Saturday, March 01, 2014

Facebook-Free February

It's March 1st and my sister Lauren just texted me the password to get back on Facebook. One of my resolutions this year was to go a month without it and I picked February because it's the shortest. Plus, hey, alliteration! Before jumping back on the bandwagon I decided to take a few minutes to distill this experience on paper, at least in broad strokes. Mostly for my own benefit, but maybe for others' as well.


  1. I had a lot more time on my hands. I rarely parked on Facebook for long periods of time, but I would check it in spurts of 30 seconds to 5 or so minutes many, many times a day. So at first I had just these small windows of time on my hands. I used them to read other things: links on Twitter, blogs and articles in my Feedly, actual physical magazines and books. Later I would use the breaks to take short walks around my building at work, and in my neighborhood at home. Later still when I stopped unconsciously navigating to only to come to awareness when confronted with the login screen (this happened with depressing regularity for a lot of days), I would plow through those windows, instead grouping those small breaks into bigger and bigger sections of time. I took long lunches, longer walks, bigger book breaks, earlier bed times. It was awesome.
  2. I spent a lot of time alone. While this was also the biggest "con" (see below), it was also very good for me. I learned just how much I depend on the validation of others and then learned how to depend on it less. I'm under no illusion that this is a complete or even permanent state of being, four weeks is only four weeks after all, but I used to be a lot more comfortable and complete with only my own company and approval and having lost my way from that for the past year or two, it feels good to be making my way back in that direction. I was also able to do more of the things I loved to do. I read a lot of books. I went to bed earlier and had better sleep. I went to museums and art galleries and lectures. And lest you think I've become completely insufferable, I also binge-watched the entire second season of House of Cards in a day and a half. Then I watched more of the Olympics than I ever have before as well as every single YouTube clip of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and the bulk of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Love.
  3. I remembered Dunbar's Number. The basic principle is that there is a limit to the number of people with whom you can develop deep, meaningful, ongoing relationships. The research indicates a range of between 100 and 230 people with 150 being the most common conclusion. The recent rise of social media has opened a lot of questions about this idea and in fact I was first introduced to Dunbar's Number in 2010 by a boy who didn't have Facebook precisely because he believed that being "friends" with hundreds or thousands of people would be detrimental to his relationships with those who fell within the limits of his Dunbar's Number. At the time I thought his idea had some merit, but believed (and still do) that there are benefits to Facebook that outweigh those risks and we moved on to other things. During February, however, I thought a lot about this idea. I think most people, if asked, could easily list the 100-200 people who are most important to them. There would probably be a lot of family, friends from various phases of life, maybe mentors, teachers, heroes. But how recently or frequently do we actually interact with these people in any meaningful way? Has social media been quietly eroding these relationships? For me the answer was yes. Deep, meaningful, ongoing relationships require action. You must seek out ways to connect with those you love. They need not be time intensive, but they need to be genuine, sincere, and fairly frequent. I found that I knew which of my closest family and friends were getting married, having babies, losing loved ones, getting new jobs, getting laid off, going on vacation, proud of their kids, worried about life, having a hard time, or celebrating a good one. But for the most part,  my sharing of these moments extended only so far as a "like" or maybe a short comment, or worse, just a brief act of voyeurism as I scrolled through the newsfeed. I wasn't really talking to very many of the most important people in my life at all. It was an epiphany.
  1. I spent a lot of time alone. For the first several days, this was excruciating. I was desperately lonely and felt completely cut off from everyone and everything. ( Reading this, I realize I may have been a little overly hysterical.) I realized that while I have a lot of "friends", I don't really have a lot of friends. At least not the kind that you can call up at a moment's notice because you're bored or don't have plans. A better person than me would of course have taken the initiative to seek people out and as the month progressed, I did get a little better at that, but part of the problem was my discovery that I'm not actually as good a friend as I could be (see below). Another aspect of this excess of time by myself was that I foolishly wasted a lot of it. For example: At the beginning of the month, I put together an admittedly overly ambitious schedule of exercise. Ask me how that went. (Pro tip: Don't. It will only end in tears and guilt-chocolate.) While I did spend a lot of time doing good things, I'm pretty disappointed in myself for neglecting some of the better and best.
  2. I'm less-than-impressed with the quality of my friendship to other people. One of the books I read during the month was The Color Code. I don't know how I'd never taken the test before, but I hadn't. It turns out I'm very Blue, with nearly equal amounts of White and Red, and next-to-no Yellow. I found the description of that color type to be eerily accurate and was fascinated to read about it and all the other types in detail. I understand a lot more about myself and others. One unpleasant discovery, however, was in how it revealed flaws in my character in regards to friendship. Blues are motivated by altruism, and this true for me. I like to do things for other people. I like to be useful and helpful. I worry about my friends a lot more than they probably even think about me. But Blues also need to be remembered and appreciated. And I've discovered that my altruistic nature may not be that altruistic after all. Because I wasn't on Facebook, I wasn't as aware of the needs of my family and friends that I could help with and that was very hard for me. But I also didn't hear from very many family or friends at all during the month, and that was very hard as well. And in the end I didn't do much reaching out to others. There was a hodgepodge of reasons: I'm an introvert and initiation is hard for me. I easily feel rejected (another Blue trait) and think that if you're not talking to me, you don't want to hear from me. I'm not at my emotional best in January and February and didn't have a lot to offer others.  I was eventually enjoying being disconnected. But at the end of the day, if I'm really honest it boils down to the need to be remembered. Validation. If you don't remember me, I won't remember you. Very Law of Moses, no? And very stupid. Because I am still remembering you because I care about you and worry about you and love you because you're important to me. I'm just selfishly choosing not to do anything about it. So I just get bitter and miserable. Which doesn't help you and really hurts me. Definitely something to change.
So that's basically it. More Pros than Cons means it was a good thing, right? I think so. I feel refreshed. I feel like I've straightened out my priorities and have clear, actionable areas of self-improvement. Am I getting back on Facebook? Of course. Will my activity rise to its earlier levels? Probably. But I hope to continue to use those windows of down time for other things as well. I hope to maximize the time I spend by myself doing as many of the best things I love to do and need to do and minimize my waste of time. I'm committed to actively working on my relationships with those who fall within my Dunbar's Number. I will stop being so selfish, start being more giving and try to be better at initiating (no promises). 

But I will also work to be a part of the lives of those not so close to me. Because that is the beauty of social media. We can relate to many people in many ways, and if I can engage, enlighten, or encourage anybody, even if it is briefly, sporadically, or superficially, I want to do that. Heaven knows many, many people have done the same for me.

I get by with a little help from my friends. And my "friends" too.