Later, when asked by a friend about my sudden disappearance, I’d vaguely alluded to concerns about privacy or the way users’ information is shared. To be fair, I had seen a pretty disturbing documentary on Netflix about this very thing. But if that played any role in my decision to delete my account, it was only a small one. Let’s face it, there are pics of me in my underwear on my Instagram. How concerned about privacy can I actually be?
The truth is, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed with my so-called “friends.” Back in it’s nascent stages ten years ago, when we’d all collectively left MySpace for the newer, cleaner site, it was mostly pictures and updates from my friends about their lives. Since I’d moved around so much in my twenties, I thought it was a great way for me to stay in touch with my friends from out of state who I could no longer spend time with IRL.
Fast forward a decade, and most of my actual friends had either deleted FaceBook already, or rarely posted anything. Those that remained were mostly people I’d worked with, minor acquaintances, and people that I’d never met at all. My dad and my aunts were on FaceBook. I was getting friend requests from cousins that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, and from people who hadn’t liked me in high school.
Scrolling through posts had become a daily ritual. I was in the habit of waking up in the morning, reaching for my phone and thumbing through bland memes, snarky observations, and far more political commentary than I could stomach. I was quietly horrified by the weekly alerts from my phone letting me know by what percentage my screen time had gone up from the previous week. I spent hours a day sifting through posts from people who I largely didn’t know or care about. I looked at it on and off throughout my work day, in the evenings on the couch, and in my bed before I went to sleep.
I’d become dependent on “likes” for validation. If a post didn’t receive many, I’d delete it in shame. But that was the draw of FaceBook. It was a reality you could curate. The selfies I posted were all flattering. (The ones I was tagged in never were). I posted pictures of meals and cocktails in nice restaurants, and never the fast food at home alone in front of the TV. In FaceBook reality I was surrounded by smiling friends, vacationing in lovely cities, and my jokes always landed.
In the month or so after it was gone, only three friends messaged me to ask about it. For a while I’d still find my finger searching for the app when I opened my phone. There were times when a funny observation would occur to me, and I’d reach for it, and remember it was gone, along with my perpetual affirming audience.
I texted C and said, “I deleted FaceBook, and now I don’t have any friends.”
He responded, “Those friends were an illusion.”
And he was right.
After a while I realized that I suddenly had more time. I was paying more attention to my real life instead of trying to nurture a persona. I was more present, and I felt better. I wasn’t comparing myself to others as much, or feeling some nagging longing for a more real and substantive connection.
Now if I could just ween myself off of Reddit, I might actually have time to work on my supposed novel.