On quitting Facebook: a status update

camera Just over a month ago I announced my intention to quit Facebook. It probably shouldn’t have been a big deal but it turned out to be kind of a big deal and, from the comments and emails I received, I realised the idea was kind of a big deal for other people, too.

So here I am a month on to tell you how things are going.

To be succinct: it's going great! I genuinely love being free of what I hadn't even fully realised had become a millstone around my neck. For maybe three days after quitting, I'd have a moment where I'd sit down and I'd go to pull my phone out to look at Facebook and then realise it wasn't there. And do you know what, the rush of realisation wasn't loss, but HAPPINESS. Every time I forgot I didn't have Facebook and then realised it again, I felt the weight lifting and the sense of freedom ALL OVER AGAIN. It is seriously NUTS that I stuck with it so long, considering how much I must have hated it without even knowing it. And it is even more nuts that I bothered to use it, given this reaction. I suspect I may not be altogether bright.

Here are some other things I've learned and experienced about quitting Facebook, in no particular order:

1. Facebook is REALLY difficult to quit. As in, they make it super hard to get out. I didn't want to just "disable" my account and maybe come back to it later, I wanted everything gone, for good. It took some googling and tutorials and then MULTIPLE pages with tiny, almost-hidden text for me to figure out how to properly cancel my Facebook account. Even then they had a cooling-off period of several weeks. I can't remember how many (two or three or four) but I don't want to go back in to check, just in case that launches everything back up again!

2. When I'm with my kids, I'm WITH them. I'm down on the floor pushing trains over wooden tracks, instead of up on a chair half-watching them do it, while flicking through Facebook.

3. Keeping up with friends is not as difficult as I'd feared. I've been making more of a concerted effort to email, text and call my long-distance friends (and have had more time to do that since I'm not on social media), and it's been going fine. I'm sure I've missed some of their photos of their new cats or trips to the country or children's ballet concerts, but Facebook elected for me NOT to see them more than half the time anyway, so when I'm in touch with my friends, I have to ask them (shock! horror!) questions like, "What's been going on with you?" and "Oh, little Jude was in a concert? How cute! Do you have any photos?" It's not rocket science and it turns out that we (or at least I) don't need Facebook either to stay in touch with or to learn about the lives of the people we love.

4. I'm writing and painting a lot more. I didn't think quitting Facebook would have a big impact on these activities, because I didn't tend to spend time on social media during my specially carved-out "creative" times of the day. But it turns out those quick "I'll just check if anyone has messaged me" or "I'll just read what that notification was about" moments add up - and probably the fact that once in there reading a notification, I'd get distracted and end up losing precious minutes reading and scrolling whatever was there. Now, I'm loads more productive.

5. When things happen in the world, I don't always find out straight away. It's not that I can't keep up, it's just that there is certainly the possibility of a time-lag in the things I find out, versus the things that YOU find out, if you're on social media. For example, when the news broke about Paris last week, I'm fairly sure it was all over social media. I remained blissfully unaware, dead-heading the climbing roses on our front porch. Later, when I took out my phone to look at the one remaining social media app I still regularly use, Instagram, I kept seeing drawings and photographs of the Eiffel Tower. That made me suspicious, so I googled "Paris," and there the horror unfolded. If I hadn't used Instagram, I probably wouldn't have found out until later that night, watching the news. So I guess in these sorts of cases I'm a bit behind the times, because social media is THE place to get instant updates on what's going on in the world. I'm ok with that. I do think it's important to stay abreast of what's going on, both at home and abroad, but in most cases I don't think personal timeliness makes a big difference. I can't see how me knowing a few hours sooner would or could have helped anyone in Paris, nor would it have been particularly edifying to me. I'm content to read the papers, watch the news, read the websites, talk to friends: I feel like that keeps me fairly well-informed and the world won't end without me knowing it.

6. I'm reading a lot more of the blogs I love. Genuine, original content, that's positive reading, as opposed to Facebook dross that I haven't chosen. These are blogs I subscribed to because they inspired me, but rarely got around to reading before.

7. I'm commenting more on blogs. Often when I did find the time to read blogs, I'd flip through on Feedly and just mark the ones I kind of liked (sometimes to share with you) before moving on. Now, I stop and comment, creating or entering conversations. I don't do this every time, but I do it a lot more.

8. There's no getting around it, I probably AM missing out on some events and invitations. On the other hand, I don't know about them so I'm not breaking my heart over them. When it comes to personal events, I hope I'm loved enough that if my friends are planning a party and using Facebook to do it, that they'll reach out to me via email or text or some other way if they want me to come. If not, though, that's ok. We're not all everybody's best friend, and my closest friends and I have used Facebook but never relied on it as the framework of our friendships. We will carry on without it. However, the more public, open invitations are what I probably WILL miss. Fun events and festivals and meet-ups that are organised almost exclusively on Facebook. That's a shame, but again, not enough to make me want to go back. I follow a lot of blogs, so I get a lot of information there, too.

9. Not having access to the Facebook groups and events functions makes things a bit trickier, but not insurmountable. Recently I had an idea to start a kind of snail mail club. A bit like a book club, but we all get together and pool our cool stationery resources and listen to music and sip tea (or wine!) and write and decorate letters to pen-pals, friends, relatives, whoever. I'm part of an online alumni group called Blog With Pip, and this would have been RIGHT up the alley of a number of members. Ordinarily, it's the sort of thing where I would have emailed the woman who runs the group (Pip Lincolne of Meet Me at Mikes) and asked whether I could announce the club on the group page, and invite participants. That would have been handy. Instead, I emailed some friends and bloggers I knew who might be interested, and some of the members of the group who I had met in person and who I thought might enjoy this kind of club, and asked them directly. A number were keen, so we'll have our first club meeting shortly. If they want to, they can ask other people in the Blog With Pip group, or make an open invitation if the group leader is ok with that, themselves. Either way, once we find a public venue (the first one will be in my house), I'll share all the details here and invite all of YOU, so again, I think I'm ok doing this without Facebook.

10. I do miss out on membership in groups, but I can work with that. To be honest, the only group I was active in was the Blog With Pip group, and yes, I did fear missing out on the community that gave me. It is a largely positive group, full of creative people genuinely trying to support and inspire one another, and was one of the main reasons why I stuck with Facebook for as long as I did. One idea Pip had was to create a new, secret profile, and join the group under that pseudonym. I'd do it without having any Facebook "friends" so it would exclusively be an avenue to be part of the group. I may still do that. But for now, even the white-and-blue branding of the Facebook website makes me feel queasy in the stomach. I just don't want go there, in any way. I'm guarding my new-found freedom closely. So I read Pip's blog and the blogs of a lot of other members, and I keep up with what they are doing that way. It's not ideal, but it's a compromise I'm willing to make.

11. Blog traffic hasn't changed. Facebook was by far the biggest referrer of traffic to this blog, and I was aware when I made the decision to quit that my blog statistics would likely drop accordingly. This is not a particularly big blog at the best of time, so while I'm not monetised and traffic doesn't matter in any material sense, I still want to be connecting with YOU. I don't want to be writing into the ether, you know? However I was willing to take that hit, in order to be free of Facebook, my old "frenemy." To my surprise, so far, I haven't noticed any real difference in numbers.

12. Quitting is addictive. Once I'd told everyone I was quitting Facebook, I couldn't WAIT to do it. I'd said I'd wait a week (to put my affairs in order, so to speak), but my finger was itching over the "delete" button (that's speaking figuratively, of course, there is a LOT more to do than hitting "delete" - see point 1). I went into Twitter and quit that account, which wasn't much of a concern since I rarely used it. By the following day, I just couldn't wait any longer. I quit Facebook. An email came through from Mr B that same day, "I want to quit Facebook too. How do I do it?" So that night, we cancelled his Facebook and Twitter accounts too. Then I cancelled my LinkedIn account, which I hadn't updated anyway in years.

And it all feels GREAT.

Image credit: Benjamin Combs, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons