This week, the New York Times reported on a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project that found most Facebook users have taken a break from the site at one point or another.
Overall, “61 percent of current Facebook users admitted that they had voluntarilytaken breaks from the site, for as many asseveral weeks at a time,” according to the Feb. 5 article, which went on to report about the following generational differences in Facebook use.
“Young users are spending less time overall on the site. The report found that 42 percent of Facebook users from the ages of 18 to 29 said that the average time they spent on the site in a typical day had decreased in the last year. A much smaller portion, 23 percent, of older Facebook users, those over 50, reported a drop in Facebook usage over the same period.”
College Relations student writer Anne Berman ’15 took a more extreme action. Berman deleted her Facebook account last year, along with her connection to more than 1,000 friends. “I liked the idea of starting over,” Berman says. She recently wrote about her thoughts on leaving Facebook.
Facebook seemed strange and wonderful back in ninth grade, when I picked out a flattering photo of myself for my profile and read about how my crush liked “chillen, fixing cars, gud music, girls, and NOT to kill a mockingbird.”
Back then, I thought the little red notifications that popped up in real time, stroking my ego and building up my fragile sense of self with their bright concreteness, would never get old. I wrote long, rambling posts about my day on my best friend’s “wall,” knowing that plenty of the people who I could not talk to about my day would also see my posts. I “friended” people who I’d talked to once because that was what was done.
Then, last year, I deleted my Facebook profile permanently.
I loved the ability to seemingly demystify acquaintances and crushes without actually talking to them. After all, human interactions can be messy and time consuming. But I had just seen the 2010 movie The Social Network, and was haunted by the final image of Mark Zuckerman repeatedly hitting “refresh,” waiting for a beautiful woman he’d only just met to accept his friend request. I recognized in his face a robotic sadness that social networking sites can create in us when we hide behind edited pixels because it’s easy.
Facebook is easy. It has got a lot going for it, like the convenience of staying “connected” to friends doing fabulous things on the other side of the planet. You know, those people you meet one summer who change your life and are kindred spirits, but then suddenly the summer is over and you don’t see each other every day anymore? You become friends on Facebook and you talk about seeing each other again, but you’re busy and you feel guilty and your relationship will probably never be the way it was before. I’ve had a lot of those people in my life.
Not having a Facebook means realizing sooner whether a faraway friend is someone you can’t stand cutting yourself off from, because there are only two options—calling or not calling; making plans or not making plans. There is no more kind-of-connected, no more writing on your wall, seeing your picture whenever I want, or seeing what you type in real time.
Not having Facebook means realizing that just because someone means the world to you for a little while doesn’t mean you’re obligated to stay in touch forever. People should be able to enter our lives and leave them without pain and guilt and question.
If Facebook makes it hard to let go of casual contacts, it also makes staying in contact with those people you don’t want to let go of more of a priority. Now that my life is quieter, I realize I only really want to know the fun you had last weekend if we are friends enough to have regular conversations. When I go out, I don’t want to have to take pictures every second. And I don’t always want those pictures to remain on my profile and remind me of who I was three years ago. I don’t want to spend time thinking about which status updates people might “like.”
I want to be fully present, surrounded by the people I love, not checking Facebook on my iPhone. I want to spend time with the people I think I might fall in love with, but I don’t want to see pictures of them with their exes, and I don’t want to only see the version of them that they want me to see.
Wanting to keep a record of good times and wanting to look amazing are human. But so are the complex, intangible interactions that change everything. And those can’t happen in little blue boxes on shiny screens.