The Social Experiment of Leaving Facebook for a Month…

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On November 5, 2015, I closed my Facebook account.

On December 7, 2015, I reopened it.

For just over one month I shut myself out from Facebook. Actually, it wasn’t just Facebook, but all social media — Twitter, Instagram, et al. For many of you, this is no big deal. You’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “whoopty doo, good for you.” And yet, what you don’t understand is how HUGE of a step this was for me. For all of its issues and frustrations, I LOVE Facebook. Way more than I should. Although, it’s easily explainable why I have such a relationship with that behemoth of a website.

A writer’s life is solitary. Waaaaay more solitary than most people think. I spend so many hours by myself behind a computer screen, my mental image of myself is sometimes a long-bearded hermit with jagged uncut fingernails and permanent grime from years past when I last ventured outside. I totally forgot that it’s supposed to be “weird” to speak out loud to oneself. Hell, I’ve been doing it for years. Full conversations. Both sides. I don’t care. And because of all this, Facebook became the tiny window on my computer that made me realize I wasn’t so alone. I don’t usually peruse it on my phone, I use it at my solitary desk. It keeps me in contact with my family around the country. It keeps me in contact with my friends from Utah. And believe it or not, it’s an insanely good tool for work, staying in contact with colleagues and producers all around town. In essence, Facebook is more valuable to me than the average joe. And yet, I stepped away. Voluntarily.

Why did I do it? A million reasons really, but to put it quite simply, I had to. I just had to. The end. Regardless what my reasons were for closing my account and shutting off for a month, that’s not what’s actually interesting. Everyone has their reasons. What is interesting, is how quickly I discovered that I was suddenly involved in my own social experiment. I noticed the effect immediately and decided to try and log into my brain as many of the curious situations I noticed. Here are many things I observed along the way, both large and small.

  • As soon as I closed my account, as soon as I hit that magical “deactivate” button, I was filled with fear. Dread. What the hell did I just do? I was actually surprised how powerful it felt. I was really taken aback by that. It went to show exactly how connected to it I truly was.
  • Moments later, the next thing I was curious about was what was going to happen next. Was I going to truly miss it so much that I couldn’t help myself and re-activate my account before the end of the first day? Or would it be one of those things where once I walked away, I wouldn’t miss it one bit and my life would return exactly to how it was before Facebook was invented. I honestly didn’t know which one it was going to be. This was truly the moment where I realized I was in my own social experiment, and that I had no idea of the outcome. Well, I am as surprised as you are to say… it was the latter.
  • As quickly as that dread of leaving Facebook filled me initially, strange flooding feelings of release came soon after. It washed over me like a Vicodin waterfall. Calmness. Escape. This was the next moment where I realized this was going to be one hell of a month.
  • I didn’t really tell anyone (outside of a single minor Twitter message) that I was closing my account. I didn’t make a big deal out of it to get attention or anything like that. It wasn’t a cry for help. In fact, I wanted the complete opposite. I just wanted to silently disappear. Most people probably didn’t even notice I left, which was my intention. But for those that did, while I thought this was the better route to go, this had its own set of problems.
  • One of those problems was that I discovered many people immediately thought I unfriended them. Some would be a bit terse with me, others a bit weirded out wondering if they “did something” to piss me off. At different times, texts, emails, or conversations would tritely ask if/why I “let them go.” This was a weird thing for me because of the people that talked to me about it, I’m sure there were some others that didn’t say anything, but were harboring anger toward me. Facebook is such the norm now that if you choose to leave it… something obviously happened. Crazy.
  • As the weeks went on, I surprisingly found myself not even thinking about Facebook at all. This was amazing. I didn’t feel like I lost connection, in fact the opposite. It suddenly felt like there were no anchors weighing me down at all. I was more productive in my work, that’s for sure. My mental status was more focused. Instead of getting sidetracked by what’s going on in Facebook-land, I just kept working. That was a HUGE plus. So far, so good. It was around now that I thought, maybe I’ll leave Facebook forever.
  • I grew to LOVE my anonymity. For years everything had to be posted. I’m eating HERE. I’m visiting HERE. I’m seeing THIS MOVIE. I’m at THIS CONCERT. I’m not badmouthing it. I was part of it too. Why wouldn’t I? It’s part of why social media exists — to share experiences. But alas, now it was more fun to be able to do anything I wanted and not feel the need to let anyone know where I was or what I was doing. I was like a ghost in the machine. And it felt so cool. It almost felt rebellious since it was so opposite the norm (as bizarre as that sounds). Regardless of rejoining Facebook, this is a trend I’m going to try to continue (but granted, will probably fail).
  • Another plus that should go without saying, is that I didn’t have to be inundated with countless “opinions” at all times. This is part of that aforementioned anchor I was talking about. Whether I agree or disagree with the opinions, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I just don’t care. It is constant. We live in a world of nonstop opinions, and sometimes it’s just exhausting. Trust me, I’m not immune. I’m a VERY opinionated person, as I personally think all people should be. But sometimes it’s all just too much. It was nice to take a break from all this noise. It’s amazing how not reading the endless amount of political views just lets you breathe deeper.
  • Plus, I went to regular news sites to get my info instead of relying solely on Facebook to let me know what’s going on in the world. This was a fascinating one because I actually got the news first, and could draw my own opinion. Instead of getting my news on Facebook, which is normally seeing someone’s opinion FIRST, then seeing the news story. You have no idea how much of a difference that makes. It’s a clean slate. In movie terms it’s like seeing a film without any knowledge about it, any trailers, or any reviews. It’s amazing to see how your own initial opinion sits first, without anyone leaning you a direction ahead of time. Try it sometime. I think you’ll be amazed to see how your own opinion can be swayed before you even read a story, whether you realize it or not.
  • Also, as far as news relates, there was one instance where the lack of Facebook and social media was truly powerful. The Paris terrorist attacks happened during my hiatus. In the past, during horrific events like this, you turn to social media for news much of the time. But this time I didn’t. It was shocking how different it was. On social media 90% of the posts are not about the event itself, but rather people’s own posts about their own personal relation to the event. The posts are usually either how they’re feeling about the event, or a story about how they themselves connect to the event. It’s amazing how the news is so much clearer without all this additional hubbub. I connected far more to the actual victims of the atrocities without other people trying to insert themselves into the mix undeservedly. *For those of you so inclined, watch Anthony Jeselnik’s amazing take on this similar subject on his new Netflix special. He sums it up perfectly.
  • And yet after a few weeks, things started to turn on me. While there are numerous pros to deleting yourself from the social media universe, there are also many cons I discovered. Some were surprising. For instance, many times when I was with any of my friends, they would start talking about something without any pretext at all. Something like, “I’m really worried about so-and-so,” or “I still can’t believe so-and-so said that.” Then following my confusion, they would have to back up and say something like, “Oh, I forgot you’re not on Facebook…” And they would start over and continue with the story as if I had a learning disability. It was so utterly frustrating to constantly be seen as the outsider in all information. And in addition, treated like a second-class citizen.
  • I also discovered that I pretty much rely 100% percent on remembering birthdays due to Facebook. It didn’t used to be this way, but it is now. It’s like when we all used to have to actually memorize phone numbers because we didn’t have cell phones. But once cells existed and we just went to our Contact list, phone number memorization became a thing of the past. I forgot many birthdays during this month, and I apologize to all those. Um, happy belated?
  • I LOVE Scrabble and Words With Friends. I play them constantly. But I discovered that Scrabble can only be played with a Facebook account! What the hell? It says you can use something called an Origin account, but it never worked once. I even looked online and discovered that yep, Origin doesn’t work, and only Facebook users can play each other. This sucked. My stats went down because I had to forfeit my games, and I lost doing something I loved. Saying this, my Words With Friends playing went way up because they don’t require a Facebook account to play. TAKE NOTE, SCRABBLE! You jerks.
  • Adding to the above statement, it wasn’t just Scrabble. I was shocked to discover how many sites require a Facebook account to log in now. This was insane to me. Facebook has cemented itself into the business/tech world so much more than we even realize.
  • Another situation that worked as a con was whenever an invite was concerned. Almost everyone I know only does invites on Facebook now. I missed out on even knowing about a lot of screenings, or work schmoozefests because of not being on Facebook. A key example is my monthly horror trivia group. Sign ups and all info are solely done through Facebook. Not only did I miss out this month, but I didn’t even know it was happening until too late.
  • And talking about work stuff for me, this was another huge con. I missed out on a LOT of work scenarios. In my career where a lot of work is cultivated through relationships and constant connection, to eliminate myself from this was not a sensible move work-wise. After meetings, people usually look you up online to get more of a gage of who you are. Once they noticed I wasn’t on there, there’s immediately a check mark against you. Doesn’t really make sense, but it’s the universe now. Plus, I had friends that announced huge projects that I didn’t even know about. Not only does this make me look like a dick because I didn’t congratulate them on their successes, but being out of the loop in my career is not a good thing. So dammit Facebook, it appears for work, you are necessary. My want of leaving Facebook forever was diminishing.
  • And finally, there were two scenarios that brought it all home as to why I needed to get back on Facebook. And they were both personal ones. First, following the horrific shootings in San Bernadino, my daughter’s elementary school received an anonymous shooting threat. Yep, it was terrifying. A recorded voice called into the school and made specific threats. Bedlam soon followed as you’d expect, lack of information ran rampant, and it was nutty to say the least. But guess what? I didn’t know about any of it. Not until much later, that is. Because where was all this posted first? Facebook. Parents were discussing in groups, and whenever there was any information it was being shared for everyone to see. Everyone… but me. Mr. Non-Facebook Loser. Yes, there were phone calls, and mass email chains that followed, but it was all much later after the fact. Facebook was where all the info was shared hours before. In a situation like this, hours are golden. And I can’t risk losing those hours ever again.
  • And the second scenario that cemented to me how important Facebook is, was learning much later about the sickness, and eventual death of a friend. It all happened very quickly over the month I was gone. And yet I knew nothing about it until a mutual friend told me yesterday. I was floored to say the least. When I went back and looked at her last month of posts while I was gone, she had many messages about being in the hospital, feeling “yucky,” and posted many inspirational quotes about her obvious dilemma. It kills me that I couldn’t have even posted one little “thinking of you” message to her. I know how dumb it may seem to get those messages, but occasionally those little messages can add up. Think about how it feels when you see an outpouring on your birthday. Now amplify that to someone fighting a life-threatening situation. Damn, this got real heavy, real quick. Okay Facebook. I see your worth now.

There are probably a million more thoughts and observations that I have forgotten, but I’ll have to leave it here for now or else this will turn into a damn novel. Regardless, as of this morning I have now returned to Facebook. I admit I was filled with fear once again reactivating my account. Another strange feeling I wasn’t expecting. I grew to love being away from it, but I knew this was necessary. I learned a lot during my month+ away from it. It is filled with pros and cons, but my conclusion is that while you may WANT to leave Facebook, because it really does feel amazing, in today’s day and age you simply can’t. It’s unavoidable. It’s like deciding to live in the woods without electricity. It sounds nice, but the reality of it is just outdated. We need to be on social media now. We need Facebook now. It is the world we live in, and it is continually defining our culture. Whether you like it or not, it’s necessary.

But… what can be done is to learn how to use Facebook at more of a normal level. As with anything, Facebook can be overdone. I don’t have to preach this to anyone. Everyone knows it. But it’s up to ourselves to realize when this is happening and try and change it. I saw this whole scenario like a juice cleanse. Sure, you will NEVER keep off the weight you lose or keep up the cleanse forever, but it does help teach you how to balance it all out a little. That’s what this experiment will hopefully do for me. I can’t keep away from Facebook forever, but it has taught me how to keep it all in balance. Sometimes every person needs a cleanse in some way, shape, or form. This was mine. And it helped teach me so damn much.

Now, to let this all sink in with a final irony, yes, I’m completely aware that most of you probably learned about this blog post from a link on Facebook. Like I said… it’s necessary.

You win Facebook. You win.