Dear Facebook: Thoughts on Our Time Apart

I’ve never been big on giving things up for Lent, even though as a former Catholic, it should be a part of my cultural heritage. Prior to this year, I’m pretty sure the last time I partook in this ritual was 2006, when I gave up coffee. Needless to say, it was a rough six weeks.

This year, I happened to be perusing Facebook on Ash Wednesday and came across a “goodbye” post stating that one of my friends would be returning to the News Feed after Easter. On a whim, at that exact moment, I decided to make the same decision. It would be good for me, I reasoned, to spend less time checking my device, to refrain from sharing my every random thought, to put less stock in the number of comments or “likes” each of my posts received. The timing worked; I would most likely be back on the ‘Book just in time for the arrival of baby number three.

After four-plus weeks of this experiment, here is what I have learned:

1) It’s a Good Thing I’m Not a Smoker. Why? Because I suck at quitting. I did really well for a week or two, then I started to slip here and there. I mostly blame this blog, because Facebook remains the best way to announce a new post, and I can’t resist reading my friends’ responses. After I had cheated once, it was easy to do it again, just a quick peek to see if I had any notifications. Still, I would estimate that during Lent I have spent about 95% less time on Facebook, and for me that is a giant success, all things considered.

2) The Fear of “Missing Something” is an Illusion… Mostly. On a Monday morning a few weeks ago, I walked into school and was nearly accosted by a student asking, “Did you see the black and blue dress?!?!” Backing away slowly, I responded that no, I had not. A little further up the hall, another student stopped me. “Is it black and blue, or is it white and gold?” I seriously thought I was being punked, but apparently this was a thing that not only middle school students, but normal, well-adjusted adults were talking about and debating. It was exactly the kind of nonsense that I was happy to miss out on during my Facebook sabbatical.

At the same time, there were some things that I genuinely did miss: exciting announcements, birthdays, entertaining anecdotes or cute family photos from my friends and acquaintances. I know what some of you might say- if you’re really friends with someone, you’ll keep in touch with them somewhere other than Facebook. The disappointing truth is, I can barely keep up with my immediate family and few closest friends the “old-fashioned” way. Yesterday I attempted to video chat with my sister and her kids, but the connection kept freezing and my own two troublemakers kept talking over their aunt and cousin. Even returning a text often takes a few hours to a day due to the distractions of home, work, and ankle-biters. Facebook is simply the most efficient way to find out what is new in the lives of the wide array of people with whom I am connected. It doesn’t matter if I’m related to you, if I know you well, if I haven’t seen you in ten years, or if we don’t even really talk that much when we see each other in person. If we’re friends on Facebook, I have at least a passing interest in what you have going on or what you have to say.

3) It’s Not Just About Me. Conversely, I didn’t realize, until I significantly cut back on Facebook, how much other people, particularly mine and Matt’s families, rely on Facebook for updates about us. My in-laws just happened to be out of the country on vacation for the past few weeks, and I got a text message from New Zealand: “We miss seeing pictures of the girls on Facebook. Send us some, please!”

4) I’m Not a Masochist. Now that I’ve broken the cycle of Facebook addiction and can cut my usage back from dozens of times a day to once every few days, I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. No, it’s not Easter yet, but I have a pretty emotional and stressful couple of weeks ahead of me as I finish out my career as a teacher, for now, at least, and prepare to become a mother of three. I may need to vent, and I definitely need all the support I can get. I think (and I’ll say a couple of prayers too) that God will forgive me for that.

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