025By now, “I quit Facebook” pieces are a genre all their own. As common as the social media platform has become, pieces about quitting it have accumulated proportionally. I have often been a defender of social media. I believe it can be a wonderful space, a flexible and proficient tool for increasing human connection. The medium has drawbacks, of course; anything that expands the reach of human community will also be subject to the darker sides of our nature.

But overall, I have found social media, and Facebook in particular, to be a force for tremendous good in my life. It has expanded the reach of my writing, photography, and fabric art. It has strengthened and renewed decades-old friendships, and launched new ones. It has offered me the benefits of creative community.

But at the same time, because it gave me all of those things, I found myself living large portions of my life in the digital world. I am drawn strongly toward human interactions — some might call me an extrovert — and the ease with which Facebook offered up constant interaction pushed me off balance. Interactions, events and relationships were proceeding at such a rapid and constant pace that I had no time to process them. Then several events piled up. My grandmother died; an important creative community became troubled, shattered, and then transformed into multiple entities; several friends were facing life-altering personal crises. This was on top of lingering questions about where I want to go with my creative pursuits, and whether I was being true to my own will, instead of adopting the standards of others.

Suddenly, last week, I knew I needed to retreat from the fast pace of digital relationship and force myself into a more thoughtful space. If I had the time, I might have just gone on one of my trips. But I didn’t have the time, so I had to carve out the space in my everyday existence.

And I realized, one night, that I wanted off Facebook — at least temporarily. The fact that it took me the whole following day to get off Facebook is a testament to how involved I am in it. It took me that amount of time to hand off my writing group to my friend and co-administrator, to notify everyone who might need to reach me of my alternate contact information, and receive their responses.

How does it feel? Well, at first it felt strange, but also liberating. Now it feels a bit lonely. I was part of a lively human cacophony on Facebook. Now I am not. It’s me, my dog, my family, and whoever reaches me through other means (which some have.) But lonely is okay, and probably necessary just now. I needed to be forced into communion with myself and my thoughts. And in the three days since my fast began, I’ve started a quilt meant to mark my grandmother’s passing; finished a stunning book by Paul Kalanithi about his terminal illness and the meaning he found in the midst of it; almost finished Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert; edited more photographs, and have generally been more present in the world. The fog is clearing.

This suggests to me that the decision was a good one, and that when I return — which I will, of course — I should try to manage my digital life more carefully, and less addictively. I know now that social media can be an extrovert’s quicksand. But after only three days, I miss the connections, and I miss my digital friendships. As much as this fast has taught me that I need the space to be disconnected, it’s also forcefully reminded me that friendships taking place online — at least mine — are every bit as real as the friendships formed in the “meat world.”

I have a few more days left of this little twenty-first century retreat. As always, I’m mostly just curious about what it will work in me. More creative work, I hope, and more perspective.

 

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26 thoughts on “The fast

  1. Sounds like a good and wise decision. FB can get to be a knee jerk way to spend one’s time. For me what works is to mostly ignore it for a few days every now and then. I don’t miss it, and apparently it doesn’t miss me, either. Then one thing or another draws me back in for a while. We really do need to work on digital culture more, bestow more grace on our interactions there, Courtesy is too often ignored, but it certainly makes online life brighter when practiced, for instance. It’s important to feel fresh, not dragged on and on with it. Such are the thoughts that run through my grasshopper mind when I think of Facebook and its myriad ways to connect to one another. … Love the idea of your having time to work on your grandmother quilt, be with your family. Life is good on different levels, yes?

    1. Emily, I am really drawn to your idea that we need to “work” on digital culture. A lot of people would like to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and just decry the evils of social media. And oh, my, it does have its dark side. But I prefer to think of it as a human space in its toddler age. We need to work with it as a society, develop additional norms and barriers to the worst of it. And we will, I think. (I hope.)

      1. Guess the thing is to “be the change you want to see” and encourage others. There are many, I am sure. Online it’s easy to jump all over an idea without having a clue as to who the person is who actually said it, or why they might have done. Speak to ideas, not start in on the person right off the bat… Things might start easing up. A bit. The case of the missing face, so to speak.

  2. You are an inspiration, Jennifer, both in your ability to connect and your ability to disengage, in ways that really positive and life-giving.

  3. I think you’ve made a great decision. It also sounds like you’re very in touch with things – you know digital friendships can have benefit just like “meat” ones (what a great description!). I often “de-tox” & step away from my online presence. I do the same with real life too though. Gives me time to just be with myself & enjoy some peace with nature.

    1. It does make me think that for those of us who tend to get deeply involved in it, regular retreats are a good idea. And yes, a kind of detox. 🙂 My trips into nature usually serve that purpose, but only if it’s a wilderness trip where I can’t get phone reception. 😛

  4. You are able to make meaningful and powerful connections with people through your writing and sharing, not something an infrequent user of social media will understand. But I think so much of what makes your writing great is when you are able to go inside and touch that part of yourself and write about that..or create something beautiful from that inner space. The external bombardment has to be put on simmer sometimes. I can respect your choices..however Enzo cannot..has he arrived yet?

  5. Selfishly, your absence from my every day reach only makes me wish there weren’t so many miles between the spaces we inhabit.
    However, I totally get the need to back away and strengthen the connection with your non-digital life. We all need that, even when we don’t see that we need it.
    Enjoy these days and the fruit they bear.

  6. I love the balance in this piece. I feel so similarly about the ability to have true friendships with the strange and wonderful humans inside my computer. But I also know that I see cyberspace differently than a lot of people do. I think it’s because any interaction with another person, for me, is personal. Uh. Like this one. So it feels like my friend is taking a vacation, and I can’t wait to hear about it when she gets back (slide show welcome. I’ll make popcorn)

  7. Sounds like it’s working for you, this mini retreat away from FB. I agree that it’s been a good thing in my life, I’ve found many new friends that I feel as close to as those I’ve actually met. And I’ve reconnected with people from 40 years ago, including kids I used to babysit who are grandparents now. No I am not old. They are, but not me. Still…FB can suck up time like nothing else…so I think a little bit can go a long way. Here’s hoping you figure out a way to balance it all out. I think most of us are struggling with that.

    1. Yes, it can suck up time! Once you break the bounds of geography, and can hold multiple conversations at once, the extrovert is almost in over her head! I think different people are able to manage it in different ways. And no, of course you aren’t old. Neither am I. 🙂

  8. Well, you know FB was more than I needed–or wanted–so I left it behind altogether. I’m glad to see you searching for the right balance in your life, taking the necessary steps to get what you need and want. I prefer the little sips of interaction; FB is a big gulp for sensitive souls like me. 😉

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