Opinion: A year without Facebook: It’s Complicated

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on April 30, 2019 in San Jose, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on April 30, 2019 in San Jose, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A year without Facebook.

Or should I say a year in the real world?

Actually, I’ve gone 18 months sans Facebook. I’m 15 months Twitter-free and 9 months Instagram-less.

Unseen are the silly photos of other peoples’ babies. No more potty training celebrations. Gone are the graphic posts about personal health issues. Nada from formerly cool friends from high school or college who remind me why they’re no longer friends. No more plates of YUMMY food or pics of FABULOUS vacations!!!

No more bloviated posts by “friends” who see Facebook as a way to foist their brilliant yet suppressed literary genius on an unsuspecting world.

No more lame political fights with my brothers who refuse to yield to my deeply rational command of the true facts. No more reposts of fake news or wild claims selected only because the headline will send certain folks into apoplexy.

No more ranting from former “friends.” No more guilt from blocking people who think I love them. No more being shamed into sending birthday wishes to people I barely know even if Facebook considers us all “friends.” (HBD, BTW.)

I now invest time formerly expended on Facebook doing stuff like reading, gardening, catching up on “Game of Thrones” (OMG, Dany!), flirting with my wife, volunteering and working with fresh focus and creativity. These things are real; Facebook isn’t.

Colette Glatts, a 29-year-old managed services manager from Philadelphia, deleted Facebook in 2012 and also seems happier for it. Her story appears in the online reading site Medium.

“When I was in a social psychology class at the time and a well-known psychologist explained that the brain looks at the newsfeed and interprets it as one person: Everyone’s highlight reel turns into one superhuman who you need to keep up with at all times,” she wrote. “All of a sudden, you need to travel to Italy, get a graduate degree, get married, have a baby, buy a house, all in the next year.”

It really is too much. Every day, about 1.6 billion people – about a fifth of the world’s population – sign on to Facebook. Every 60 seconds, users post 510,000 comments. They update 293,000 statuses and upload 136,000 photos.

We’re scrolling as fast as we can. Each Facebook sessions lasts an average of 20 minutes. So much human experience, so little time.

Nevertheless, all those years wasted on Facebook added zero to my health, wealth or happiness. It was like setting aside precious time each day to scratch an itch that will never go away.

I wish I could tell you that I quit because I had found some high moral ground. Indeed Facebook trades in my personal data. It welcomes trolls and has upended our civil discourse. It has damaged our democracy. It has reduced life and death to meaningless details.

Don’t even get me started on the damage Facebook has done to authentic journalism. If you want journalism, subscribe online to great news organizations like the AJC, or, what the heck, buy a newspaper.

My decision was purely selfish. I’m in my 60s and have just discovered that I will actually run out of time.

I’ve read the back and forth in The New York Times about whether Facebook needs to be dismembered – or not. But really, who cares? It isn’t as if Facebook is some massive system that distributes food, fuel or even useful knowledge.

Facebook distributes twaddle.

It’s easier to delete than debate. (Actually, it’s not that easy to delete. I have dead friends who still have oddly active Facebook accounts. My father, who has been dead nine years, still has a Facebook page.)

If Facebook went away today, who would really care tomorrow – other than the addicts?

Yes, folks. This is an addiction.

Some psychologists call it Facebook Addiction Disorder - yes, FAD. Some estimates suggest as many as 350 million people — more than the population of the United States – suffer from FAD. (Let’s not dwell on the findings of one study that detected a correlation between Facebook usage and narcissism.)

Daniel Wallen, a writer and self-described recovering Facebook addict, helpfully describes five common psychological triggers.

  • Facebook scrolling is a symptom of procrastination: "Instead of looking at it like a place to be social or kill time, frame Facebook as the enemy of your productivity and purpose."
  • Facebook over-sharing is a symptom of loneliness or indecision: "Do you really need to tell everybody what you ate for lunch? You're doing it because you're lonely and desperate for approval. Seeking opinions from your friends could be a sign of indecision or low self-confidence. "
  • Facebook creeping is a symptom of misplaced affection or unhealthy self-comparisons: "There are two primary causes of creeping and neither of them are pretty. If you're creeping the profile of your ex, then you're probably living in the past. If you're browsing the profile of a crush, then you'd be better off actively pursuing them."
  • Obsessive checking of Facebook notifications is a symptom of impatience or people-pleasing: "Your brain receives a dopamine hit every time you see that red notification light up. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that causes you to seek pleasure from things like food, sex, and drugs. Keep this up and you'll turn into an addict desperate for another 'hit.' "
  • Obsessive refreshing of your Facebook feed is a symptom of a fear of missing out (a.k.a. FOMO): Facebook wrecks your focus by preying on your fear of missing out. You check your messages while you drive, because a friend might have something exciting to share. Never mind that you might turn off your date or wreck your car and die."

Ready to stop? I recommend going cold turkey. Pick up your phone and delete the app now.

Too painful? Instagram is methadone for Facebook addiction. Just post nice photos and look only at everyone else’s nice photos. Soon, boredom will set in, making the final break a relief.

Move on from the self-loathing. Think of the hours nurturing those tomatoes, reading in Piedmont Park or canoeing on the Chattahoochee and remembering your kids’ names.

But, before you hit delete, would you mind sharing this column and asking for a few “likes”?


Bert Roughton retired from the AJC as senior editorial director.