I walked into the second floor study room of the School of Education ready to do some research for a final paper I was writing; I had put myself in just the right mindset to sit down and finish a good portion of work. Surveying the area, I found the seat of my choice: a table to myself tucked away in the far corner, facing the tall, leaded windows that reached all the way to the high ceilings, allowing the crisp evening light of spring to shower me as I eagerly delved into primary sources. My thoughts were like a jagged slab of marble, hard, strong and heavy, waiting to be chiseled into a softly nuanced piece of art.
I settled into my spot and breathed it all in. I brought out my computer and opened Facebook.
The magic was gone. I realized this about five minutes into empty-heartedly scrolling through my news feed; each post I saw acted not as the careful tap of a chisel but as a hammer’s blow. My thoughts were tiny pebbles chaotically, helplessly scattered on the floor.
I had had enough. For a while I had fantasized about deleting my Facebook, which my best friend from back home, Madi, bravely had done during our junior year of high school.
“I felt like it was taking over my life,” she told me when I e-mailed her about writing this article. “I felt addicted to checking it at least every hour.” It hit me then, also, that I spent at least five minutes on social media every time I sit down at my computer. That’s over an hour every week and almost forty hours over a school year spent mindlessly scrolling through my news feed — forty hours of what I saw then as wasted time I could have spent on schoolwork or simply daydreaming.
What’s more is that the moments within those forty hours usually made me feel pretty horrible. I became extremely pessimistic: posts from high school friends claiming to have found their “people,” posts from my friends at Michigan who seemed to have found better, cooler lives than I had, and any other posts you could think of seemed to me like purposeful attempts by others to shove their apparent happiness in my face — me, who was struggling through freshman year, trying to push my way through the massive undergraduate population in an effort to find my niche. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I find the perfect group of friends who understood me completely, who went with me to the perfect party with other perfect people whose portraits complemented my perfect social media profile?
It’s exhausting to relive those thoughts as I write them, and I’m sure they’re just as exhausting to read. They were certainly exhausting to experience; I realized during that moment in the School of Education how unnecessary it was to put myself through that. Facebook seemed to be the place where all of my anxieties manifested themselves, and so the only solution for me seemed to be to get rid of it.
I closed my computer screen and called my mom, with whom I’ve had countless conversations about the advantages and disadvantages of living in an age of such constant connectivity. I gave her a heads up that I was going to delete my profile — not deactivate, delete. As in, it would be gone forever.
So I did it. The deed was done. Five years of carefully curated photos, pages I’ve liked and groups I’ve joined gone forever, wiped from the record. I felt all at once liberated and breathless, like that feeling of getting a haircut and seeing too-long swaths of your hair lying on the ground, so impossibly detached from your head. Just like that, my Facebook, the most stylish accessory to my life, the force that legitimized my social relevance was gone, impossibly detached like chopped locks of hair. Later Madi would tell me her experience was a similar one, that the decision to delete her Facebook was a sudden realization of what was right for her, and the emotion that immediately followed reflected this — it was one of arresting relief.
“Deleting it wasn’t going to be the end of the world,” Madi told me. “Life would go on. And that was very empowering.” She’s right — not having a Facebook wasn’t a big deal as the excitement of life in Ann Arbor fizzled with everyone engulfed in final coursework. I had already made most of the friends I would that year, so Facebook wasn’t as relevant to me then as it had been in the beginning of freshman year.
It lacked importance in a similar way when I returned home to my old summer job for the summer, as I already knew most of my coworkers. Though I was working full time, most of my friends from home were gone for long periods of time, either on vacation or doing some kind of internship or study program. I had a lot of time to myself, which I filled by reading, journaling and exploring Columbus with our family’s old film camera. Not having Facebook was such a deliberate action that it influenced the way I saw my time. By purposefully omitting from my life something that wasted so much time, I began to see each moment not as disposable but as a blank space characterized by myriad possibilities: did I want to fill it with wonder? Perplexity? Frustration? Vivacity? Serenity?
Despite good-hearted coaxing from coworkers to make a Facebook again, I finished the summer glad that I had stuck to my instincts and not submitted to external pressures. Being Facebook-less allowed me to appreciate those moments in transition that we usually fill with social media blather. And even if I was “on my phone” for a moment, it would be reading an article on my news app or finding an obscure Instagram account (my admitted social media kryptonite).
It wasn’t until I settled back into university life that I began to question my choice. I’m living in a single this semester and I’ve found I’ve had to be very deliberate about my social life. For this and other reasons, it just seemed like having a Facebook made sense. It would be practical.
One night I was feeling a similar impulsivity to what I felt that fateful evening in the School of Education. So far my new profile tells me I have 262 friends.