The process of my quitting Facebook began, if you don't mind a bit of fucking dramatic license, the moment I signed up. I resisted Facebook for a while, kept hearing about it in 2007, dewy skinned pretty people kept telling me I just had to join. I was living a quiet little life, had taken a break from comedy and wasn't really in the mood to get, you know, CONNECTED. Then I guess I was, because I did it. I don't remember much about what that first experience was like, I remember being reluctant to post too many pictures, wondering about ownership and whatnot, and enjoying the way the status updates were formatted, that they always started with your name, encouraging, if not forcing, you to tell your stories in the present tense. "Riel is excited to announce she bought a pair of pants that seemingly fit." I don't know, I can't remember my status updates and I can't go back and research them because I never, ever want to sign in to Facebook again.
Honestly, I'm peacefully hopeful that I am part of a domino chain, that the speed is increasing, and that Facebook will ebb off into the ether, destined or doomed to the realm of specialty or niche social networks, like Friendster or Myspace. I also know you're not all with me.
I could have done the French goodbye, left the party by quietly slipping away, leaving my 1,500 connections to wonder what they'd done to deserve being unfriended and possibly blocked by me, none of them wanting to address the teeny tiny voice at the back of their brain, whispering the suggestion that I may actually have just up and gone. Deleted the whole shebang. I could have done it that way. I didn't, though. I announced it. I created a stir. I made regular status updates over a week or ten days letting people know they could still reach me via email, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Soundcloud and my blog. Disconnecting, my ass.
At first people scoffed, "YOU? You leave Facebook? Preposterous! You love Facebook! You'll never do it, you don't have the GUTS to do it!" I smiled to myself, knowing I did have the guts. My very first step, before announcing it, was to delete it off my iPhone. That step was a revelation, freeing up my mind and beginning the healing journey of expunging "like" out of my brain as my first reaction to any joyful, interesting or engaging experience. The comment threads on my status updates were steady, repeating choruses of "Why?" Why, you asked, and I told you.
My relationship to Facebook was not healthy. I spent too much time there and, because of the oft repeated message in the entertainment industry that you must promote yourself via social media, that there is no career for you if you don't maintain a presence, a page, where everyone can like you...because of that message all the time I spent there gave me a false sense of productivity. I could spend hours going down the rabbit hole of reading articles and commenting on statuses and writing the story of my day, and chatting on messenger. It felt like I was doing something important for myself, that somehow this would all lead to success. Really, though, all I'd done was avoid my real work, writing, for another hour, two hours, three hours...
Success. Reason number two I left was the anxiety, depression. It was increasingly apparent to me that everyone I was connected to was having a more adventurous, prosperous, joyful, fulfilling life than I was. And I felt like a big liar knowing that due to my desire to keep any whining to myself, what I presented to Facebook made everyone else feel the same things about me.
I also felt like I was losing a sense of proportion about how much time and energy I was supposed to be devoting to friendship, and with whom. I have spent the last couple of years examining my behaviour within personal relationships and cleaning up my act. I wanted to learn how to be honest and calm, thoughtful and receptive to the humans I most wanted to keep close. It took practice and there were some mistakes made, some embarrassments had, some painful separations, and some extremely surprising revelations. The result is a smaller group of people who are close me, who I feel myself with, both because I show them my true self and because I let them love me. I have also found a romantic love that surpasses all the hopes and expectations I ever had of such an experience. As I made these changes and fostered these relationships, Facebook seemed to drift farther and farther from my value system, became a glaring example to me of the person I did not want to be.
When the private messages started trickling in, along with the phone numbers and email addresses came feelings. Many people applauded me for my courage (?!) and berated themselves for not having the strength (their word!) to do the same. I was a little surprised by the language around the topic being so filled with guilt and shame, so like addict language, of the apologies for being weak, but I remembered using all that same language around my relationship to Facebook. I was more surprised by the angry responses. I was called selfish, chastised for my lack of professionalism and dedication to my work as an entertainer, accused of abandoning people and their ability to keep in touch with everyone they like but don't have time for because they have children and jobs. How dare I!
Well, I dared. At the decided time on the decided date my finger hovered over the keypad and I bit my lip and then I did it. I felt nervous and exhilarated, and proud. I did it! I was free! As I'm sure you would suspect, my immediate instinct was to proudly announce it on Facebook! I resisted. And then Facebook told me I would have 14 days to really really decide, it would keep my account warm for me, the home fires burning, should I want to be embraced back into the fold, the family. I made that my private date with deletion. I kept away for the two weeks, never peeking, never checking to see if it was still there, never succumbing to the jones I was having for praise. In those 14 days Facebook mysteriously reinstalled itself four times on my iPhone, taunting me. I stayed true to myself, though, and found myself coincidentally, or not, flossing more, going to bed earlier, biking to the pool to swim a kilometer each day and reading more books.
My boyfriend says I spend way more time on Instagram and Twitter now that I don't have Facebook, but we're just getting to know each other, too, and he isn't entirely aware of what life was like before he came around. I think Facebook took up the space where he is now, the space where my nightly talk show at the Fringe is now, the space where I am writing for a living now. I left the virtual love behind to make room for all the tangible love I can get my hands on, and I am delighted to report I feel solid in my footing. Attached to the planet and connected to humanity in a more visceral, exciting and consistent way than I have in five years. I know less about 1,500 people than I did a month ago, but get to put my hands on their shoulders and look them in the eye and say thank you for your time and affection after I've run into them on the street and they've filled me in on the goings on. It's nice to look people right in the eye when they're telling you their news.
It's a new era in some ways, and a return to something older, too. Something human.
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