promoted”too much gossip, unwanted calls, [and] wives and children chatting too much” without talking about anything of substance. (Fischer, 1992, p. 247)
I would say that the feedback many of us have about our dependence on technology is not that far off. Digital Detox contends that “many of us feel so tied down by technology that we can’t let a single message or email slip by without responding to it immediately, or feeling a sense of anxiety. The cultural pressures to constantly check messages and to stay up to speed on the latest blogs or news media often lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated without time to breathe.”
In just the past five days, I’ve felt significantly less ideological anxiety. Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t stopped listening to the news or contacting my representatives. I’m still connected to the issues I care about. But instead of sharing articles on Facebook, I’m taking tangible action. Meanwhile, I’m also taking action to connect more meaningfully with my social network, in real life, in real time. It’s been a huge relief!
I invite you all to join me! Call a friend instead of liking their post. Invite someone over instead of posting a blanket call to whoever is available. Take tangible political action instead of sharing the frightening article. It’s a little uncomfortable, but most worthwhile endeavors are.