Kicking the Facebook habit

FREE OF THE ONLINE SPELL: In the age of so-called social media, de-activating a Facebook profile is considered anti-social, but that's just what the writer did.


    Sep 29, 2014

    Kicking the Facebook habit

    THE trouble began in 2009, on a rickety boat in the Peruvian Amazon. As I relaxed with a beer, my friend Fiorella snapped my picture with my phone. "Oh!" she said. "That's a Facebook profile photo for sure!" And it was.

    That started my varsity-level Facebooking - Facebooking as a verb, a premeditated crime against spontaneity.

    I drafted posts and timed them for publication to maximise traffic (3pm Eastern time caught people returning from lunch while nabbing West Coasters just beginning their break). Friends noted, with mixed subtext, that I was the most active user they knew. "I'm sure it gets exhausting," one said.

    The shame began in 2012, when a friend at Yahoo told his brother, who told me: "You know whose Facebook game is on point? Richard Morgan." Ugh. A knack for Facebook is like a knack for being the 20th caller and winning the Katy Perry tickets: There are no real winners.

    Like any addiction, mine crept up on me. I got my first Facebook friend on June 11, 2007, but didn't write my first status update until Sept 17 that year: "Richard is psyched to show his little brother around the city."

    Facebook has tipped me off to viral stories. It's earned me dates. It's reconnected me with classmates and co-workers. A Major League Baseball player friend-requested me. It's how I know when it's raining in Los Angeles, or when the sun sets in Brooklyn.

    And I have a core group of friends there who are extremely kind. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, my friend Lila will, nonetheless, like it and leave a comment.

    But the more bits of myself that I broadcast on Facebook, the more those bits metastasised, turning me into what people call our "Facebook self", connecting with "Facebook friends".

    In July, I posted 159 times to my 2,308 friends, or about five posts a day (peaking at 12), and got a total of 1,110 "likes", or about seven per post (peaking at 228). Sometimes I commented on or liked my own posts, a pathetic kind of Freudian Mobius strip.

    I was an old woman working the social media slot machine. And my own likes felt perfunctory, never more so than my compulsion to like all the birthday notices posted on my page. Loading Facebook began to feel a lot like opening my inbox: lots of flotsam and jetsam.

    It ended like any relationship does: Bit by bit, then all at once. I wanted out from under Facebook's thumb.

    So in mid-August, I de-activated my profile. (This can be undone at any time, unlike permanently deleting an account, a step that gives users 14 days to change their minds, and one that I'm hesitant, for now, to take.)

    When my friends tried to check in on me, they saw only an Error 404-style page. A typical note from an over-30 friend was "Are you OK?". A typical under-30 note was "Did you block me on Facebook?". Their self-centred hysteria only amplified my abstinence. In our age of so-called social media, my act is inexcusably anti-social. I don't tumble, tweet or Instagram. I am not linked in, nor have I pinned a pin on Pinterest. But no Facebook?

    Even in our most secluded moments, Facebook puts the spite in respite; we are expected to brag-post our feet on a lounge chair on some Greek isle, or our wet baby moments after its birth. I ached to abstain.

    Abstinence means nothing without temptation. During my hermitage, I've attended a free comedy show where Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer and Hannibal Buress gave surprise performances. I've been to a countryside wedding replete with coloured smoke, home-made rockets and a one-year-old's first steps.I told nobody, although I have the photos.

    After I quit Facebook, statuses and posts tingled my fingertips, with nowhere to go. I realised how many photos I had taken more for Mark Zuckerberg's sake than for my own.

    I caught myself watching folks in parks and subways looking at Facebook, so many blue-lit zombie stares. I guess that works for them, I told myself with my jealous-ex snark.

    Truth be told, I missed being among the like-minded. If you fall deep enough down the well of likes upon likes, you can like anything, believe anything.

    Facebook brims with a billion do-it-yourselfie performance artists, turning our Fear Of Missing Out into the fear of being missed. Facebook makes us all thumbsuckers.

    Others might like to their heart's content, but Facebook feels done for me.

    If I return, it'll be with post-Lent shakiness: I know I can get by without it. The spell has been broken.

    Instead of posting a photo of the wedding I attended and hoping he'd see it, I texted it to my friend Abdul. He wrote back something even a billion blue thumbs can't express: "Love it."