Monday, December 24, 2018

New Year's Resolution: Goodbye to Facebook for (at least) a Year!

As 2018 comes to an end, I will post my usual "year in review" post next week. But today I wanted to share some thoughts on a decision that has been coming for a long time for me.

In 2013 I joined, after contemplating and mulling it over for 6 years!, to join Facebook. The main catalyst for that decision at the time was my eldest son had joined FB a month or so before I did and I wanted to feel connected to him. Also, I was about to head off alone to California for my sabbatical and I wanted to feel connected to family and friends. So I joined FB. I also thought it might help me professionally, keeping me abreast of what scholars in my field and those I had loss touch with were up to.

Over 5 years later I felt it was time to seriously reflect on whether the benefits and costs of FB were worth it for me (I understand that the cost/benefit ratio may look different for others). And I don't think they are. My kids don't use FB, it is too "uncool" for their generation. So it doesn't help connect me with them, which was the main reason I joined in the first place. I do enjoy seeing pictures from my relatives in England. And I like seeing the occasional newsfeed item of a friend I haven't heard from in a while. But the reality is that any benefits I did receive from being on FB where outweighed by the costs. Having the FB app on a phone can be like crack. One can find oneself unconsciously checking their phone while waiting in line at the grocery store, or bored at home, etc. It can become a persistent distraction in one's day-to-day life (I am also seriously contemplating getting rid of my mobile phone which I got at the same time I joined FB, but the phone does really help me stay connected with my kids).

What about the professional benefits of FB? I do enjoy seeing updates from my friends and colleagues. But again, I think the cons outweigh the benefits. I do sometimes learn of new publications, conferences, etc. that are of interest to me that I might not learn about, or hear about as quickly if I am not on FB. But I also think the medium of FB lends itself to trivial information sharing. A shared meme or news item that has many FB friends angry or upset would be fine to learn about say once a month. But a daily barrage of them leads to an unpleasant experience. Basically, the reason I decided to leave FB is that the volume and frivolity of information it generates isn't worth the amount of attention I was investing in it. Of course I could have just decreased my use of FB, perhaps logging in just once or twice a week instead of daily. But FB has clever ways of making that very hard- sending you notices even when it is nothing truly noteworthy, having other apps that require a FB account to access, etc.

My decision to leave FB had nothing to do with recent stories of personal information being leaked etc. I just decided the presence FB had morphed into in my life over the past 5 years was no longer an invited one. And yet I find it hard to reduce it's presence... it's an "all-or-nothing" presence. And so I have decided to go with "nothing", for at least a year. Then I will re-assess how I feel about it.

Before FB came into my life I spent much more time reading the NY Times, Washington Post, and journals in science, the humanities and social sciences. I spent more time blogging about substantive issues related to my research on this blog. I want that more substantive focus to return to my free-time. I would rather be reading the news than my FB feed. And I would rather be revising a paper than liking someone's pet photo or witty comments on a Trump tweet. And I would rather spend my time socializing with friends "face-to-face", being "conversationally present" with them, than virtually "liking" posts.

I know quitting FB for (at least a year) will not be easy. Perhaps I will cave and end up re-activating my account. I have tried to quit before, only to re-join when I realized I needed to contact someone (and FB was the easy way to track them down) or wanted to remain connected to members of the FB groups I joined, or see a picture or video I had posted on FB. But I am confident reducing the amount of social media in my life will improve the quality of my life, primarily because it will free up more time for me. Time I could spend exercising, meditating, doing yoga, reading the news, etc. I am not sure how it will go. Hopefully a year from now I can offer some informed judgement on whether or not my life goes better or worse with FB in it. Time will tell!