Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Free of Facebook, Not of My Self

It all started a few weeks ago. Creatively, I was struggling. I felt my writing slipping; the quality, the motivation. Every time I would log on to Facebook, so much of my newsfeed would be a dialogue about who was published where, when their next post, next book, next big thing was coming. I was starting to feel crushed by the weight of other people’s next big things. I blamed Facebook for my not having big things lined up and for feeling angst toward people who did have big things lined up. So I decided to take a Facebook-acation.

The thing about giving up Facebook is that it is both freeing and frustrating. It is way more challenging than it should be. When I went off the site, I wasn’t exactly sure how long it would be for though I was almost certain it wouldn’t be terribly protracted and that I would be back. In general, I don’t believe in cutting stuff completely out of my life. I was never a big fan of no meat, no dairy, no TV, no anything. I fancy myself more of a moderation girl. So I assumed I’d be back and use the time to refocus, figure out what had me feeling so off center.

What if you tried it? What or who would you find? What would you learn? Here is what I discovered.

Notes to Self
A smarter me would say I spent the time off Facebook being hyper useful, writing a book, learning to garden, erasing my carbon footprint. That didn’t happen though I did, annoyingly, have more time. Things that I would’ve put off till the end of the day I had no reason not to tackle early on. I got more done which was useful though not necessarily fun. The thing about Facebook and the Internet in general is that you log on to do one thing and then something catches your eye and you think, wait, I need new jeans and Angelina got married and what has my friend from nursery school circa 1981 been up to? I mean, your brain just can’t help but wonder and wander. It is the definition of undisciplined which isn’t always such a bad thing. Sometimes you need a bit of that. But it was useful to remind myself of how much the Internet and social media in particular can suck up big parts of your day this way, and how much more I could accomplish/see/do with a bit more self-discipline in my life.

In terms of staying in touch with people, I had to call them or email them or walk up to them in person. If I really cared, I had to go out of my way to show that. It took way more effort and energy than making a virtual thumbs up. Yet the exchanges were far more thoughtful and meaningful. Again, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the low touch high reach way that we so often communicate with each other through these sites. It is fun and sometimes useful to stay in touch with lots of folks. But there was value in reminding myself that real life communication and virtual communication are not equal, and should not be treated as such.

I began reading more actual news content. I learned actual facts, not my friends posting of random sites’ interpretation of facts. This was useful. Usually my newsfeed just jams up with content that isn’t really content at all. It’s like the cookies that are gluten free and nut free and dairy free and sugar free and then you stop and go wait – what the hell am I eating anyway? This is how I usually feel about half way through 80% of the stuff that people share. It isn’t that  I don’t like my friends or think they are smart or even agree with whatever the bias is that the piece they are inevitably sharing is written from, it’s just that I rarely actually learn anything substantial from it. From a news perspective, I am like the everything-free cookie. I can talk a good game but there isn’t much to me, and when you are done conversing with me you might feel a bit empty and somehow less informed. This was again another important reminder to rely on Facebook for what it was designed for, important information like this.

Finally, I struggled quite a bit with the idea of self-curation. Too often online, it becomes so easy to create the virtual version of myself that I want others to see. I curate my profile like a display window. It’s not my true self, my whole self on display. I show the parts of me I want you to see. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is no law that says I have to show everyone every part of me all the time. No one wants to see that. But it does create this tricky disconnect sometimes between the online me and the real me. I don’t suppose this is a new disconnect, in some ways I think people have always struggled and continue to struggle with what they feel on the inside versus what they show on the outside.

But in the absence of Facebook, so to I lost this uniquely post-modern idea of self-curation. I had to walk around all day with all of me rattling about in my own head, on display, confronting the most irritating and unattractive parts of me. I didn’t get to choose the best. I had to face it all. It struck me how much this piece of it, this ability to curate, is perhaps at the heart of feeling that “escape” people talk about when they mention the virtual world.

Back Online
After about two weeks, I felt ready to be back on the site. In the end, it was all modeled somewhat after the Special K challenge. Two weeks seemed like long enough to see results, but not so long that I wanted to just kill myself. I suspect that it was people feel like after eating largely just Special K for two weeks.

I made some changes I intend to try and keep. The Facebook app is deleted from my mobile devices. I grew accustomed to not checking too much of anything during the day which I like. During the evening hours, I still appreciate some good old fashioned mind numbing social media-esque activity, something to soothe a long emotion and logistic filled day which, if I could sum up days with young children, would be this way; so many to-dos, so much feeling. I’m going to try to limit my time on the site to a few minutes during this evening post-bedtime period.

But perhaps the trickiest piece of it all was and continues to be confronting those tricky little human emotions that sneak up on you when you see someone get that promotion they totally deserved, the one you know you’ll never get because you leaned out when they leaned in. When you see that pretty bitchy girl from high school and you were hoping time and karma made her fat and really, she’s still pretty and now she’s made more pretty children to torture the next generation. What is that stuff? That has absolutely nothing to do with Facebook. Facebook is code and numbers. It’s about people, about you and me. It’s easy to blame it on a website but the truth is, those feelings I was struggling to accept, seeking to escape right from the very beginning? That’s not a virtual problem, that’s a human one. People will always find a way to bend some new innovation to numb or exploit or suit their needs and feelings, to find something or someone else to blame everything on when it shines a rather surprising and uncomfortable light on the truth of whatever it is; of that part of them they’d rather not find that highlights the stuff we all carry, the stuff we all hide like insecurity, boredom, fear, and jealousy.

Wherever You Go
And so in the end, I did get a slightly better sense of me, a friendly reminder of my own issues, and the places in my heart that I need to work on to be the best version of myself. Ironically, my biggest takeaway was that my need to quit Facebook was never really about Facebook at all. Because the most unsurprising realization that came out of all of this, is that wherever you go, there you are. You have to deal with yourself, your issues, and the central question of who you are (not just who you present or pretend to be). And no amount of likes or comments or retweets can do this for you. Because the hard work of connecting our thoughts and feelings with intention and action, the real human struggle behind good old fashioned honest self-reflection?

Unfortunately, there is no app for that.