Almost six months ago, I left Facebook. My first Facebook post was in December of 2008, and my last post was in May of 2017. That is a close to a ten year run, which is actually a long time in Internet years. Before I left Facebook, I downloaded my full history, which gives me an unflinchingly long timeline of a life spent (wasted?) on Facebook.
The Early Days of Facebook
Looking at the early posts, I see how simple they were. Back then the format of posts was a little different. I think every post automatically began with John Hewitt, and then I added the rest. So I mainly talked about mundane activities such as where I was going or what I was eating. It was dull, harmless stuff. Some of them were nicely esoteric such as John Hewitt is chasing butterflies in his mind.
After a few weeks, I discussed some work issues, and quickly learned that having work friends on Facebook meant having to be careful about what you said. That was my first and lightest experience with the downside of Facebook. Be careful what you share about yourself. I can tell I was getting sensitive because of this post about two months in, “John Hewitt has decided to replace the word disaster with adventure for the foreseeable future.”
Within the first few months I also picked up one of the other frustrating things bout Facebook, the regrettable friend. I had friended someone who I knew a bit in real life, but who seemed obsessed with me online, commenting a lot and saying things I didn’t agree with, but also didn’t want to fight about. They weren’t mean, just uncomfortable to be around. It was years before I unfriended this person.
For the most part, on my timeline, I stuck to pop culture references and quotes. There were posts such as
That was our first encounter with disco mutants. I was sure it wouldn’t be our last.
Pop culture references have been my go to from the first posts to the the last. The reasoning is pretty clear. They are innocuous, and pass (barely) for cleverness in today’s world.
The nice/scary thing about the timeline is that it is a sort of history of my life, from losing and finding jobs to losing and finding friends. It is not as meaningful as a diary or even a blog, but it does live up to its reputation as a timeline. Reading though it, I remember events that passed, and people who passed as well. When my wife and I had twins, photos and references to our children took up a lot of the timeline, especially in the first couple of years, when everyone wants a shot of the babies.
Why I Left
There is a clear reason why I left, but you won’t see it on my timeline. It is polarization. Facebook stopped being a celebration of life (in its own shallow way) and became a place for airing grievances and trying to convince people that they are wrong. Politics was the main way this happened, but there was also religion, health, and really just about any topic that required an opinion. For my part, when I got into arguments, I soon regretted it and deleted the posts. You can delete posts, but you can’t change the tide of posts.
As time passed I found myself unfriending more and more people. This started with people whose views were incompatible with mine, but eventually, it even spread to the people I nominally agreed with. Even the people who I agreed with were polarized. There was no room for a rational discussion of issues. Everyone was shouting each other down.
Even when someone posted something thought out and interesting, there was no respite. Why? Because the comments below them would turn nasty, and often threatening. So, I stopped unfriending, because these people were my friends, and started muting people instead, but at some point I started to wonder what the point was.
Additionally, I found that there was a new section, called Trending that I dreaded to see, but could not resist. I would quickly fall down the Facebook wormhole, finding myself reading comments from strangers, and being tempted to respond. I had to remind myself that a Facebook comment did nothing to further a cause. It was less than meaningless. It was contributing to the downfall of conversation and the end of civility.
That was when I decided it was time to move on. There are things I miss: event invites, pop culture discussions, my FitBit and writing groups, hearing about friends I never see, but I cannot deny that leaving took a weight off my shoulders. I no longer feel like I am investing a lot of time into the act of making myself unhappy. I am also starting to see others who are moving away from the shallow pool social media and looking for better things. I even remembered that I have a blog of my own…