Have you ever taken a break from Facebook? I'm in the middle of a weeks-long one now, and I've got good company: A surprising 61 percent of Facebook users take a hiatus from the site for a few weeks or more, according to the Pew Research Center. Their reported reasons probably sound familiar: "I was tired of stupid comments." "Too much drama." "People were posting what they had for dinner." If you've been feeling that checking your feed has been a timesuck, it probably is: Americans spend an average of 40 minutes per day on Facebook.
Facebook's been good to me—reacquainting me with old friends and keeping me connected to others I might've lost touch with. I especially love seeing pictures of my friends and their children. (But not a picture of their glowing report cards. Seriously? What happened to sharing them with grandparents?) I've gotten actual, paying work because of Facebook. I helped set up a couple, through Facebook, who later got married.
So why turn my back on Facebook? I had my reasons:
Lazy friendships. I felt like I'd allowed too many of my real-life relationships get downgraded to lazily clicking the "like" button on one another's posts, or making only the "safe" kind of comments you can when you know your respective 200-plus friends are listening. But that's no substitute for thoughtful, intimate conversation, so I vowed to make more of an effort to see people, or at least call them.
Attention vampires. If I'd gotten lax about keeping in touch with people I'm close to, I had the opposite problem with other friends: people I don't know well, but who post and comment a lot. Sometimes I'd feel guilty if I didn't acknowledge their latest post about whatever they were facing in their lives—from the mundane (the laundromat ruined their duvet cover) to the potentially serious (like tests to rule out or detect a medical problem). But then I realized all my friends have such ups and downs, and they're not posting everything. The ones who do, though, start to feel like attention vampires, and being their Facebook friend is work. Facebook creates an artificial alternate reality that way, where you're attuned to the lives of people who post the most. Sure, that's what the "unfollow" button is for. But it doesn't make the friends I want to hear more from post any more. I needed to get in touch.
Family-time interference. I'm a mom, to three, and it bothered me when my oldest recently asked me if I was looking at my phone "again." Part of that phone time was spent checking Facebook, minutes I could be spending with my real-life loves. To make it less easy to log on, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, for now.
Feeling left out. You ever see a picture on Facebook of friends with arms draped over one another, oversized wine glasses in hand, or of a big party to which you or perhaps your kid, um, didn't receive the invite? Yeah, that. It doesn't matter that you're often in group pictures having fun—like an elephant, you remember the times you've missed out. Related...
Old-fashioned jealousy. Facebook exposes me to the privilege of those around me; and yes, to the hardships of others too—but really, mostly the privilege. Yes, yes: Count one's blessings and all that. But during summer especially, when I'm working, and my news feed overflows with pictures of awesome vacations, or friends taking their kids to the beach, or blueberry picking, or setting up the slip n' slide in the backyard.... Oh, I know it's irrational (I do those things, too, on my time off) and even they're not having that much fun every day. But there's something about seeing all those pictures collectively, day after day for weeks, that can make one feel like everybody else is on an extended summer vacation, 'cept you. Not healthy. A dad acquaintance admitted to me the other day, "Sometimes when I look at Facebook I think, Come on. Your life can't be that great."
Seeing double. I originally liked looking at Facebook for the pictures. Then as more friends joined Instagram, I would see their photos posted in both places. Checking one account once per day does the job fine.
The fighting! Politics, especially. A fight breaks out, friends of the friends pick sides and pile on, then someone gets unfriended. But I haven't seen anyone change their stance yet because of something someone wrote on Facebook, which makes reading all that "discussion" seem like a waste of energy.
At first I deactivated my account (different from deleting it)—you can safely do this and reactivate by simply logging in again, with everything left exactly the way it was. But I wanted to check the Facebook page of a friend whose child is battling a long-term disease, and deactivated/reactivated a few times to do just that. The first few days without Facebook were weird—what a part of my daily (er, bihourly?) routine it had become! But now, I've weaned myself off Facebook just enough to leave it active, without feeling the urge to look at it. And I don't miss it as much as I thought I would.
The downside: I do hate to think about missing friends' major life events and news, and in between all the clutter, Facebook really is the place where people announce the important highlights of their lives. (My youngest was a Facebook baby. A friend of a friend posted the news of her birth before I could!) But mostly, now I'm blissfully not spending time weeding through inspirational quotes and "LOLs" and third-party videos and plenty of other things that don't interest me. What I'm most surprised about, though, is how much news I've missed—I hadn't realized how much I'd come to depend on Facebook for what's "trending:" major headlines, juicy celebrity gossip, and news analyses. But I don't mind being a little bit out of it (or checking Twitter more frequently now, ha) while some of the things in my world I'd been neglecting during time I spent on Facebook, or talking about what I saw/liked/didn't like on Facebook, shift back into focus.
Having to take a Facebook break—and announcing it, and assuming people care—is slightly embarrassing. (I did question whether I was being a little too dramatic. Um, attention vampire?!) My friends Erin and Suzanne, who have never joined Facebook, don't have this problem. In the early days of Facebook, I thought they were crazy. What? But why?! How do you know anything that's going on? Now, I envy their just-don't-wanna-deal, who's-got-the-time coolness. I also admire the restraint of the friends in my feed who rarely log on, when 63 percent of users look at Facebook at least once per day, while 40 percent cop to checking it multiple times a day. The fact that I even had to think about tearing myself away—something that had been in the back of my mind for weeks—was surely a sign I needed a breather.
How long will I stay away from the conversation? I could be at the beginning or nearing the end—I haven't really put an exact expiration date on this little hiatus.
But I already feel freer, almost as if I'd spent every day this past week at the beach, blueberry picking, or slip-sliding under sunny skies.