Reflections on Two Months Away From Facebook
Back at the end of September I decided to delete my Facebook account. At first I hadn’t planned to write about this subject in the Pearl Newsletter (after all, there are some who read this newsletter who don’t even use any form of social media), but then as I considered that many in our church do use Facebook, and as I considered what I’ve seen the good it’s done for my own heart in the last few months I changed my mind. I hope to mention a few reasons why I decided to delete my Facebook account, and then I’ll conclude by reflecting on what I’ve felt and experienced since quitting. I won’t say you should do the same thing, but I will challenge you to consider it.
Why Did You Quit?
The simplest answer to why I deleted Facebook is because everyone I know wishes they could! Back when I was just thinking about it, people would say, “Man, I wish I could stop using Facebook, but I just can’t.” Over and over this was something I heard from people. Now, what do we call something that we wish we could quit, but can’t bring ourselves to quit? We call it an addiction. So the first reason I quit it was because it was becoming an addiction.
Another reason why I deleted Facebook was because it fosters constant comparison. It’s not just that we want to look good to others, but Facebook encourages us to present the best “us” to the world that we can. There are few things to foster unhappiness like looking at everyone else’s perfect happy life (flawlessly and selectively presented to us) and then realizing that our own life seems so much less adventurous and beautiful than it is for everyone else. This fosters intense temptations to break the tenth commandment (“You shall not covet”).
A further reason to delete Facebook is that it increases isolation and loneliness. Using Facebook does not make us a part of each others’ lives any more than looking into an aquarium makes us a fish. The internet doesn’t make us completely disengage from others, but it does some… enough that it adds up over time. We tend to be satisfied enough with social media that we tend to seek out direct connection and relationship less than we normally would. However, anyone who has tried tofu bacon knows that it might put something in your stomach, but there is just no replacing the real thing. We are settling for synthetic versions of relationships that are close enough to the real thing that we tell ourselves that they are the real thing.
I also deleted my social media feed because I became convinced that Facebook is making us less civilized toward those who disagree with us. You would think that seeing others with different views on political matters (especially) might make us more empathetic and understanding. Instead, what is happening is we tend to follow and friend people who think like us. We create echo chambers that reflect our own opinions and preferences, and when we have a word from someone who thinks differently or doesn’t like our candidate, we pounce, stress out, and become insecure. When you combine this with the loneliness mentioned in the last point you can see a nasty combination: lonely people who are irritated with average family members and community members, and who are isolated but also repelled by the very ones they should be seeking relationships with.
I was speaking with another pastor friend about this exact issue and he told me that he went to bed angry the other night. He had seen a Facebook “friend” say something that he strongly disagreed with. When he read the person’s conversation it got him even more angry. He didn’t even interact with the person but it took him almost 45 minutes to fall asleep because he was irritated and angry over something that literally had nothing to do with him. There is increasing evidence that unfriendly foreign governments have an interest in fostering disagreement among users and making sure that American citizens are angry with one another; one of the ways that put that into action is by spreading deeply divisive messages on websites like Facebook. Social media is powerful and often grabs control of our emotions and impacts our lives and can even rob us of sleep if we aren’t vigilant. So there’s another reason to delete Facebook: it’s making us angry for no good reason and turning our discourse rotten.
Another reason to delete Facebook? We’re depending on it for truth when Facebook was never designed to deliver truth to us. When you look at polling, more and more people find out their news from Facebook than anywhere else. It’s certainly true that many times mainstream news outlets have (and do) let their readers and viewers down, but in many cases we have exchanged reputable sources of information for pages devoted to sharing information that only lines up with and reinforces our pre-existing beliefs about the world around us. Increasingly, Facebook is becoming a place where disinformation is spread. For example, in the days leading up to the recent election people began to share false information about where people should vote in order to confuse folks into going to the wrong polling place. Instead of going to the county website where they were voting, people depended on individuals on social media who could not be trusted and who would not be held accountable for sharing misinformation.
The more that we get used to disinformation the more we become unable to tell the difference between truth and falsehood – something God cares deeply about. Facebook is contributing to a crisis of knowledge (in philosophy we call this epistemology…and boy oh boy is our society in the midst of a massive epistemology crisis).
We need to be exposed to views that don’t line up with ours. One hallmark of truth is that it always pushes back against out beliefs, feelings, and opinions and forces us to change what we think. Facebook is reducing our need to hear things we don’t want to hear, because ultimately it is becoming a reflection of our preferences about the world around us than of the actual world around us.
Facebook isn’t designed to convey truth. It’s designed to keep your eyes on the screen as long as possible. The longer you look, the more advertisers will pay to advertise on Facebook. Facebook has no financial incentive to make sure that real information that is truthful is presented to you; they are only incentivized to make sure you are interested in what you see. Many of those who work on Facebook will not let their own children have an account, which should tell us something. And this is another reason to delete Facebook: it is literally manipulating your thoughts and emotions for financial gain, even if it has a costly personal impact on you. In that sense, Facebook has more in common with cigarette companies than it does with the clean cut image of the tech company we often associate it with. It may not be ruining your lungs, but in the long term it’s ruining your mental health, it’s ruining your social health, and it’s making money off of you in the process.
I’ve already gone long, and there are other reasons that I just don’t have the space to go into. I could talk about the fact that research is increasingly showing that Facebook was designed to hit you in the same pleasure centers of the brain that a drug addict feels when they’re getting a fix. I could talk about the fact that these companies charge us nothing up front for their services, but at the price of having everything about our lives sold to the highest bidders, most of whom we do not know. I could mention the massive time sink that is social media. All of these things collectively added up to an overwhelming sense that this was the right thing for me, personally, to do.
How’s it Been Going?
I quit Facebook at the end of September. The first two weeks after deleting it from my phone and disabling the account I found myself instinctively reaching for my phone and going through the physical motions of using the Facebook app before remembering that it isn’t there. It was exposing to me that I was filling up the empty spaces of my day with stimulation and I’d been conditioned to expect. I used Facebook for ten years of my life! There was something about the little red notification number that was pleasing and affirming, and it had come to own me without me ever realizing it.
Those two weeks elapsed, and once I was over the two week hill it was smooth sailing. I literally have no desire to use Facebook any more. I don’t miss the arguing, the comparisons, the false information, or the constant self-questioning: “will people think well of me if I post this picture?” “Maybe my old high school classmates will think I’m doing better than them if I share this.”
I’ve appreciated the lower blood pressure, having more time on my hands, and getting more work done more efficiently with less interruptions.
I don’t want to give up the time and attention span I’ve regained. According to an app on my phone, I am now using my device an average of two hours less per day than I did back in September. That number doesn’t even count the amount of time I had Facebook open in my browser on the computer. Just think of it! I tremble to think of the hours of every day spent over the course of ten years that have been wasted looking at Facebook instead of doing something more fruitful for others and good for my own soul (my rough and dirty estimate is that I have probably spent more than 10,000 hours since 2008 on Facebook). With a little discipline imagine the sort of things you could accomplish, books you could read, or face to face conversations you could have had in that amount of time.
My intention here is not to merely talk about myself. I don’t believe I am the exception. I don’t believe that I am the only person who has felt the entrapping influence of social media in my own life. If you are using Facebook, there is a powerful likelihood that you are in the grip of a form of enslavement that is hard to notice because you actually do want it – and that is the scariest kind of addiction there is. As you start to approach the end of this year, ask God to show you: am I dominated or owned by a website or a program or a device that was designed to keep me looking as much as possible? Maybe Facebook isn’t your drug: maybe it’s Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Twitter, or something else. Take an inventory and ask yourself: who really owns me? Am I neglecting relationships?
These are battles that must be fought in our own hearts, and I cannot tell you that you should quit. The Bible doesn’t say “thou shalt not Facebook.” I have no direct “thus saith the Lord” on this issue; we’re in the realm of wisdom here. I may not be able to give you a direct command to quit, but I can tell you that if it’s been bad for you, for your community, and for society, then maybe you should.