I can honestly say I never thought it would come to this. Given all the different social media platforms that tried and failed to fully capture my attention over the years, I assumed that Facebook would be a permanent fixture in my digital life. But as we round the corner out of this global pandemic, I’ve come to understand that it will never be easier than it is right now to permanently delete my Facebook profile.
Fair warning: this will be the longest “I’m quitting Facebook” post you will ever read, clocking in at roughly 2800 words. However, I feel it’s important to articulate my process for any of you who are or have been reevaluating your relationship to social media and digital connection, especially in a post-COVID world. If you’ve already decided to quit Facebook (or some other social media site) and are just looking for a how-to on flipping the switch, you can jump straight to Part 3.
Long story short? New Facebook brings me very little happiness and very much unhappiness, despite considerable focused effort to reverse that trend; therefore, it’s gotta go. Long story long? Dust off that Blockbuster Video card, friends, because we’re taking a trip back to 2004.
Part 1: The Journey So Far
Much ado has been made about how different Old Facebook (2004-2012) is compared to New Facebook (2012-present), but I think it’s also important to understand that Old Facebook actually went through a lot of iterations in those first six years, well before the “like” button doomed the platform. Hell, I remember when someone’s “Facebook wall” was more like the whiteboard on your college dorm room door and you could erase other people’s posts to write your own. Over time, more features were added and cleaned up; the wall became more organized and was eventually rebranded as your “Timeline,” posts from friends showed up in your “News Feed,” you could upload photos directly to Facebook rather than using a site like Flickr, you could update your status, you could update your status without being forced to start it with “[Your Name] is,” the list goes on and on. However, once Facebook went public and became New Facebook, its core functionality mostly stopped changing, and certainly not for the better; it just became relentlessly efficient at doing what it was designed to do, which was to turn your attention into advertising dollars.
Once I became aware of this in late 2019 (i.e. that New Facebook had no incentive to change its aggressively predatory business model), it was clear that the change had to come from me if I was to continue using the service. First, I unfollowed almost everyone, especially people who posted a lot of content that was low-effort or excessively negative and political. I simply didn’t have it in me to be constantly downloading the horrors of humanity into my brain while also trying to function in my everyday life. Real talk: if you find that the first thing you say to yourself every morning is “what fresh hell is this?” you are not taking proper care of your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Period.
This mass culling left my news feed with a hardy mix of interesting articles, delicious-looking food, and glimpses into my friends’ lives as young parents. I also did my Cal Newport digital detox and took everything off my phone except for calls, maps, texts, music, and a handful of utility apps (Lyft, Starbucks, my laundry room app, my gym app to sign up for fitness classes, etc.). And I have to say: it was VASTLY easier than I expected it to be. I didn’t miss having constant access to social media and my web browser even a little bit; I was perfectly content to log on at home once or twice a day for a few minutes and then move on to literally anything else. By early March 2020, I was the healthiest I’d been in over ten years, I was starting to thrive both socially and creatively, and I could feel myself on a life path that was both rewarding and sustainable.
To say that the COVID pandemic was “a trying time for all of us” is underselling it by a lot. The last time the world faced something similar was over a hundred years ago, so none of us had any frame of reference for how to deal with the emotional toll it would take on us. To make matters worse (at least here in ‘Murica), decisions about how to combat the virus were mostly left up to the governors of individual states; rather than a set of clear, enforceable guidelines put forth by the CDC, the message from the Trump administration was basically “do whatever you want, Fauci is a clown.” So not only were we dealing with President Chaos Monkey’s abject refusal to unite the country in this time of unprecedented global crisis, we suddenly had to contend with the fact that we would be spending the spring and early summer of 2020 isolated at home with no in-person social connections aside from the people we lived with.
Which, first of all, remember when we thought the pandemic would last three months? Good times, good times. Second of all, I literally could not have picked a worse time to change my digital habits. And once it became clear that the trend of “digital connection only” was not reversing anytime soon, I made the conscious, deliberate decision to pause the detox and give myself permission to use social media however I saw fit. To be clear: I wasn’t happy to make this decision. But I knew that I’d be a lot less happy if I tried to maintain my digital purity because it would come at the expense of the only social connections available to me.
There’s not much to say about the rest of 2020 and early 2021 as it pertains to my digital communication habits, besides “WOW that was a fucking mess,” so here’s a video of a kitten being very adorable.
By March of 2021, the dust had settled from the transition to the Biden administration, and I was ready to get back to a healthier way of being. I was fully vaccinated at that point, and while it would still be another two to three months before things would start to really open up, I was definitely getting my groove back. I had started working out again, I was cooking more, I was nourishing my mind with messages of practical positivity and the law of attraction, and I had committed to a few small but meaningful daily spiritual practices. I also had the added benefit of an entire year of “me work” under my belt, so it was easier than it ever had been to discern between that which served my Best and Highest Good and that which did not.
Spoiler alert: Facebook did NOT.
Part 2: The Distress of Obligation
Before we go any further, let’s define some terms. There is a huge difference between stress and distress. Stress is neither good nor bad; it’s simply a response to external stimulus. Distress, however, comes from the unrealistic expectations we have about that stress. For instance, when I do push-ups, I am putting my body under stress, but it does not cause me distress because my expectations about how push-ups should make me feel align perfectly with reality. Going for a run, on the other hand, does cause me some distress; I expect running for half an hour to make me feel a certain way – invigorated, productive, and in touch with my five senses – but it actually makes me feel another way – cranky, sore, and mad at my left knee.
Facebook is a stressful place to be, no question. By logging onto Facebook (or any social media site), you are opting into an environment where you are bombarding yourself with external stimulus. But the reason I am comfortable calling Facebook “distressing” is that I kept wanting my experience to be like it was from 2010-2014: full of interesting conversations with smart, compassionate people with different life experiences and world views, along with a healthy smattering of my twentysomething friends drunkenly updating their Facebook statuses at 1AM. That was AWESOME. That stimulus, unpredictable as it was, was worth opting into because I (and others) could reasonably expect that whatever showed up would be at least entertaining if not outright nourishing.
And look, obviously when I quit drinking back in 2016, things in my life started to shift, to say nothing of me and my friends not being twenty-six anymore. But I also feel like over the past four years, being on Facebook has required you to not only have an opinion about everything, but also to spend your time consuming articles and current events so that your opinion is also the newest opinion. It’s “publish or perish” taken to the extreme; stay on the treadmill of non-stop information because if your opinion isn’t cutting edge and perfectly woke (or perfectly regressive, if you lean conservative), someone is invariably going to rake you over the coals.
But even once I opted out of those communities and “friendships” that made me feel like nothing I said or did was ever good enough, I still felt distressed by Facebook. I found myself struggling to be fully present offline because a part of my brain was so accustomed to going “can I turn this situation into a quip?” or “is there a life lesson that the people need to hear?” What was once an outlet had become an obligation. For the past five years, I’ve been chasing the feeling of “communion through self-expression” that had been foundational to the first decade of my time on the platform. And once it really sunk in that I was never going to reclaim that feeling, the choice was clear: Facebook could no longer be a part of my life.
Part 3: Stillness Is Our Natural State
For my #BobbyBirthday (my 35th birthday, for you non-musical theatre folks), I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a week-long wellness retreat in Arizona. As part of my intention to connect more to both my body and the natural world, I committed myself to a week without checking Facebook. I would check texts and emails twice a day – once when I woke up and once before going to bed – but Facebook was not to be touched. (I also didn’t go on Instagram or LinkedIn, but I don’t have anywhere near the same level of emotional investment in those sites). And much like in my initial foray into digital minimalism a year-and-a-half ago, I didn’t miss Facebook AT ALL. Not one bit. I didn’t care about the conversations I was missing out on, I didn’t care about the news, the memes, nothing. In fact, by the middle of the second day, I’d all but forgotten I had an account to begin with. More importantly, I found I was quite simply much happier without Facebook anywhere near my consciousness.
Some of that was due to my getting sustained, in-person socialization for the first time in over a year, combined with a natural lack of screen time. I had a cohort of about ten people who attended the same lectures, fitness classes, and nature walks together, but there were also people I befriended simply because our energies clicked and our paths happened to cross time and time again. But I think a bigger factor was that I’ve been looking for a context from which I could abandon this toxic presence in my life for at least three years, and probably even longer. I’ve known deep down since early 2018 that Facebook hasn’t been good for me, and while I’ve always had plenty of very good reasons to log off for good, my relationship to the service had become so tangled that I needed a different lens through which I could see it for the time/energy/heart suck that it was. And I can’t in good conscience continue to encourage everyone I know to quit Facebook while still remaining on the platform myself.
Given that we all lived through a pandemic that forced us to rely on digital connection, there’s no way to know if simply moving to Los Angeles would have eventually broken my addiction to Facebook. But what I can say for certain is that this wellness retreat got me keyed into the unshakable truth that our nature as humans is, at its essence, still. Our default state is not agitation; doing and thinking create agitation, but it’s not how we are meant to be. If we think of an agitated mind like a snow globe being shaken, the assumption is that we need to learn how to put the snow globe down. But that way of thinking is actually backwards, especially these days when there is no shortage of ways to agitate ourselves.
What we really need to learn and practice is not picking up the snow globe in the first place.
Part 4: The Road Ahead
First off, I’m not abandoning civilization or starting a Paleolithic nudist commune in the woods of southern Oregon (though I’m definitely not opposed to that). I will still have full access to e-mail, text messages, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I will also have this blog, my podcast, and any other media outlets I decide further my goals in a nourishing and intentional way. The only thing that’s getting axed is Facebook itself, along with Facebook messenger. That said, I’m well aware that this decision is likely to have many unforeseen consequences. My hope and suspicion, however, is that because my mind will be much more still much more often, I will be able to face whatever arises – mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually – with however much gratitude, wisdom, and courage is needed to address it.
I’m also aware that roughly 10% of you reading this are not going to be okay with the fact that I’m making this decision. If this is you, please trust that I am doing this purely in the name of self-care and self-preservation, and that I bear no ill will to anyone I’m “leaving out to dry.” If you’re part of one of the Facebook groups I manage, know that I have already reached out to my fellow moderators to help make my departure as unobtrusive as possible. The reason I’m not just nuking my profile 24 hours after this goes live (and am instead waiting until June 1st to flip the switch) is precisely because I want to ensure a smooth transition. I love the groups I’ve helped create, and I want to do everything I can to set them up for even greater success in my absence.
If you are considering quitting Facebook or any other social media site, just know that it’s not nearly as hard as it looks, at least in terms of logistics. You’ll have to reach out to a few people and exchange telephone numbers if you want to stay in touch, but mechanically, there’s not much to it, especially if you don’t manage any groups. Emotionally? Whole different story. Rage-quitting Facebook is a recipe for disaster and will cause you a lot of unnecessary turmoil. More importantly, the decision is a lot less likely to stick because you won’t have made it from a place of stillness and clarity. Therefore, I’d encourage you to start by unfollowing (not unfriending) anyone and anything that does not bring you joy at least 90% of the time. Once you’ve cleaned up your timeline, then you can start to notice when your desire to go on Facebook (whether it’s to lurk or to post) is earnest and when it’s coming from a place of perceived obligation. Again, there are no right or wrong answers, you’re just collecting data. Once you’ve gathered that data, you can make any decision you wish; personally, though, I think that if you’re logging on more than 10% of the time out of obligation, then it’s worth saying goodbye.
(Don’t worry, we’re almost done.)
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. You are a wonderful, patient, mermaid-unicorn, and I appreciate you very much. And if you’ve made it this far and have decided that you want to keep using Facebook as you have been, terrific! If it brings you joy and positive connection 90% of the time, that’s fantastic. All I ask is that you make it a habit to check in every once in a while – maybe twice a year, say, on the Summer and Winter Solstices – and make sure that Facebook is actively contributing to your Best and Highest Good. Because life is far too short and far too long to be anything but creative, nourishing, and deeply joyful.