By Jessica Vaughn
Two months ago I reached my limit.
It was time to end a decade-old relationship with something that I had viewed as an intricate part of my social life and existence. Things had started out beautifully all those years ago. We laughed together, had fun and shared the most intimate experiences. This relationship allowed me to open my “true self” up for all to see. As the years went on, the relationship began to morph. Fun started to feel like obligation and pressure to keep up appearances. Laughter turned into digital arguments with complete strangers and in turn, I began to bottle up. Staying connected with friends turned into mindless late night scrolling through photos of people I didn’t actually know for hours before bed.
In late November I took the first step towards getting out of this toxic relationship by asking Google the thing I never thought I would ask, “How do I deactivate my Facebook account?” Once I figured out how to keep my professional pages up and running without maintaining a personal account I did the thing. I pushed the button, disconnected from the world, and waited. Waited for the perplexed messages about my Facebook absence to come rushing in via text or email, but they never came. The evening continued as usual. To this day I haven’t had a single person reach out to ask about the status of my profile.
So how has it been and what have I learned in the months since I’ve deactivated my account?
For starters, I hadn’t realized how dependent I had become on Facebook for entertainment. In the immediate weeks after deleting my account (and the Facebook app from my phone), I would mindlessly grab my phone and go to open up the profile that wasn’t there.
I hadn’t yet grasped the fact that the performance was over.
A few people in my life who themselves had deleted their accounts were strong proponents of getting off of the site largely because of the imaginary audience that exists in your newsfeed. I ardently denied the existence of said audience but within days of deactivating I realized both the presence this audience and its subversive influence start to fade away. I thought I was immune to this tendency, but indeed I had been performing aspects of my day-to-day life for 1,200+ people for more than 10 years. Each time I shared photos or posted an article, I was seeking validation in the form of a little red notification box that yes, my vacation was awesome, or that my outfit was cute, or that I’m well read and intelligent. I was unknowingly seeking approval just for going about mundane aspects of my day.
As someone who errs on the side of nerdy, the alluring generic xenical for weight loss desire of the audience buzzing with validation came up most frequently after reading a thought-provoking article or story. I would think to myself, “This story is so interesting! What great intellectual fodder for my friends. It must be shared!” In these cases, the lack of a Facebook audience to share (or perform for) made it painfully obvious that I had become addicted to measurable approval by my audience. The more I could drum up comments and responses, the better I felt. This realization has, in turn, changed the nature of my relationship with what I choose to read. Today, its shareability matters much less than the content within.
I’ve also found more time to connect with who and what matters most to me. Less time scrolling through news feeds means more time to pick up the phone and call friends and family back in New York. It means more time to connect face-to-face with my Lehigh Valley community. And it is not that I’ve become an anti-digital curmudgeon: I still keep in touch with some of the individuals from my slightly more removed social circles. The medium has simply changed over to text, email, Gchat or Instagram, but my attentiveness to the conversations has gotten better. My thoughts are less divergent and distracted.
All of this is not to say that Facebook (and other social media channels) are completely without merit. There are aspects of the site that I miss and value, however, the overall benefits I’ve gained by stepping away from the site haven’t made the choice of returning a tempting one.
Through this process of removing myself from the site, I’ve developed a more mindful relationship with social media and technology for that matter. I’ve seen the value of unplugging. In two short months, it’s made my life feel more vibrant and meaningful. I’m no longer performing or comparing my existence to people who I seldom (if ever) see or talk to. The bottom line is that and much to my surprise life still goes on without Facebook. I still see photos of friends and family. I’m still connected to the news and people are still able to find me.
If you’ve ever considered deactivating for even a period of time I highly encourage it. Taking the time to pause and reflect on the areas of our lives that are running unquestioned on autopilot are usually the areas where we stand to develop the most growth. If you’re fearful of deactivating run towards that feeling. Fear, in this case, is nothing but an illusion. Everything you’re looking for in life lies on the other side of that emotion.
Now I’ve just got to convince myself that the same is true for deactivating Instagram…