Thursday, February 21, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Facebook-free for two years

"In reality, we have choices. We decide who and what we allow into our inner sanctums. Not everyone deserves an all-access pass. Not every opportunity deserves a yes. In fact, there can be a lot of freedom on the other side of  "No, thank you." ~Kris Carr

Inner peace  / Cindy La Ferle

Note:  Lately I've been rehashing this topic with fellow writers and other friends, and thought I'd share some new reflections here. Parts of this updated piece appeared in an article I wrote in 2017... 

The morning after the 2016 presidential election, my husband and I quit Facebook -- and we haven't been back since. Weeks prior to my own exodus, I was deeply disturbed by the political rancor that poisoned my daily feed. And when I posted a photo of my HILLARY lawn sign a week before the election, more hell broke loose on my home page. 

To be fair, a few users made gallant attempts at civility while presenting their political arguments. 

In a long and carefully composed private message, for instance, a Facebook friend who described herself as one of my "column fans" said she was surprised to learn that I wasn't voting Republican. While I'd rarely written about politics in my newspaper pieces, this woman had assumed I shared her political beliefs. And so, as she put it, she was "extremely disappointed" in me for supporting a Democrat. I know she was trying her best to be tactful ... but still. Our loose but pleasant online connection began to fray in an awkward exchange of stilted paragraphs.  

Other comments -- less personal but more hurtful -- suggested that voters in my political camp were downright evil. Yet another Facebook friend called me "a communist." 

I felt shamed and scolded. And here's the deal-breaker: Whenever people try to make me feel shamed and scolded -- for any reason -- I'm not inclined to hang out or schedule coffee dates with them. Likewise, I won't tolerate emotional abuse and spiritual pontification from "friends" online.

All of this transpired before we learned about Facebook's formidable security breaches and privacy leaks, and before the platform was implicated in political collusion with Russia. 

But I had several different reasons for blowing that pop stand.

Facing the un-reality of Facebook

Maintaining a Facebook presence was intruding on other aspects of my daily routine. Like so many social media users, I was experiencing life’s precious moments almost exclusively through the lens of my digital camera -- all for the purpose of "sharing" my life, my work, and what I ate for dinner, on Facebook. But why? 

I needed to do some serious soul-searching. 

What was driving me to seek attention from hundreds of virtual strangers? Was something missing from the friendships I'd formed before Facebook existed? Did I feel ignored or neglected by my family? What did Facebook offer that I wasn't getting elsewhere?

Social media sites foster a false but immediate sense of connection and intimacy. Whether we're lonely or need approval or encouragement, there's always instant validation online. That's not such a bad thing.  

But real friends share more than curated status updates, selfies, and "likes." Real friends check in with you on the phone, schedule lunch dates, send birthday cards, help you move furniture, listen to your problems, invite you over for lasagna, and make other three-dimensional attempts to be there for you.  

Friendship like that is built on the other side of the screen. And it takes effort.  

Are we really in touch? 

Ironically, Americans collect countless friends and followers on social networks -- yet many admit to a lack of depth in their friendships, reports Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. 
“Between two-thirds and three-fourths of Americans believe there is more loneliness in today’s society than there used to be, and feel they have fewer meaningful relationships than they did five years ago,” Nelson says. 

On the other hand, I know people who use Facebook to communicate with out-of-town family and friends -- which is Facebook at its best. Now that I've deactivated my account, I'm often asked if it's harder to maintain long-distance relationships. In some ways, yes, it is. 

But even back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth and there was no Facebook, I managed to find ways to share news, photos, and birthday greetings that didn't involve the Pony Express. All in all, it goes back to how much effort (there's that word again) you're willing to extend to build real relationships. 

Deactivating my Facebook account forced me to schedule dates with friends and family. As current studies indicate, a healthy social life involves regular interaction with others. Checking status updates while you're sprawled on the couch at home with a carton of Haagen-Dazs doesn't count. 

Working it out

But what about professional advancement? Did leaving Facebook impact my writing career? Not really. 

As novelist Cindy Harrison notes in her own recent post about quitting Facebook, "I don't think my Facebook business page sold many books."  

Like Harrison, I don't believe Facebook is the last word in marketing. For one thing, my Facebook friends weren't interested in my published essays and features; they preferred seeing photos of my dog and cats. Furthermore, the editors I work with today still contact me directly -- via email -- and new ones learn about my work through this blog, my professional web site, or LinkedIn.

The simple, foursquare truth of the matter is this: The amount of writing I'm able to get published depends on how hard I work on the writing itself -- not how much horn-tooting I do on social media.

Going my own way

I'm often told that I'm an overly sensitive person, and I suppose I should own that. There were times when I'd get overwhelmed by the shrill cacophony of voices, the white noise, vying for my attention 24/7 on Facebook. 

I need lots of quiet time.

After living Facebook-free for more than two years, I also prefer the invisible cloak of privacy I wear every day. As rock icon Stevie Nicks once said in her criticism of social networks, there's something very attractive about "not sharing too much, and having a little mystery." I love that.

And I don't miss the stress and anxiety I experienced while reading all those divisive rants in my Facebook feed. These days, I do everything I can to cultivate inner peace while our nation roils in its ongoing political bedlam.

Minding my own business feels like pure luxury now. When I'm fully engaged in life, I'm not tempted to compare my work, my friends, my pets, my family, my vacations, or my dinnerware with anyone else's. I'm more grateful for what I have, and less competitive.

Best of all, I no longer take friendship for granted -- as I often did when I was on Facebook -- and I'm spending my time in ways that feel meaningful to me. ~Cindy La Ferle 

Note: For more content like this, please click on the "Essays" section on the home page of this blog.