Divorcing Facebook: 5 Reasons to End the Relationship

I joined Facebook on April 5, 2005, not long after it became available at Baylor University. I remember thinking how cool it was, and I spent hours on my profile. I was in love.

Nine years later, I am filing for divorce. At least, that’s what it feels like. Call it irreconcilable differences, but I can’t live   my life with Facebook as my partner anymore. It’s simply not healthy for either of us. Perhaps it is true that sometimes divorce can be the most redemptive course of action.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here are my reasons for wanting to part ways with the most influential social networking site in the world. Bear in mind, what follows are my own problems in this relationship. Your own marriage to Facebook may be the picture of health. But here are my observations on how this has all gone wrong:

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#1 – It’s All About Attention-Seeking

Let’s start with status updates.

I’m no statistician or professional researcher, but it is my observation that for every one status that is a genuine word of thanks or encouragement, there are about fifteen to twenty others born out of desire to effect others’ opinions, views, and/or admiration … of me! Yes, I’m talking about the statuses that I type out in that little window, and then click “Post” like I’m a hungry fisherman casting my fishing line into a sea teeming with fish. I want to catch something that will feed me, strengthen me, make me feel good.

I’ve begun to recognize that these statuses are a kind of vanity. I’m not speaking from a standpoint of piety or a holier-than-thou attitude, either. I’m genuinely afraid of what these increasingly frequent attempts to shore up my own identity is doing to my personality. Wanting people to read what I’ve written (or the article I’ve linked to and commented on) and think I’m funny, or introspective, or erudite. Wanting people to recognize that, hey, I see things a little differently, as they will no doubt notice by my not-so-conservative-but-also-not-blatantly-liberal commentary on whatever absurd story or unavailing debate has set the Internet and cable news ablaze.

I’ve had enough disappointing experiences with this kind of behavior to finally learn that no matter what I do, I always end up establishing the wrong view of myself – one that is far different from the one I was hoping for. I suspect many of you do the same, at least from time to time. There are probably very few Facebook users who have never muttered under their breath the phrase, “That’s not what I meant!” when reading status comments.

The worst part of all this attention-seeking behavior is that it forces my friends (potentially all 911 of them) into the awkward position of either indulging my narcissism by offering me the comments I’m fishing for, openly disagreeing with me and risking whatever bond (weak or strong) exists between us, or disregarding my status altogether and wondering if that makes them bad people because they ignored a friend.

And while we’re considering what this relationship with Facebook does to my relationships with friends…

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#2 – It Drains the Desire for Physical and Emotional Interaction

There was a time when we physically sat down together with someone for the sole purpose of “catching up.” Having few tools at our disposal to stay current on them and relay our own updates, we knew the most comprehensive way to care for the relationship was to carve out adequate time to spend with one another. There would be long stretches of story-telling involved. One person’s lunch would be gone before the other one began eating his own because that person went first while the other one chewed and listened.

And if we couldn’t meet with them physically, we spent long hours on the telephone, running up usage charges but determining that it was worth it.

Sometimes, with certain friends, we would share our most secret hopes, or our most anxious fears, because not only did we trust this information with those people, but we also knew that they would receive this not as mere information; it would be handed over to them along with our facial expressions, body language, long pauses, stutters, and maybe even tears. That knowledge could never be considered mere data passed from one person to another. No, that was a person’s very identity being communicated! Hold it close, and handle with care.

More and more often, since 2005, Facebook (and really all kinds of social media) has taught me how to reduce a person’s identity to facts on a page, or to a few paragraph over a written message. A person’s status, even if it is intended as an honest expression of the soul, is viewed not as a sacred thing, but rather an exclamation blurted out into a crowded, darkened theater filled with indifferent, half-listening audience members. One’s personality and attitude is left up to the interpretation of people who do not have all the requisite empirical evidence to correctly make an interpretation.

And there is no telling who will read something one way at the exact same time another person reads it the way you intended. I once commented on a friend’s photograph of his baby niece, that she was gorgeous and so much prettier than my own newborn niece. It was an inside joke about humility, because that friend was notorious for gushing over his new nieces and nephews as if they were the most glorious children to ever grace the planet, and it was funny… to my friend. It was not funny for my brother- and sister-in-law who read the comment in their own news feeds and had no idea that what I’d written was jest. And how could they have known?

So in an attempt to make one friend laugh, my publicly offered joke broke the hearts of two other people. It made me long to go back and just make a phone call instead.

But that’s the problem with Facebook. We seem to ignore the fact that…

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#3 – It Brings Out the Worst in Our Integrity and Judgment

The comment about my niece was a terrible experience, but it was the first in what would be many little lessons on the power that this significant other of mine has over people. Ever have a friend whose spouse or partner doesn’t want to share time with you? Who treats you poorly because your relationship with your friend is apparently not as important as their own relationship? Sometimes, I can’t help but think this is how Facebook operates. I  know it is an inanimate thing, but given that all of its users are animate, it makes sense that Facebook holds the power not only to bring people together, but to also drive us further apart.

Ask people what they would do if they could make themselves invisible, if only for a day. Often times, their answer includes actions that common decency, propriety and/or lawfulness prohibits: peeping, eavesdropping, robbing, etc. On some level, what prevents most people from acting on these secret desires, however lewd, is the reality that they would most likely be seen, found out, caught (and possibly arrested). Whether in trying to overhear a conversation not meant for your ears, or pulling a Dillinger and robbing the First National Bank at gunpoint, you are breaking a deeply established social contract.

Facebook, on the other hand, allows you access to the thoughts and feelings and deeply rooted convictions of tens of thousands of people each day, including some of your closest friends as well as your worst enemies, and the convenience of this access is that you have the option, if you like, of anonymity. And distance. There exists a personal disconnect between me and everyone else online. Therefore, because few consequences can reach through cyberspace, we do not fear another person’s judgment as soberly as we would if we were sitting down face-to-face with him or her.

Take a look at the comment section of almost any article on CNN.com, let alone the Facebook comments of anyone who posts a status or links to an article that is even remotely connected to a hot-button issue. You rarely find civil discourse. It’s anger, confusion and tangential dissent. These days, people post responses to the issues, casting those fishing lines out into that overcrowded sea, but ironically they will include caveats like, “These are just my thoughts. I’m not trying to start a debate and I don’t want to argue about it, so please don’t comment anything negative.”

If these are just your thoughts, and you don’t want to engage in debate, why not keep them to yourself? That’s what we do with almost all the thoughts in our minds. Why not these?

You see, it’s not only the vitriolic commenters who have no filter. It’s us. It’s me. Facebook has somehow made me believe that any little viewpoint I have on any issue, big or small, is worth tossing into the public sphere. At the same time, I somehow reserve the right to be angry or indignant when that viewpoint is challenged. There are people who are taking others to court based on an exchange that took place, or personal information that was gained, on Facebook. People are getting fired, or failing to land jobs, based on things that they uploaded to their public profile. And they are shocked.

It’s a voluntary public forum, but we want people to respect our privacy. Am I missing something?

It’s no wonder that one of the biggest problems I’ve found with Facebook is that…

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#4 – It Wastes Time

As a college pastor, I find myself continually talking to students about the dangers of conforming to the pattern of this world – namely falling into the habit of comparison. We spend so much time shoring up and developing our individual identities based on comparing ourselves to other people. We want to be more like this person, and to avoid acting like this person, and to try to look a little more like this person. Magazine cover after magazine cover feeds our desire to rate ourselves. How do I measure up to him? How closely does my appearance match hers? How impressive do I seem to them?

I say all this to point out that a lot of what I’ve been doing on Facebook is not simply catching up on the lives of friends and acquaintances, but subtly, almost subconsciously comparing myself to other people. So that’s what he believes… What a pointless status for her to post… I can’t believe he would actually support something so stupid… And I can easily spend hours making comparisons.

I don’t visit Facebook to feel worse about myself. And, as I’ve already mentioned, judgment is an easy response when you’re surfing your news feed. However, the bigger problem for me in particular is not the judgment so much as the time I spend doing all that judging and comparing. I don’t visit Facebook to feel worse about myself, but as inevitable as visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet, I walk away from each session clutching a swollen gut and regretting the trip.

It’s because time spent on Facebook is rarely time well spent. We have only a limited amount of time each day to do the things we love – the things that we find important and worthwhile. After nine years on Facebook, I’m not convinced that any of the thousand or so hours I have spent on the site qualifies as productive or rewarding. I’m not against just taking a break and paddling out for a relaxed surf in cyberspace, but I never come away from Facebook feeling rested or recharged. Mostly, I feel drained, scattered, and sometimes even more stressed than before I logged in.

Yet I keep going back for more. And that’s because…

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#5 – It’s Addictive

…and that’s the part that makes all my other problems with Facebook so difficult to solve.

It’s also a reminder that Facebook itself isn’t really at fault at all. The fault lies with me. My behavior is what wastes time, lapses judgment, drains my desire for personal interaction, and makes me a selfish, self-seeking person. That’s the nature of an addiction. Some people can’t drink. Some can’t gamble. Some can’t eat just one doughnut. As for me, I’ve learned that I can’t “do” Facebook.

It’s a privilege to have so much information about so many people right at our fingertips, and yet very few of us sip at it like it’s a fine wine. Instead, we gorge ourselves like it’s Ladies Drink Free night at the local bar & grill.

The first step in AA and NA and most other recovery programs is admitting that we are powerless over our addictions and that the result of giving in to them has resulted in our lives becoming unmanageable. Such is the case with my unhealthy marriage to Facebook. It may seem a bit dramatic, but I believe my life has become harder and harder to manage lately. While I can’t blame Facebook for all my problems and hangups, I do know that every minute spent on Facebook is a minute lost – a moment I’ll never have back and one that will not bring me healing or wholeness. Mostly, though, every bit of time I give to Facebook leaves less time for me to do what I love – hang out with a friend, read a novel, write a short story, play with my kids, talk with my real wife. And, God help me, I want more of that. A lot more.

Thus, I’ve begun my own step-by-step process with regard to this divorce. I’ve contacted good Facebook friends no longer living nearby and asked for their contact information so I can update my real address book and not depend on the site for a line of communication. Also, rather than quitting cold turkey, I’ve set a shutdown date: April 5, 2014 – nine years to the day that I created my Facebook account. In the meantime, I am working hard to wean myself from the site.

And, finally, I’ve written this article. The irony that this blog post will be promoted on my Facebook account is not lost on me. But maybe that’s fitting. Consider this my confession as well as my vow.

We had a good run, Facebook. But I think it’s time we parted ways. It’s not you, it’s me. Chin up, though. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.

You are a Maple in Autumn

Right now I am on my back porch, and before me, rising approximately thirty feet into the blue sky, is a maple tree aflame. It is a maple in autumn.

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The maple is edged in rusty red and shot through with golds, and it bears an inner foliage still green but not for long. As green and full as that foliage once was, no one would deny that it is at its most beautiful today. Those greens have given way to a veritable rainbow of colors that do not simply comfort and shade, but captivate and dazzle. Those leaves have turned or are turning, and every few seconds another one breaks loose and rides the current of that liberating breeze until it is deposited upon my lawn.

Science tells me that this tree is deciduous, and that these leaves have been abscised because they are not currently essential. It tells me the rusty reds and the golds are the result of a change in the leaves’ pigments, as the carotenoids and xanthophylls and anthocyanins have revealed themselves in the wake of the dropping temperatures and the sun which does not shine so long these days. Chlorophyll is no longer produced, and so these pigment changes are the evidence that tree and leaf are protecting themselves in an inclement season. When a gust of wind tears a leaf from its place on the maple’s limbs, there is left a leaf scar, but these scars serve a purpose, protecting the naked limbs and preparing it to bear the foliage again in warmer, brighter days.

Those that fall upon my lawn we call “dead leaves,” but the maple no more considers them dead as it considers itself dead. No, these leaves fall to the ground and carpet the earth around the maple, and as they turn gray and brown and crackle underfoot, they release the last of their precious nutrients back into soil where it no doubt returns to the maple by way of the roots. So, the leaves that we see die are the leaves we see alive when spring arrives. What has fallen has fallen for the maple’s good, not its ill.

This is not resurrection. It is perseverance.

But what of the maple itself? The roots and the trunk and the limbs? In another month, it will appear to me as good as dead. If any leaves remain attached, too tightly fastened to be torn loose by the wind, they have shriveled and released whatever energy or food or chemical was in them. The maple stands naked and cold, a gray skeleton against a pallid, winter sky.

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Were I an impatient man, concerned only with results, only with what comforts me or what dazzles my eye, and I was unaware of what the seasons promise the future holds, I would certainly take an axe to that maple. There would be no point in leaving a dead, worthless thing such as I see it standing in my yard. I’d perceive the leaves it has dropped as nothing but a nuisance to rake together and stuff into trash bags. I would not realize my chopping and my raking to be the work of the murderer rather than the mortician. I would bring an end to life simply because I was not willing to accept that life – and endurance and energy and expectancy – does not always appear the way I think it should.

The leaves are not dying.  They are changing. The maple is not withdrawing. It is renewing.

May we who wander this earth and go back and forth within it be found as faithful as this maple. May the things about us that change and turn and often fall away do so out of our commitment to perseverance. As surely as the Son shines now, it will shine brighter and warmer in the days to come. Let us be ready.

Your Basement is Haunted

Memory is not so much a segment of the brain as it is a room in a house. It is a particular place within the home of your being. Specifically, memory is a basement. To get there, you must momentarily step out of daily life, open that creaking door that scratches across the threshold, and descend a rickety staircase leading to a place where you keep everything that, up to this point, makes you you.

Of course, like a lot of basements, the basements of our beings can be frightening places. Sometimes the swinging lightbulb flickers, casting unsettled shadows across the cold, stone walls. Here you find an overwhelming clutter – your dusty boxes full of long-buried emotions, your pile of excess mental baggage. Few trips to this basement are convenient, and even fewer find you emerging from those depths full of positive energy. Rather, even if your intentions for venturing down those stairs are positive, you usually return at a quickened clip, as if something long buried has uncovered itself and is close at your heels in pursuit, and you must surface and slam the door shut lest it leap back into the daylight with you. Lest it escape the bottoms of your past and come to exist again in your present.

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Like many a basement in a gothic short story, the basements of our beings are haunted places. There are creaks and groans down there. The echoes of angry words we spoke to someone who we’re sure didn’t deserve it. Reverberations of hasty statements we regret we ever voiced. The basement is where the ghosts of our past reside. Some we can identify – people who we wronged mixed in with all the people we believe wronged us. All of them wander around down there, blind and lost. The only conceivable purpose for their presence is to feed our guilt or fuel our grudges. When we must descend into these cellars of our lives – whether in some fleeting, naive attempt at self-reflection or a necessary reconnaissance into our memories – we attempt to do all our business from the stairs, lest we disturb those spirits. We get in and we get out, and we try to forget anything we might have seen down there. At the top of the stairs, we wipe our feet on the dusty, cobwebby mat, intending to bring not even the smallest fragment with us back through that door into daily life.

And we wouldn’t go down there at all if it weren’t the only storage space we have. The problem is that a lot of the good stuff is down there, too. Reminders of good deeds done with no coercion, wise words we didn’t know we had in us, memories of inspiring, heroic folks with whom we once interacted. It is hard to believe how much clutter is down there, and harder still that none of it is very organized. The good words are mixed in alongside the bad, and the figures we revere mill about among the same ghosts from which we divert our eyes. There are all kinds of musty odors down there – they come from the open boxes, and just when one hits our nostrils and tickles our interest, another assaults us and we recoil and berate ourselves for ever thinking it would be okay to go poking around.

Even finding your way through such a mess is daunting.

Even finding your way through such a mess can be daunting.

Oh, we’ll try and spruce the place up a bit, especially if we find ourselves needing to venture down there on a regular basis. We’ll try to get it all organized and labeled. We make sure the good things are easy to access, and we don’t stack too many boxes atop each other because the last thing we need is them to all come tumbling down and spilling out like Pandora’s box. The goal is to avoid as much of a mess of memories as possible. There’s nothing more agonizingly tedious as cleaning up spilt memories by oneself. Sometimes, we’ll decide we need some professional help with our cleaning, and a lot of time these doctors we go to see help us. They remind us that as frustrating and intimidating as it is, the clutter is still important. They help us label things, and they don’t mind peaking into those dusty boxes with us. They help clear some room in the far back of the basement for those ghosts to wander about without getting in the way. Of course, the downside is that every once in a while one of these doctors isn’t paying attention to what he is doing and knocks over a box we’d rather not have known was there.

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For the Christian, when it comes to the basements of our beings, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is with one’s salvation experience comes the presence of the Holy Spirit – the presence of Christ in our inmost being. The bad news is one of the very reasons he takes up residence in us is that, like those weirdos on Storage Wars, he is eager to get into that basement of ours and start rooting around. He’s convinced that everything down there – the good and the bad, the pleasant and the disturbing, the loved ones and the ghosts – means something for our present and for our future. What is more, Jesus himself agrees with this idea.

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:7-11,13)

This is one of the many reasons why we pray. We seek God’s direction before we descend into the basements of our beings. We choose to go downstairs with his Spirit at our side. It’s not that the doctors don’t help – they do. It’s just that the Spirit is even more of a specialist when it comes to dealing with all of our clutter. He’s seen millions of basements like ours, and millions more that are far worse. He’s fought his way through many a jungle of cobwebs, braved even the most frightening collection of terrors, and withstood even the most rancid of odors.

Every one of our basements are haunted places, and merely getting organized isn’t enough to restore health to, and to draw wisdom from, our pasts. So we do not go in alone, but alongside the friend and Helper whose job it is to boldly yet gently show us who we really are, deep down.

The Losing Side

Since late Saturday night, I’ve willingly belonged to the losing side of an argument. Specifically, I’ve been arguing with several friends – primarily on Facebook and Twitter – that while the call to end Game 3 of the World Series was correct, the rule itself is bad. Several times I’ve ranted eloquently communicated that the obstruction rule in Major League Baseball should account for a player’s intent, and that, yes, umpires should be asked to judge intent. (They already judge intent when pitcher’s do or do not intentionally hit batters, but don’t get me started…) The point is, I knew going into the debate that I would be on the losing side of the argument, and, ultimately, I realize I’m off-base.

Pun intended. Or was it?...

Pun intended. Or was it?…

Sometimes, though, our principles and passions drive us to choose the losing side.

It is not for the usual reasons of occupational busyness that I haven’t written a complete blog entry or posted to Wonderstuff for several months. Rather, it’s because of another losing-side situation. I’ve been sick. For months. Since May, actually. I’ve been suffering continual bouts of nausea, fatigue and dizziness that often overcome me all of a sudden. Sometimes it hits in the morning before meals, sometimes after lunch, sometimes in the evenings. Since June, I’ve had a Gastric Emptying study, an Endoscopy, a HIDA Scan, an abdominal ultrasound, and even a CT scan of my brain. On top of these tests, each of which has revealed hardly anything wrong with me, I’ve filled my body with a veritable cornucopia of prescription medication. I’ve had two different medical referrals and gotten a second opinion, and I’m on a very long cancellation list for some hotshot doc in Dallas to have a go at me. I’ve completed Whole 30 in hopes that abstaining from all those foods and food categories would reveal that I’d developed an aversion to them. I’ve started juicing to be healthier and I’ve since ceased juicing to cut down on the extra acidity that has affected my esophagitis. I’ve even gone so far as to eat more than one salad per day! Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, there has been no escape from this problem. I’ve lost twelve pounds, but gained no relief. It’s a losing side if ever one existed.

That isn't a tumor. It's just the part of my brain that's committed to arguing that Game 3 obstruction call into the ground.

That isn’t a tumor affecting my feelings of nausea and dizziness. It’s just the part of my brain committed to arguing that Game 3 obstruction call into the ground.

Sometimes, we don’t choose the losing side. We just get the victory beaten out of us by forces beyond our control until losing is all that’s left.

However, I want to make it clear that the operative part of my title is not so much a word, but the gerund-izing of a word. Losing. Present tense. I’m losing.

But I haven’t lost yet.

There’s still some fight left in me. I’ve still got some argumentative angles for those naysayers who doubt an ump’s ability to judge the psyche of a professional baseball player alongside his physical performance. And I’ve still got some options to try out in an effort to heal my body of this odd illness. (Pray for me as I give up coffee – including decaf.)

Farewell, old friend.

Farewell, old friend.

My point is pretty simple. There will be times in our lives when we find ourselves on the losing side. Maybe we carried ourselves there, or maybe we were bound, gagged, stuffed in a trunk and delivered there. Maybe we went looking for a fight, or maybe the fight found us even though we were peacefully minding our own business. May we remember that we haven’t lost yet. For the times when we go to the losing side willingly, may we be strengthened by the indignation we bring there. May our twisted perfectly reasonable desire to poke the hornet’s nest with a stick serve to steel our courage and harden our resolve … for the times when we do not venture willingly to the losing side. For the time when we stumble upon the hornets nest and awaken its wrath. When those times happen – and as sure as the sun rises and sets, they will happen – we are going to need that courage and that resolve. We will be dependent on the strength and endurance that we’ve stored inside.

But when even that courage fails and that resolve fades and we can endure no more and we finally, at long last, turn our face to the sky in search of Another who can rescue us from the losing side, may we be greeted by an absence there. Instead, when we drop our heads under the weight of despair, may we feel His hand on our shoulder, and hear His voice gentle on our ear reminding us to “Follow me.”  After all, that has been His purpose for us from the beginning of time before there were even sides to choose and lines to draw, and it is a purpose that never changes no matter which side we’re on.

Wherever you are, always remember: you haven’t lost yet.

Sabbath Reflections: Week 7

Another early rise from the covers. Playing with my daughter while the day awakes. Rain in the trees. Spongebob in German (as always). Rattle of toys. Screeches from a delighted child. Hot chocolate and Cheerios. Buzz of television on the laptop. Nap time, with Andrew Peterson and Over the Rhine for lullabies. Hot shower and worn-out clothes. Scrubbing dishes like Brother Andrew. Knife-technique practice, and a colorful fruit salad the result. Chicken flecked with seasoning and Chex cereal. A side of mashed potatoes beaded with roasted garlic. Friends at the table, and moist cake. Celebration and conversation drawn in a web between us, like cans connected by strings. Steaming coffee and tea. Gathering to watch a squealing baby root around the floor on chubby legs that grow stronger each day. Returning to the story, feeling my way through it like a nocturnal hiker with a flashlight. Splashing in the baby bathtub. Powdered sugar, a diaper and pajamas. More Over the Rhine, and a Rich Mullins tune. Potato soup reheated and re-delicious. Laughing at Andy on Parks and Recreation. More writing. A surprise visit from a good good friend. Long, meandering dialogue that instigates yawns but refreshes like a cool breeze. Reflecting on it all and cherishing every minute.

Good night.