Nearly every day for the past decade or so, I have spent at least a few minutes mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. No longer: Last week, I deactivated my account.
The fallout from this has so far been exactly zero. I don’t feel particularly better or worse. Just a little delighted that it was so painless.
I wish I could say I was motivated by a principled stand against the tech giant’s role in the spread of misinformation, or in the hollowing out of the media industry, but the truth is I wasn’t getting any value from the platform, and I finally realized that. Fewer and fewer of my friends use Facebook regularly. The algorithm is so gummed up that it kept showing me stuff I didn’t care about while failing to consistently highlight life updates from those whom I did care about. And I kept learning of such updates through other channels first, anyway.
Facebook had instead become a kind of stress ball, or maybe a cigarette, something that I engaged with instinctively when I was bored or sad or waking up in the morning or waiting for the subway or finishing up filing a story at work. But it was worse than that, because it was a stress ball or cigarette that also kept serving me ads for things I’d already clicked on, and kept siphoning my energy to what the Atlantic’s Julie Beck describes as vestigial friends—people who aren’t in your life anymore, except via this platform you use constantly.
Vestigial is a beautiful descriptor, but it is perhaps too generous: If your appendix is removed, for instance, you’ll probably notice. If any of my vestigial friends noticed or cared about my absence, I have not been informed. If anyone who is actually friends with me cares, I have not been informed of that either. The same shrug goes for Facebook’s other benefits and aggressive life overreach. I haven’t been stymied from logging into a single website. I do anticipate having to build my Airbnb account from scratch, but Facebook-free setups are becoming increasingly common—Tinder, for example, now allows you to sign up with just a phone number. And when an acquaintance had a birthday a few days ago, LinkedIn stepped in to remind me, though I remain not quite close enough to her to say anything!
I’ve deactivated—which is easier and feels safer than full-on deleting—twice before, self-righteously hibernating an account circa 2011, eager to get some space from what felt like a constant obligation to engage with so many people online, only to make a new one within days. I made that account dormant circa 2014, after Dave Eggers’ dystopian take on an internet tech company, The Circle, resonated a little too well.* I managed to stay away for a little while longer. But I still felt like I was leaving a party to go sit in a broom closet. I was back within several weeks. This time, I think (I hope!) my need for Facebook has evaporated. My most robust networking groups have transferred to Slack. My extended family has figured out group messaging. It’s all upside: I no longer feel the same guilt I used to feel after spending 20 minutes doing nothing but scrolling on the toxic platform.
Not that I can claim any modicum of superiority. As Slate’s April Glaser has pointed out, the ability to walk away from the connection offered by the platform is itself a privilege. Plus I haven’t even really managed to walk away from the company. I’ve merely folded my few minutes of daily Facebook attention into my other burgeoning obsession—Instagram, which Facebook owns. Which is also a cigarette–stress ball. But at least I enjoy it.
Correction, Feb. 5, 2019: This piece originally misspelled Dave Eggers’ last name.