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.

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Merging

Ever want to follow a fellow motorist? You know, after they cut you off or box you in or speed up when you’re trying to pass them? Ever want to tail them all the way to their destination, step out of your car and simply ask them what offense you committed against him or her that such vehicular rudeness was warranted? I don’t know about you, but I find city and freeway driving nerve-wracking, not so much because of the potential for a wreck, but rather the subtle confrontations with other drivers.

When you stop to think about it, it seems ridiculous. As drivers, we all have one major thing in common: we’re all headed somewhere. Despite this bond, however, our arrogance materializes like a cartoon devil on our shoulder and whispers in our ear that our destination is far more important than the other persons’ in the car in front of us, and behind us, and two lanes over, and six miles ahead. Today, for instance, I found myself in rush hour in a far left lane that was turning into an “Exit Only.” I wanted to continue straight, so I turned on my blinker and checked my mirrors. There was a little bit of space to merge, but upon seeing my signal, the car behind me immediately sped up. I could tell as he drove past that he was upset; he was waving his hands and shaking his head and glaring into his rear-view. I was perturbed, and all I could think as I merged in behind him was, What did I ever do to this guy to make him so angry?

It’s hard not to recognize the surge of anger, resentment and distrust in our world today. It makes me wonder if human feeling always defaulted to this, or is such a reaction it learned? I believe that the majority of our world wants to come together – we want our governments to get along, we want our churches to get along, we want school kids to get along, we want our neighborhood to get along. The problem is, we are far more concerned with our frivolous, individual destinations, and ingrained upon our consciousness is the lie that everyone around us are speed bumps rather than fellow travelers on the same long road.

May we come to recognize and reject the lie. May we realize that, by and by, we’ll get to where we’re going, and all that will really have mattered is how well we merged with one another on the way.

Resolutions

My last post hinted that this was coming.

Almost every year, I feel compelled to make New Year’s resolutions. These commitments are usually more whim and spur-of-the-moment than carefully calculated. Jesus encourages even those who decide to follow him to “count the cost,” but rarely do I do so even when determining what behaviors, habits or vices I am endeavoring to change, whether from a spiritual standpoint or not.

And so, this year, like all the rest, I have a list of resolutions. I do not mean to approach them with complete pessimism, here on the first day of the new year. However, thirty years has shown me that human beings struggle with the concept of commitment, one way or another. And in light of my past failures, where my resolve faded into vapor and dissipated completely before the end of March, I find it difficult to expect much more from myself. Recent studies show that while more than 50% of people who make resolutions are confident in their commitment, only around 10-12% actually achieve the results for which they are hoping.

And yet, I will once again make my resolutions, and perhaps some of you unidentified readers may even check in on me from time to time, to see if I have been able to keep them. March will be a crucial month, only because to make it through that will mean that I have broken my previous record of commitment longevity.

Resolution #1 – Losing Ten Pounds – I’m not shooting the moon with this one, as I have been known to do in the past. Nor am I keeping the resolution ambiguous by simply resolving to “lose weight.” I have come to the point in my life, however, where I have moved past mild embarrassment to outright disgust of my weight. The ironic thing is, I have the exercise tools and the understanding necessary to make this happen, but hardly any willpower. So, this resolution hinges on coldly forcing myself to stick in a P90X DVD or lace up my running shoes when I return home from a long day of teaching, rather than my usual routine of crashing onto the couch like a plane full of soccer players into the Andes mountains.

Resolution #2 – Pray the Daily Office – At this stage of my life, I know it is probably beyond my ability to take up the discipline of an oblate, which is a commitment I hope to make and keep later in life. However, if I am completely honest with myself, it has been a very long time since I have experienced any fresh commitment and devotion to the God whom I serve as a missionary here in Germany. The reason for this, I believe, stems from the struggle I have with prayer. I have never been good at it. Don’t get me wrong, I can communicate with God, but continual, ritual prayer is something that I avoid, and I’m not sure why. I suspect it has something to do with the low esteem in which I hold myself (my inability to truly rest in God’s grace), and the pointlessness I feel most of the time when I pray. Nevertheless, I have a Book of Common Prayer and a special Daily Office prayer book, and, if necessary, I will view this spiritual exercise in much the same way as Resolution #1. I will force myself to remember the hours of prayer, at least Lauds and Vespers (morning and evening), if not Sext (noon). Why? Because I need to reconnect myself to, as Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of Scripture, “the unforced rhythms of grace.” Irony surfaces again, since it might take forcing myself to keep the Hours that I encounter the “unforced” grace of God.

Resolution #3 – Discipline My Writing – It is frustrating to know exactly what you want to do with your life, yet not have the time to do it even as a hobby. For me, if I could do one thing in this life, I would write. Unfortunately, one can choose either to write or to pay bills and provide for a family (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who is somehow able to carve out time to finish a major work, and then actually find a publisher willing to pay you for it). Right now, as an educator, free time is hard to come by, especially once I add Resolution #1. I know I will not always be teaching, but once I stop, I most likely will not be moving on to full-time writing as my vocation, because, as I have stated, I have a family to care for, and no one pays an unknown writer for writing. However, the kicker is not the lack of recognition; seriously, I can live without that. It is the lack of discipline I maintain when even attempting to write. I have maybe two hours a day – at most – to write, and that includes stealing one of my school planning periods. In this time, one question plagues me – what do I work on? I have multiple ideas, multiple projects, but no ability to choose. I’m the John Kerry of amateur writers. I flip-flop between stories every week. And, while I am overjoyed that my first child will arrive in May, I know that caring for him or her will significantly lessen my opportunity to sit down to keyboard and canvas. All in all, this is one resolution that I have no idea how to approach. All I know is that I have to figure out how to create my own committed rhythm in this realm of life as well.

Resolution #4 – Practice Spending More Time on My Family – The baby will be here in May, and with that, Leigh and I will officially begin a family that includes more members than just ourselves. However, I am terrible about spending enough time with Leigh, let alone this new child. I believe that what people tell me is true, that I will fall in love with this child and my life “will change.” However, one thing I know is that I have no idea how to be a husband and a father. I’ve had almost three years to practice the former and I’m pretty sure I’m not very good at it. And the latter is being thrust upon me, ready or not. Needless to say, I’m afraid of becoming even worse of a caregiver. Leigh needs attention, and not just because she is a woman. It is how she is wired. Unfortunately, my wiring reflects more of a loner mentality. I am perfectly fine with being alone. I do consider myself a writer, after all, and writing is a lonely craft. A writer has a creative mind, and because of this, he or she spends a lot of time rooting around in their minds, considering, pondering, musing. Most of the time, a writer is unaware that the or she has retreated into the mind. For a person who requires significant amounts of attention, being hitched to a writer is a difficult thing. I can’t imagine what it is like to be the newborn child of a writer. So, I have to figure out a system of checks so that I do not regress to alienating my wife or my child. This will directly challenge Resolution #3, which only goes to show that I do not expect to keep all of these resolutions. Let’s just hope the important ones win out.

Resolution #5 – Get Rid of the Anger – I have surprised myself over the last few years, and not in a good way. I have noticed that I react angrily and pettily to many things, even little things that do not deserve any focus whatsoever. I think Leigh and I both have a tendency to blow things (responses, questions, lazy statements) out of proportion, as do most people who forego paying attention to their integrity – that is, who they are and what they are about even when no one else is around. And yet, my anger has become something that I truly battle, even so much that I struggle with prayer because of a heavy sense of guilt at being so angry. I have to end this undertow of anger – to thinking and speaking out of bitterness and cynicism. This is perhaps the most difficult resolution of all, but perhaps the most important, even more than dropping those pounds.

So, here I go. I’ll revisit these in one year, and we shall see how successful 2010 turned out to be.