Beginning on June 6, I spent 10 days not logging onto Facebook. I didn’t set out to stop using the world’s most popular social network, but I was using a new computer and a new phone, neither of which had my password saved. Even as I continued, like an alcoholic reaching for the bottle, to hit Command-T, F, enter—the lightning-fast three-step keyboard pattern that opens up Facebook in a new browser tab—the soft barrier of entering a password was enough to remind me that I had better things to do on the internet.
I’m not the only one. As Will Oremus wrote last month, just 51 percent of U.S. teenagers say they use Facebook, down from 71 percent in 2015. The percent who say Facebook is their favorite social network has fallen from 41 percent in 2015 to just 10 percent today. And in the fourth quarter of 2017, the number of people using Facebook every day in North America fell for the first time.
It was easily the longest amount of time I had logged out of Facebook since I joined in 2006, and the team in Menlo Park did not let me forget it. The network sent me a series of bewildering emails—17 messages in nine days—to tell me exactly what I was missing. In the process, Facebook made a better argument for its own irrelevance than I ever could.
The messages, with specifics removed, went as follows:
June 8, 1:20 p.m. Eddie___ added a new photo.
June 8, 7:43 p.m. Eddie ___ added a new photo.
Eddie and I grew up together. I see him every now and then, though we haven’t talked in a few months. I am a little curious about what he’s up to, but two emails about a photo aren’t enough to get me back—it has only been 48 hours, after all. Little do I know: What is to come will, by comparison, endow these emails with the personal urgency of a deathbed secret from an old friend.
June 9, 12:41 p.m. 480 people like a post in your group _____.
On Saturday afternoon, Facebook lets me know there’s viral content happening in the transit meme group. But the email contains the post itself: “Traffic Advisory Alert: Turnpike is short for Turnpichael.” I am mildly amused, but if a pal had emailed just to send a joke, I’d expect it to be funnier than that.
June 9, 1:59 p.m. 88 people like a post in your group ____.
It has been scarcely more than 60 minutes since my last email from Facebook, but the social network is back to tell me that there’s a post in my college alumni group about a sports team. This would be an unacceptably boring conservation topic had a friend mentioned it over drinks; coming from a stranger in an email, it’s inexplicable.
June 10, 1:48 p.m. See what people are talking about in your group ____.
Lunchtime. Time to check my email and … see that a few dozen people have commented on a dumb article in the Atlantic. Love to read the comments.
June 10, 2:21 p.m. See what people are talking about in your group ____.
35 minutes later, Zuck’s brain trust is back with a hasty follow-up: 222 people have commented. Sounds like a hot topic, but I’ve got an appointment to watch paint dry.
Jun 10, 3:11 p.m. Rebecca ___ added a new photo.
I ran into Rebecca at a wedding a couple months ago, so I’m actually feeling pretty up-to-date on what she’s up to. In the email, Facebook tells me the photo has one like, from someone I don’t know.
June 11, 9:54 a.m. Jacob ___ added a new photo.
Jacob’s a former colleague and a great guy. I saw him a couple weeks ago and recently read something in his newsletter, though, so I figure I’ve had my fix for now.
June 12, 12:43 a.m. Travis ___ added a new photo.
It’s the middle of the night, and Facebook wants to know: “You up? How about a little late-night content from a guy on your soccer team who is the little brother of your colleague’s boyfriend?”
June 12, 12:35 p.m. 5 people like a post in your group ____.
Five likes. … Not exactly a hard sell from the world’s fifth-most valuable tech company.
June 13, 12:28 p.m. Henry, did you see Catherine ___’s comment on her status?
Mark, you know damn well I didn’t see Catherine’s comment.
June 13, 2:22 p.m. 603 people like a photo in your group _____.
It may be a sign of my lackluster social life on Facebook that this is the fifth email I’ve received about the activity in a single meme group. Catherine’s comment begins to look more and more tantalizing.
June 14, 1:15 p.m. Henry, did you see Joshua ____’s comment on his status?
At this point, I’ve come to expect it: Lunchtime rolls around and the data gurus in Menlo Park have cooked up a tasty dish in my inbox. The body of this email didn’t display what I’m sure was an electrifying update to my colleague’s post—but it did show that the post was made three days ago.
June 14, 3:36 p.m. Hallie ___ updated her status.
Oddly, this update arrived just eight minutes after Hallie—a former colleague who I haven’t seen in a couple years—sent me an email. I’m grateful for the reminder to respond.
June 15, 1:00 p.m. Elise shared ____’s video.
What’s Elise up to these days? I’m sure I won’t find out by watching a video that someone else made and she shared.
June 16, 1 p.m. 2 people like a post in your group ____.
Two people. Like a post. In a group. This was probably the least inviting email of all, but it also happened to be the last one: Later that day I was back on my old computer … and back, with a quick Command-T, F, enter, on Facebook.