For the entirety of Lent this year (February 13 – March 30), not once did I log into Facebook. Only once did I post on Twitter, when I was having some Hadoop issues. Totally cold turkey.
And you know what? It was awesome.
I’ve made some extremely self-righteous posts here before about how I don’t really much care for social networks. While those were certainly somewhat hypocritical–I was checking those very networks almost daily–this particular Lent was the first time I completely stepped away from them for an extended period of time.
There are some very specific items I want to detail.
I didn’t miss anything important. Yeah, my birthday falls smack in the middle of Lent every. single. year. And in the age of Social Networks, that usually means you miss 95% of the birthday well-wishes from your friends and family. But the cool thing is: the people you’re really close to usually send a text message, a birthday card, or even a phone call. The people you want to hear from the most are the people who will find a medium in which to communicate with you. One measly social network does not a social life make or break.
When I returned, I found nothing particularly engaging. This sounds a bit old-fogey-ish, so let me explain, as it’s tightly coupled to the previous point. In scrolling back over the history of the timeline, everything I’d “missed” was either 1) something kind of cool but which I didn’t desperately need to know, like a picture of someone at a cool event or a status about some exciting new development in that person’s life, or 2) something I’d heard about through (recurring theme!) another medium. This was actually somewhat of an epiphany for me; there really wasn’t anything essential on Facebook. Fun, perhaps; dramatic, oh certainly; but essential? Important? Time-sensitive? Not in the slightest.
I cannot describe how liberating it was. This is probably the biggest item. Maybe it’s because graduate school leaves one looking for distractions anywhere one can find them, but after awhile you start feeling as though you have to keep up with everything that’s happening on Facebook. And it’s utterly draining. Conversely, the feeling of consciously ignoring everything on Facebook and instead relying on more personal methods of communication is so liberating. My stress levels fell noticeably, and the very thought of actively not logging in to Facebook to keep up with the rat race would always slow my heart rate down a couple of beats.
In the interest of complete disclosure, there are certainly a few points that warrant mentioning regarding the benefits of social networking that I missed during those 40 days.
- Little things. A new video or picture of a friend’s growing baby, growing up and being completely adorable. Some witty bantering between family members I haven’t been able to see as much as I’d like. These truly carry a certain significance that can’t be overlooked.
- Poke wars. The Lady and I have been engaged in a poke war pretty much since we met, and I REFUSE TO LOSE.
That’s pretty much what I get out of Facebook. Meaningful, yes, but it’s not what one might expect. This all comes with a very hefty dose of “your mileage may vary“, but I just can’t shake the overriding perception I have of Facebook as the epitome of millennial narcissism: it gives everyone an implicit audience to show off how awesome they are, but all that happens is everyone looks like a caricature of their true selves. Complex individuals are reduced to flat parodies, especially if I have no regular contact with them through any other means of communication.
To wit: Person A posts nothing but inflammatory political rants. Yawn. Person B posts nothing but GET IN SHAPE OR GET OUT memes. Yawn. Person C posts nothing but petitions. Yawn. Person D posts daily statuses about nothing in particular.
People become completely uninteresting, to be perfectly blunt. It hurts the soul, because I know they’re more than just the sum of their Facebook content! But that complexity doesn’t filter through into a self-curated online avatar. And that, more than anything else, is why I just can’t sell myself on the social networking boom. It is, at best, selectively social. And that is significantly less awesome. Case in point.
To wrap this up: those 40 days of Lent were among my most productive, engaging, and social. Basically everything that Facebook says it’s supposed to be. Chew on that one, Zuckerberg.