“You leave the present moment every time you check your phone.” ~Deirdre Jayko
Facebook was driving me to distraction! One late-winter evening, I prepped for a mood-saving hike in the snow. Magic happened on the trails in the moonlight. I decided to check Facebook for a friend’s answer to a message.
Who knows what caught my attention, but I ended up skipping from post to post. Once I emerged from my Facebook haze, I realized it was too late to walk safely. What had I accomplished in place of my hike? What did I even read about?
As I put away my warm clothes and went to bed, I promised myself I was going to change my Facebook usage. It was eating away at my life. I was driving myself to distraction.
Social media usage bothers people for a variety of reasons. Drilling down on those reasons reveals a larger theme of loss of control. In spite of ourselves, we spend way too much time scrolling through mindless content. Seemingly against our best intentions (sometimes, against our will), we waste countless hours on the site.
My frustration level only escalated once I made the decision to torch my Facebook profile. Getting off the site seemed impossibly complex! What about people I only had contact with through Facebook? What about seeing photos of relatives and friends? What about the writings and photos I loved to share? Each time I planned on hitting “delete,” I would give up and decide it was too complicated.
Every morning, I would roll out of bed and check Facebook. The silly thing was: I didn’t want to check Facebook. It was a subconscious habit. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
A red notification of some type would fuel my addictive response. Someone liked my post. Someone commented on a post. A close friend posted something new or had messaged me! That little red symbol is addicting, especially if your life is stressful. It gives your monkey mind an unsatisfying play date with the inane.
One of my passions has always been escaping to the woods for a solo hike. One cold, crisp February morning, I chucked my smart phone into the trunk and set off down the trail into the woods. I was the only human on the prowl, and it felt great.
Clambering along, I took a hard look at my Facebook addiction. I was bothered by the unhealthy anxiety reliever and the gambling-like satisfaction of the red-symbol jackpot. Yet, it seemed something deeper was bothering me about my Facebook use. I wanted to explore this feeling in more detail.
I sat watching squirrels scampering through the tree heights. I reflected on that slightly sick feeling accompanying social media usage. We become caricatures of ourselves on Facebook. The nature of the beast is such that experiences are condensed into soundbites for public broadcast—an exaggerated and polished version of a moment. My real-time sharing with family and friends was much different than this public sharing. Online interactions lacked substance and depth. On some level, they are not authentic.
Thesaurus.com shares some synonyms for caricature: cartoon, parody. distortion… mockery? And (ouch): travesty and sham. Maybe too harsh in some situations, but, honestly, these words reflect my feelings about posting.
Instead of chilling with my squirrel friends, I would scroll mindlessly as time slipped away, as my life slipped away. I made a pact with myself to delete my Facebook account. I created a statement of intent in my journal, signed and dated it.
I still didn’t get off of Facebook.
A few weeks later, I cruised to work, jamming to my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs. The open road and dreamy music made me feel young, wild, and free. Suddenly, texts from my kids began interrupting the music. I had notifications coming in on Messenger.
As a result of some of those messages, I began fighting the urge to check my work email before I arrived. I cursed silently that I had not taken the time to learn how to disconnect the damn phone, so I could just hear my music. Constant bombardment of stimuli. Not only irritating but also unsafe.
I turned my phone off and threw it in the back seat. SILENCE. As I watched the trees and fields skimming by, I thought about my life before all this technology. I was beyond revolted with perpetual connectivity. I drifted back to my resolve to delete Facebook.
I practice my spirituality in the woods. My nature time is sacred time, my interface with the Great Mystery. As I added gadgets, my secret, unique, sacred relationship with the earth had seemed harder to access. Would I ever feel that connection again? A hypothesis began shaping in my mind. Would I feel more spiritual and be able to access a deeper level of awareness if I got off of Facebook?
I thought about the sticky web that is Facebook. Not only did I have over 200 “friends” of varying levels of intimacy, I had hundreds of photos and memories all neatly time-lined for my reminiscence. I felt the stress of giving up a potential audience for my creative works.
I was stuck in an uncomfortable spot for several weeks. I wanted to get off Facebook to test my hypothesis, but I inexplicably felt trapped on the social media. I began to realize how I was being manipulated in an unhealthy way.
I couldn’t torch my Facebook despite my great desire to plunge deeply into my spirituality. I was hooked. I hate being hooked or controlled by anything. So, I redoubled my efforts. I developed a plan to get off Facebook in steps.
In the first step, I deleted people I really didn’t know. I quickly deleted about thirty people. It felt good to finally start on my goal. I focused on being more in tune, being more aware, being more spiritual.
As I whittled down my friends, the people became more intimate. People that mattered in my “real” life. I started getting confused about who to delete next and how to delete them. Should I send them a note? Would that be strange? Should I make a public post?
I stalled for another couple of weeks. I was acutely aware that social media traps people and creates a labyrinth of complexities, a maze of prisons. I didn’t like how that made me feel.
A few weeks later, I opened my journal to write. My signed pact stared back at me, forcing me to address this disturbing phenomenon of being trapped on Facebook.
That evening, I curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee. My sole intent was to reduce my social media presence. I sent a private message to select people, explaining I was leaving Facebook and providing my contact information.
A few wrote back, asking, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” My ego raised up a bit. Wow, they think something has gone wrong in my life. I should stay on Facebook to prove nothing is wrong. I slayed that ego dragon and pressed on with my quest.
As I mass deleted my friends, Facebook acted like a real creature, bombarding me with more “people I may know” than ever before. It made me wonder if the site is programmed to recognize when someone starts deleting friends. Maybe not…but the new potential friends were very intriguing.
How did they manage to target my profile with these people? I was tempted to click on some of the new profiles but moved on towards the goal. At times, the process of deleting friends felt great, but mostly I felt a sense of loneliness.
Eventually, I had no friends. I experienced a mix of relief, sadness, and anxiety.
Even the shell without friends proved a sticky trap. I belonged to groups that only posted on Facebook. I also had “liked” very entertaining pages. Could I give up Randy Rainbow videos, and adorable pictures of cows and elephants from the Gentle Barn and the Elephant Sanctuary? Yes, I can access their websites when I need a fix. I ‘unliked’ all my awesome pages.
The hardest sacrifice was abandoning all my kids’ pictures and my life experiences neatly time-ordered. I pressed on because I wanted a deeper, more authentic life.
I was ready for the final step—deletion! I couldn’t find the deletion button. Deactivation is not the same as deletion. All your info is stored and ready to be resurrected. I didn’t like this privacy issue, and I didn’t want the option to reactivate! I found it easier to google “delete Facebook account” and follow a link from a separate website, than try to find the instructions on Facebook.
Finally, I found the delete account button and smelled freedom. Like a creepy, ex-partner who decides he isn’t going to be rejected, Facebook notified me deletion would take two weeks, and I could hop back on anytime in that two weeks.
Thinking back on all the sticky traps of Facebook and the recent media attention on privacy breaches, I thought, “Why do we allow this? Why are we okay with this?” It is not authentic or satisfying to live this way.
The first afternoon free of Facebook felt super! A few days later, I felt similar to when I left home for a new job in a new city. Kinda lonely and lost, but ready for a new adventure. I definitely missed my friends back in Facebookland. I wondered if I would ever talk to some of them again.
I jokingly asked my kids, “Do I still exist?” Sometimes, I caught myself clicking through news sites more often, simply out of habit. I realized some of my clicking provided a method of anxiety relief. The other sites just didn’t have the addictive quality of Facebook, and I eventually quit the mindless clicking.
As the days move on, I notice subtle differences in my thinking. I feel a soft, calm sensation as I drive to work or create projects. I notice light patterns as the day shifts to dusk. I am more present in my own life. I feel a novel sense of boredom from time to time. Surprisingly, I really like feeling bored. It has stimulated my creativity and my humor. You have to work a little harder when there is nothing to do.
One morning, I was goofing around with my dogs on the couch, playing with their paws, scratching their ears. I had not really connected with them in that manner in a long time. A kind of bored goofiness came over me that had been destroyed by the constant clicking. I felt like a little kid, lazing on Saturday afternoon. Boredom is not a bad thing.
I also became really aware when my loved ones were ‘hooked up.’ It seemed weird that they would be so intent on staring at screens. It should seem weird, shouldn’t it? We’ve been deconditioned to this insanity.
Occasionally I have moments of discomfort about my exodus. What about when my son graduates? Or, I have an article published? Or I travel to an exotic location? What if I take a killer photograph or observe a rare animal in the woods? Who will know?
I guess I’ll share these experiences, successes, and photographs during lunch with my close friends and around the table with my family. At this point in my life, that feels so right to me. My smoother, more relaxed, unplugged mind is savoring the days I have left.
I went to the woods today. I walked quietly and softly on the earth. I left my iPhone at home. The perfect scene for a photo and an unexpected animal sighting went uncaptured. With no phone to grab, these snapshots won’t be shared with the masses. How refreshingly beautiful.
A little squirrel scampered on a tree, chattering to me. It was so quiet, so calm in the woods. I became lost in the moment. I felt that deep, sacred connection with nature that is so precious to me. I transcended into that other world, the world that remains hidden from a noisy mind. A place void of anxiety, of ego, of caricature. A place rich with connectedness, with earthiness, with authenticity.
About Amy Funk
Amy has degrees in psychology, gerontology, and nursing. She loves to hike, bike and canoe. Her passion is empowering others by presenting on the topics of aging, grief and nature. She writes a quarterly post on authentic living. You can sign up for the newsletter here and learn more at agingwithamy.com.