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It was the summer of 2012 when I made a seemingly innocent decision that would have a greater impact on my life than I ever anticipated. After returning from a trip to the Caribbean in which I thoroughly enjoyed being "disconnected," I chose to deactivate my Facebook account. I had maintained a daily presence on the social network since joining in 2005, but after seven years the site barely resembled what I had signed up for.
Simply put, I was no longer interested in participating (or so I thought).
In 2012 I wrote an article about leaving the platform. There was no single "event" that prompted my decision to say goodbye. Instead, it was multiple nagging factors that sent me packing. Ironically enough, it's been the accumulation of several small things in subsequent years that has me questioning whether or not abandoning the social network was the brilliant idea I once thought it was.
But first let me step back and reflect on how Facebook has evolved.
Despite its grassroots beginnings, modern Facebook is a huge corporation whose goal is to make money, primarily by showing you ads. Whereas the original Facebook was designed to help college kids keep in touch, the platform we know today wears a variety of hats. It's a multi-purpose network where people share stories and photos with friends and family, gather news, follow celebrities, sell goods and services, watch viral videos, play games, and more.
These days (...) you'll field some pretty weird looks when someone learns you don't maintain a profile.
It also gives the average Joe a voice and is a dream come true for advertisers, marketers and brands as those that can successfully leverage the platform will no doubt have an advantage over the competition.
In short, Facebook is nothing like it was when I joined.
It may sound as though I'm bitter about what the site has become but that's not the case at all. I applaud Mark Zuckerberg for what he's created, how he has successfully grown Facebook from a hobby into a powerhouse of a technology brand, an umbrella for other huge networks on its own right like Instagram and WhatsApp, and his plan to use his fortune to better humanity.
Indeed, my disdain for Facebook lies not in the product but within myself.
Over the span of the past five years, I met my girlfriend (now fiancé), went on an epic holiday vacation, bought a vehicle, purchased my first home, battled kidney stones (twice!) and dealt with the unexpected losses of both my father and one of my best friends just one year apart.
Needless to say, a lot of life has happened since I quit Facebook.
I mention this because, unlike many people that use Facebook or other social media platforms to share life events, only my closest friends and family are aware of the milestones and tribulations I've experienced during the last half decade.
We are social beings. Sharing life's ups and downs as they come is ingrained in our DNA. In a world where Facebook is so prevalent, purposefully excluding yourself from that sort of social interaction - modern-day isolation, I'd call it - will wear on you no matter how tough or stone-faced you pretend to be (unless perhaps you are a true sociopath).
One of the greatest things about being a formative teenager is just how little you really know about the world around you. Sure, you think you've got everything figured out but the truth is, most people know very little about how things work at such a young age and that's a beautiful thing. It's this youthful ignorance - and one aspect of it, specifically - that fueled many of the memories I cherish to this very day.
At some point shortly after leaving Facebook, I became acutely aware of one of life's biggest motivators (or pitfalls, depending on how you look at it). It's something that affects virtually every aspect of our daily lives yet pretty much everyone is oblivious to it. I'm of course referring to attention.
It sounds conspicuous when said out loud but seriously, think about everything you've purchased or done in your personal life - the expensive outfits, that $60,000 pickup truck that's never been off the beaten path, the PC build that is total overkill both in terms of hardware and looks, that six-bedroom house in the ritzy part of town when it's just you and your spouse, cruising around the strip mall with the windows down and the stereo cranked to 11 - and ask, "Was that motivated by a desire for attention?"
If you're being honest with yourself, the answer to that question will be a resounding "yes" almost every time. The content you see on Facebook is no different.
Since breaking from Facebook, I've almost instinctively come to resent the notion of drawing attention to one's self. I now find that I view most things through this "judgment lens" and even go out of my way to not do or say things in my daily life that could be perceived by others as attention-seeking.
I don't think that's very healthy and it's not very fun. Quite frankly, things were a lot more enjoyable when I was oblivious to the fact that I was doing things largely for attention. As they say, ignorance truly is bliss.
Even as Facebook approached a billion users, I never imagined it would become the global phenomenon it is today. It used to be rare - and eventually, uncommon - to meet someone in real life that also had a Facebook account. These days, it's the exact opposite as you'll field some pretty weird looks when someone learns you don't maintain a profile.
Facebook's extraordinary growth has been great for business but that doesn't mean it's an all-around win for everyone.
While it's easy to recognize the benefits of having a wealth of users on the platform, the fact that there are more fish in the proverbial pond makes it harder for individuals to stand out and get the attention they subconsciously desire. Allow me to explain.
Shortly after signing up for Facebook many years ago, I purchased my first DSLR camera and quickly contracted the photography bug. It wasn't uncommon at the time for me to spend hours shooting around campus or while out with friends then go home, curate the best shots and post them to Facebook.
The positive comments I'd receive fed my passion (ego) and kept me clicking but in hindsight, I realized my photos largely stood out because few people had dedicated digital cameras, phone cameras were still a rare gimmick and there simply weren't very many people on Facebook at the time. That latter fact meant that a larger percentage of my Facebook friends were seeing my posts (today, an algorithm decides how much weight a post has and how many of your friends see it).
For better or for worse, Facebook has changed how we communicate as a society.
These days, I suspect it'd be much more difficult to gain any sort of meaningful following with my photography. Everyone has a camera-equipped smartphone and with Facebook being such a valuable economic tool, virtually every amateur and professional photographer now has a presence on social media.
Without somewhere to share my photos and the realization that they wouldn't get as much attention as before, my passion for the hobby subsided and played a role in my decision to part ways with most of my gear.
My mother used to have this goofy saying about being lonely, something to the effect of "feeling like The Lone Ranger." I never paid much attention to it as a kid but after being away from Facebook for so long, it resonates with me.
For better or for worse, Facebook has changed how we communicate as a society. For many, it has replaced the occasional face-to-face meet-ups, phone calls, e-mails and text messages. I've found that withdrawing your name from Facebook's massive public directory has a similar effect to deleting your entry from the phone book / Rolodex / e-mail address book / smartphone contact list of others.
People aren't going to simply forget that you exist overnight but in time, it's inevitable that you're going to fall out of touch with folks. This can be lessened but you have to make a faithful effort to reach out and inject yourself into the realms of others. Otherwise, what I've experienced is that people will go on about their lives with the friends and family surrounding them on Facebook and you'll slowly fall by the wayside.
It's worth pointing out that this is a two-way street. Not only will you miss out on sharing life events with friends and family, you should also expect to be omitted from their happenings. From major moments like child births and weddings to daily affairs, everything is fair game as I've found out.
I'm dropping the hammer pretty hard on Facebook but I should note that my experience away from the site hasn't been a total drag.
With fewer distractions, I've been able to devote more time to my career. This, in turn, has allowed me to tighten down my budget, focus on hitting specific goals and steer my finances in the proper direction. I've also had the freedom to explore other hobbies and interests without feeling as though I constantly have to impress or compete with others.
There was also an air of arrogance I exuded when I first left Facebook, as if I was "better" than others because I had the willpower to "resist" the urge to be on the site...
An Imminent Return?
I've contemplated returning to Facebook on more than one occasion in hopes of patching the void its absence has created but as with any complex matter, there's not really a one-size-fits-all solution. By that, I simply mean that rejoining would introduce a whole new set of issues, many of which were directly responsible for me leaving to begin with.
Aside from the addictive nature of constantly checking my phone for updates and what I found when I did (political rants, relationship drama, religious preaching, poor grammar, general idiocy, and so on), maintaining my Facebook account ate up a substantial amount of time each and every day. For someone like me that values efficiency and time management, voluntarily dropping an atom bomb on personal productivity isn't terribly appealing.
What's more, the fact that Facebook remains a heavily curated highlight reel that's rarely reflective of one's actual life can't be masked. Although there is some "real life" peppered in, expecting an authentic look into someone's life isn't a realistic expectation when everyone is playing the comparison game.
I do believe, however, that Facebook would be a different experience this time around. With more people having accounts than ever before, I think its use today would feel like more of a way of life than an addiction or habit. The site has permeated so many aspects of modern society that it has become the de facto method of communication for millions upon millions of people.
There was also an air of arrogance I exuded when I first left Facebook, as if I was "better" than others because I had the willpower to "resist" the urge to be on the site. I wasn't a sheep, I told myself. That feeling has long since subsided but is worth mentioning as I think a lot of Facebook holdouts or those that have abandoned the site feel the same way (even if they won't admit it).
All things considered, I'm honestly not sure if I'll return or not. Part of what has kept me off for so long is my stubbornness to stick with my original decision. As odd as it sounds, I've dug my feet so deep into the sand that rejoining would somehow feel like admitting defeat.
That said, the advice I offered in my original piece stands. If the cost of Facebook has taken its toll on you, walk away and see what happens. Should you find that you're happier with a Facebook account, simply reactivate and carry on (or if the opposite is true, enjoy your disconnected life). Just don't be disillusioned by the fact that Facebook is free to join. Its use does come at a cost and it's up to you to both define it and decide whether the benefits outweigh the expense.
For now, I'm still weighing my options and trying to decide if I can get past the "attention" factor.