Alyse Butler
May 24, 2016 8:40 am
Getty / Plume Creative

I have never had the guts to deactivate my Facebook profile. Some of my friends have, and I deeply admire the finality of such an action, their choice to engage what is directly in front of them rather than with a screen. But every time I even start to consider doing it myself, I come up with reasons for keeping my online persona alive and well, justifications that run the gamut of legitimate (such as when I lived in a yurt in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia for two years and really did use it to stay in touch with people) to questionable (such as using it to read the latest listicle about sex drive or to jealously study every detail of my friends’ lives). Sometimes I say Facebook keeps me up on “current events.” But is Justin Bieber’s newest tattoo in any way world-altering? Will knowing about it make me want to be a better person and live up to a higher standard? I suppose it’s possible. It’s also highly unlikely.

For all the years I’ve been on Facebook, it has been a daily fixation of mine, a webpage I visit several times a day. I rarely open Twitter; I don’t watch TV. I haven’t ever downloaded the Facebook app or its Messenger app to my phone in an attempt to keep myself from getting addicted to the push notifications, but it has only made me that much more diligent in checking it through my browser. I’m ashamed, but I can’t pull myself away. I don’t even want to look at it that much; I just feel compelled to. The longer this has gone on, the more uncomfortable with it I’ve become. It’s my own behavior, after all. I should have more control over it. Yet as long as it is available to me with one touch of my finger, I continue to return to it.

But a small miracle happened early this past week: my phone refused to load my Newsfeed when I tried opening it in the browser. It was almost as if my phone had intuitively guessed that I couldn’t bring myself to do what I felt I needed to do, so it did it for me. I was okay with that, relieved even. And when it refused to load it for the rest of the day, and the day after that, and all of the days since, I continued to be okay with it. I have felt a more consuming peace than I’ve felt in a while. In fact, I had intentionally not restarted my phone for fear that it might fix the problem (and then when I did restart my phone, the problem persisted). I’m free! By some grace of the god of phone-glitches, I am released of my compulsion. There is no longer any reward for checking Facebook 20, 30, 90 times a day. There is nothing to see.

The amount of free time this has left me is embarrassing to admit. Was I really spending that much time scrolling through and reading mindlessly? In short, yes, I was. But embarrassment aside, I am left with so much free time! I finished a 522-page book I’ve been working through for a few weeks. I worked on some poetry I’ve neglected. I have more time to meditate and think or even text my real-life friends to see how they are instead of stalking my Facebook friends to envy their highlight reels. This is life. (Though I did spend some of that extra time checking my bank account and the weather obsessively because clicking around on the phone is apparently a hard habit to break.)

I know from my own life experience that Facebook (and any social media) can be beneficial: it can connect you with people whom you know or with whom you share interests; it can keep you updated on what’s happening in the world (like bombings or mass shootings or elections); it can open your mind to new ideas and ways of thinking. In no way is social media all bad. It is efficient; it is accessible. It has become a major tenet of our lives, even if a few of us individually choose to opt out — it is integral to how our society functions as a whole. It’s hard to be entirely against it.

But I also know, from this tiny, accidental experiment in Facebook abstinence, that I feel lighter without it sometimes. I feel more control over what I see and what I want to allow into my psyche for the day. If I want to read about my libido or see Bieber’s tattoo, I can still do so — only I’m the one seeking it out, not vice versa. I’m not against Facebook. I just think that I have better things to do with my time than lazily click around for hours of the day (like I know I’m capable of). Maybe that means taking a break from Facebook for a while; maybe that means vowing not to even look at it some days and actually sticking to that. But whatever it is, I’ve learned that I don’t need Facebook to get through my day. I can actually survive without it. And that is the real epiphany here.

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