30-Day Facebook Fast

It’s been about 30 days since I quit Facebook, so I wanted to share an update on what that’s been like. Many others also quit the service last month, and many more are on the fence as to whether they should do the same.

Here are some realizations I’ve had as a result of leaving Facebook after 2+ years as an active user. I’m sure some of these realizations can be generalized to social networking as a whole, but I’m going to focus mainly on my personal experience with Facebook. I can’t guarantee you’ll find much overlap between my realizations and your experiences, but I’m sure some people will see similar patterns.

Facebook communication is mostly low-priority noise.

When I dropped Facebook, I noticed that the communication volume in my life dropped significantly. However, I felt no drop in the level of significant and meaningful communication. What I seemed to lose was mostly a lot of noise.

Generally speaking, communicating via Facebook is a shallow experience. You read streams of brief messages from a variety of people, but the messages don’t contain much depth. Most are trivial and mundane. Some are clever or witty. Very little of the information you’ll digest on Facebook is memorable and life-changing. Using Facebook can still give you a feeling of connectedness, but the long-term benefits are negligible.

Facebook essentially gives you the emotional sense that you’re doing something worthwhile (i.e. connecting with people), but when you step back and look at your actions and results from a more objective perspective, it becomes clear that you’re really just spinning your wheels.

Consequently, when I dropped Facebook, I let go of a lot of trivial communication, but I don’t have the sense that anything truly valuable has been lost.

Impulse sharing comes with a price.

In the weeks after quitting Facebook, I still felt the urge to share certain things with my online “friends”. I’d have a clever thought and feel, I should post this. Or I’d take a really cool photo and think, I ought to share this.

In the past I’d have shared those tidbits out of habit. Then I’d check back in later and read through a few dozen comments people left. And there would be a little emotional reward in having that sense of connection.

But without the option to impulse-share during the past 30 days, I allowed those feelings to come and go without acting on them. I noticed that there was a consequence to sharing in real-time. I wasn’t being very present in the moment. While things were happening around me, I was off thinking about my online posse and what I might wish to share with them.

When I stopped acting on the desire to impulse-share, I become more present to what I was doing in the moment. Instead of being distracted by thoughts of connecting with people at a distance, I did a better job of connecting with the people right in front of me. I felt more immersed in my experiences. That was a subtle change at first, but it feels good.

During the past two years, I’d often feel obligated to share frequent updates with my online “friends”, most of whom I’d never met in person. If I didn’t post an update for a while, some would complain. If I shared something cool, people would thank me for it.

Now that I’ve been rolling back this conditioning, I can see what a dead end it’s been. I allowed social media to condition me to behave a certain way, but it’s not a conscious choice I would have made otherwise. So it’s nice to regain conscious control over this part of my life.

Even after 30 days, the desire to impulse-share is still there, but it’s growing fainter, replaced by a growing desire to “be here now,” fully present in what’s going on in front of me. I still like sharing, but it’s better to do so thoughtfully instead of impulsively.

Friends lose their individuality and become part of a collective.

Facebook compacts so much communication into a single stream, and this can have a depersonalizing effect. As I continued to use the service to interact with people en masse, I gradually began thinking of my online friends as a network, stream, or blob, as opposed to valuing each person as a unique individual.

When I’d post a status update, who was the intended recipient? Which friend was I updating? In truth I wasn’t sharing with anyone in particular. I was simply sharing with the collective.

If I posted something on a friend’s wall, I wasn’t just communicating with that friend. I was communicating with their posse too. If I used the private messaging feature, it was just one message among dozens. Friends were becoming like interchangeable drones.

One thing that surprised me was just how few of my Facebook friends I actually missed when I left the service. It was difficult to think of my old Facebook friends as individuals. They were all just part of the collective whole. When I unplugged from the collective, it wasn’t like I’d lost any individual friends. I can barely remember the names of all the people I used to connect with there. I’d already lost the ability to distinguish Third of Five from Seven of Nine.

Dropping Facebook wasn’t at all like disconnecting from hundreds of individual friends. I didn’t miss anyone in particular because my Facebook experience was like connecting with a collective. I noticed the absence of the collective when I left, but I didn’t miss it per se.

The exception is that if I knew specific Facebook friends from real life, meaning that we’d met in person and had at least one good conversation together, then I could still see them as individuals. But I don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with those people anyway, so I didn’t feel like I was losing any of these connections by dropping Facebook.

I realize this might sound rather strange, but it’s the best I can explain it. My Facebook page was maxed out at 5K friends and was very active. If I’d only had 50-100 friends, then it might not have felt like I was interacting with a collective.

The feeling that I was interacting with a collective began to feel rather creepy, as you might imagine. I’m glad to be off of Facebook, since I really don’t wish to be assimilated. It’s nice not to feel like there’s an endless stream of other people’s thoughts flowing through my mind all the time. I can hear my own thoughts once again, and they’re a lot more relaxed and coherent.

Facebook creates a false and unsatisfying sense of socializing.

I’m somewhere between an introvert and an extrovert. As a child I was very introverted. In kindergarten I was the kid who played in the sandbox all by himself. I don’t think I was lonely. I just found sand toys more interesting than people.

As I aged, however, I gradually became more extroverted. Partly this was by choice. I pushed myself to develop my social skills and to embrace what I once avoided.

It’s said that you’re an introvert if you recharge your batteries while being alone, and you’re an extrovert if you recharge in the company of others. That metaphor doesn’t seem to work for me though. I prefer balance, usually by taking turns. If I spend a lot of time alone, I feel a strong desire to go out and be social. But after a very social week, I feel the desire to retreat back to my cave and enjoy more solitary time.

Being active on Facebook had the effect of filling my social bucket. But it was essentially a false fill, like drinking salt water instead of fresh water. Instead of providing a real sense of connection that satisfies, it made me think I was out there being social, but I’d still be “hungry” afterwards. Facebook activity could never recharge my batteries in the way that face to face interaction could.

When I dropped Facebook, I began feeling genuinely more social when I’d go out. Even when running errands, I’d notice myself chatting and joking around with people more often. When I was active on Facebook, I wouldn’t do that as much because I had the false sense that I was being social by interacting with my online posse.

Facebook is computer interaction, not human interaction.

The reality of using Facebook is that you’re just typing and viewing insignificant bits of information on a digital device (computer, cell phone, iStuff, etc).

The next time you use such a service, pause for a moment and do a reality check. What are you actually doing? Who’s with you? How is this advancing your life? What if you do this for 20 more years? What do you expect to gain from it?

You can call it social networking, but it’s not really a social experience if you’re actually alone sitting at a computer. Real socialization is face to face.

There’s a tremendous richness to in-person socialization that just doesn’t translate over the Internet, at least not yet.

A ***hug*** isn’t a real hug. A smiley isn’t a real smile. All you’re doing is pushing buttons.

I’ll go so far as to say that Facebook isn’t social networking. It’s anti-social retreating.

If you want to disagree with me about this, you’ll have say it to my face. If you try to tell me off by typing something on a digital device, you’re only proving me right. Evil, I know.

A friend isn’t necessarily a “friend”.

I can be friendly with people from all walks of life, but when it comes to which people are most compatible as my long-term friends, the Facebook pool isn’t a good fit for the kinds of lasting friendships I really wish to cultivate.

The main issue is the age difference. Most of my Facebook friends were in their 20s. I’m sure that’s a big part of the service’s demographic. It’s also a big part of my blog’s readership, and many of my articles are targeted to the needs of that age group. I already have many friends in their 20s, but if I draw too many of my friends from this pool, it comes with a price.

I can relate to what it’s like to be a 20-something these days, so I’m able to be a friend to someone in that age group, but it’s rare that such people are able to be a good friend to me. They simply don’t have the life experience to give the kind of value I gain from a good friendship.

In your 20s it’s common to do a lot of soul-searching and experimenting to figure out what to do with your life. To get the career part of your life going well, you basically have to figure out 4 things: (1) what you can do to earn a good income, (2) what skills and talents you can develop to a high degree, (3) what you enjoy doing, (4) what you can contribute. It takes some effort to figure these out. Then it takes more effort to massage yourself into the area of intersection, such that you can earn a good income doing what you love and what you’re good at, and thereby make a meaningful contribution too. Most of the 20-somethings I know are still struggling to figure this out, so they can’t be of much help to me in working on what lies beyond this.

I like having younger friends. They help me stay young at heart, and they help me keep my thinking from becoming stale. Their needs and concerns provide me with an endless supply of ideas. But I also need older, more experienced friends, especially people in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. I gain so much from their wisdom and knowledge. Having the right balance is key. Otherwise you become socially stagnant, and the sparkle drains from your social life. Instead of appreciating your friends, you start taking them for granted. I noticed I was beginning to fall into this trap last year, so I knew it was time to shuffle the deck and rebalance this part of my life.

The problem with Facebook is that it greatly unbalanced the social part of my life, skewing it in the direction of spending lots of time with people nearly half my age. This dragged my thinking backwards in terms of maturity. When I dropped Facebook, my social life began to rebalance itself automatically. This is causing other positive ripples as well. Many problems are easier to solve when you approach them with a 40-something’s discipline or a 50-something’s patience as opposed to a 20-something’s youthful energy.

Ask yourself what your life would be like if 80-90% of your social interactions were with people roughly half your age. Can you see how that might unbalance your social life?

For many years this has been a challenging part of my life to balance. It took a while to recognize and accept that my online “friends” and my best in-person friends come from different pools and move in different circles.

Most of my Facebook “friends” wouldn’t have been very compatible as in-person friends. We wouldn’t have had enough in common to develop a particularly deep friendship, and the interactions would have been too unbalanced. So it seems odd to refer to them as friends in the same way I’d refer to my in-person friends.

I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t just fill up my social bucket with an endless supply of 20-something friends and expect good results, even if they’re very intelligent, growth-oriented, open-hearted 20-somethings. This kind of imbalance happens by default when I leave too many doors and windows open since the bulk of my online readership is in their 20s. If I allow too many of my typical readers to become my friends, my social life becomes unbalanced and stagnant, even as it maintains the illusion of freshness. It took a long time to recognize that this was happening.

In order to rebalance this part of my life, I’ve had to deliberately close some of those accessible avenues, such that I can spend more time connecting with people who can add serious value to my life and help me keep growing (peers, mentors, etc). I like having some 20-something friends, but I can’t have hundreds of them. So that’s one reason Facebook really had to go — using Facebook was a lame attempt on my part to expect that my peers would come from the same pool as my readers.

Facebook is ruled by addicts.

This is probably obvious, but the Facebook “friends” that you’ll interact with most frequently will tend to be those who are the most addicted. They post more status updates and comments because they spend a lot of time on the service. So you end up giving the most attention to those who are the greatest addicts.

In short, you end up spending the most time interacting with the people who are the worst influences — highly unproductive people who don’t value their time. This can have many adverse effects, such as causing you to become more addicted to the service and to feel the urge to post more often just for the sake of posting.

If your strongest connections on Facebook are the most addicted, how is that going to influence you over time? The closer you become with those people, the more you’ll get sucked into spending more time on the service.

After I left Facebook, I asked myself, Should I really be giving so much attention to the greatest social networking addicts?

While even the biggest addicts can be very intelligent, helpful, and growth-oriented, their addiction tends to sap their ambition, causing them to make little forward progress in life. It should come as no surprise that many of these people are financially stagnant. It’s hard to improve your finances when you devote so much time to non-income generating activities each day.

When I dropped Facebook, I also dropped off the radar of some of the biggest social networking addicts. I’m no longer subject to their influence, which was probably stronger than I’d care to admit. Breaking free of this cycle was a wise choice. I should have done it sooner.

Facebook is lazy socialization.

Social networking makes it easy to become socially lazy. With a few clicks, you can delude yourself into thinking you have an active social life.

But is that the real story? Are you enjoying some intelligent face time with these friends? Or are you merely exchanging witty banter? Do you deeply value these friendships? Are you having the social experiences you desire? Or are you just wasting time clicking and typing and telling yourself you’re being social?

What else could you be doing instead of social networking?

You could go dancing or see a show with your boyfriend or girlfriend. No one special in your life? Wonder why… A person with halfway decent social skills can change that in a day. Has the Internet become your social hiding place? Does the thought of going outside and socializing with strangers make you anxious? If so, you can overcome that weakness with practice.

You could have a nice chat with a wealthy mentor about how to improve your finances. No wealthy friends? Think you’re going to meet them on Facebook?

It’s a good idea to pause and take a look at your social results. Has social networking transformed your life for the better? Has it helped bring empowering relationships, valuable contacts, and intelligent mentors into your life? Or does it leave you drifting in a sea of social drifters?

I found that spending more time on Facebook didn’t produce much value for me socially. I did make some interesting contacts now and then, but it wasn’t worth the time spent.

It’s true that in-person networking is more challenging. If your social skills are weak, you can pretend to be a social butterfly online just by throwing a lot of time at it. But you’re still going to be limited in the long run by your ability to connect with people face to face. Make sure you don’t let your social skills atrophy to the point where you end up spending more and more time alone, vainly trying to feed the illusion that you have a real social life.

Be sure to keep challenging yourself socially. If you only do what’s easy, you’ll grow weaker with each passing year.

Facebook is an expensive way to increase visibility.

I know there’s a great deal of hype about the business value of social networking. Much of that hype is circulated by those who are trying to make money from it. Be wary of taking advice about gold from those who make a living selling picks and shovels.

From a business standpoint, one supposed benefit of social networking is that it can raise your visibility. Raising your visibility is great. If you’re more visible (among the right people), you can attract more business. That part is all good.

But not all visibility-raising methods are the same. If you use Facebook to raise your visibility, it comes with a hefty price. As you raise your visibility, you also increase your accessibility.

For example, if you have a Facebook page, then you also have an inbox. At this time Facebook makes it impossible to disable the inbox. People can email you there. People I’d never met would email me on Facebook each day. Why? Because they could. Facebook made it easy for them to do so. They didn’t need my permission. Facebook would even let non-friends email me whenever they felt like it. Maybe that’s a bug, but that’s how it worked from my perspective.

If you have a Facebook page with a wall on it, then people can post comments on your wall. If you have a fan page, someone can “like” your fan page, spam your wall, and then “unlike” your fan page, and it’s impossible to ban them from repeated abuse. You just have to deal with it.

At low numbers, more accessibility isn’t so bad. Maybe you’d like the chance to communicate with more people. That’s all fine.

At higher numbers, the visibility-accessibility linkage becomes untenable. The more visible you are on Facebook, the more people have access to interact with you in some way, whether it’s by sending you private messages, posting messages on your wall, or inviting you to events and groups. Beyond a certain point, this kind of contact becomes impractical to deal with in any meaningful way.

I like that Facebook may have helped to increase my visibility by introducing people to my work who might otherwise never have learned about it. However, the price tag for that gain in visibility is a corresponding increase in accessibility. That price turned out to be way too high for me. I like helping people, but I can’t serve as a personal friend and therapist to thousands of individuals. That isn’t a sustainable way for me to contribute.

When I dropped Facebook, I breathed a major sigh of relief. In a way I’m still sighing 30 days later. It really is a great relief not to be so accessible anymore. I finally feel like I have the space to think about what I desire to contribute of my own accord instead of feeling overwhelmed with an endless flood of requests from others. The visibility gains that Facebook provides just aren’t worth the price. There are much easier and more effective ways to build visibility that don’t yield an accessibility penalty, such as doing interviews.

What About Twitter?

As for my Twitter account, the jury’s still out, but for now I’m still using it. (Update 2014: Not anymore)

Twitter doesn’t create the same accessibility problem because by following zero people there, I’m not forced to have an inbox on the service. Even if I did have an inbox, it wouldn’t be bad because people could only send 140-character messages. But I find it best not to have an inbox there at all, so I never need to worry about people expecting me to reply to their direct messages. A few people apparently consider it poor Twitter etiquette to have thousands of followers and not follow anyone back. I don’t lose any sleep over it.

Occasionally I’ll skim through the public messages that people address to me, especially if I posted a question for feedback purposes, but I normally don’t pay much attention to the @stevepavlina replies since they’re mostly re-tweets of my own stuff. So if you tried to get my attention by publicly posting a message to me on Twitter, there’s a good chance I never saw it.

For now I’m okay using Twitter for posting broadcast-style messages because Twitter doesn’t force upon me the scaling headaches that Facebook does. If I double my Twitter followers, the service doesn’t require me to spend any more time there to keep my account tidy.

I nuked my Linkedin account at the same time I left Facebook. Linkedin is supposed to be a business networking service, and I had about 350 contacts there, but I always found that service utterly useless, so it was a no-brainer to dump it.

Try a 30-Day Facebook Fast

If you have any doubts about your own Facebook usage, I highly recommend you to try a 30-day Facebook fast.

It’s easy to do this because Facebook lets you (temporarily or permanently) deactivate your account without deleting your data. So if you decide you want to go back to using it later, you can always log back in again, and everything can be restored with a few clicks, including your wall, photos, etc.

As for the how-to, all you do is login to your Facebook account, and click Account -> Account Settings. Then at the bottom of that page, click “deactivate.” Follow the instructions from there. This won’t delete your data, but it will take your profile offline. You’ll become invisible on the service. To restore it later, just login again and click a similar link to bring it back.

If you really want to stay in touch with certain people from Facebook who don’t already have an alternate means of contacting you, you can send them a private message before you deactivate your account to let them know how to reach you during your hiatus.

I’m a big advocate of testing. If you’re an active Facebook user, and you go 30 days without it, you’ll gain a much clearer understanding of its role in your life. In my case it was obvious within a few days that the benefits I got from using it weren’t worth the effort, but there were other subtleties I didn’t notice until weeks later.

This is your life. It’s up to you to ensure that you’re getting good value from your online activities. Don’t just go through the motions because you’ve been conditioned by some service to behave a certain way.

As for myself, I’m sure it’s obvious that I have no plans to return to Facebook. Resistance is NOT futile.

*** hugs *** 🙂