By 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.