Each year I choose a discipline to add to my life during the season leading up to Easter, known as Lent. For the last several years I have intentionally chosen to dump Facebook–that is, to not log onto the site and interact with people through it. Caveat: I continue to automatically post blog posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. I also periodically check to make sure that I am not missing any important messages. This year, I’ve done a pretty good job of steering clear of the vacuum of Facebook and I’ve experienced at least five benefits that have surprised me.
Each year as I enter Lent I wonder whether it’s really worth giving up Facebook. It seems like there’s very little cost to being on the site. In fact, as the number of people you know who are “on Facebook” increases it can almost seem like there’s more of a cost to giving it up!
All things considered, I’ve made some surprising discoveries about Facebook which have proven beneficial.
- Facebook will give you as much time I as you give it…and more. I have about 900 friends on Facebook, which means that once I jump down that rabbit hole I can spend an hour just skimming status updates.
- Facebook can be depressing. People often use Facebook to share their good news–engagements, new jobs, closing a big deal, a hot vacation, or a new car. Get one of these types of status updates in a day: great. Get a couple hundred and you start to think: what the heck is wrong with me? Aggregating stories of others’ affluence, professional competence, or other pieces of good news can actually be depressing. Why? At least in part because you don’t have access to the crap that lies beneath the surface in everyone’s life.
- Facebook needs to be managed. Just as in real time, there are people on Facebook who are just plain enervating. Their incessant banter about this topic or that gets on your nerves and drains you of energy. You have options: either “unfriend” them or “hide” their comments. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Facebook clutters your mental space and makes concentration harder. Honestly, I have used Facebook in different ways over the years (I’ve been “on Facebook” since 2005). While I was on sabbatical, I used it to connect with friends and to try to replace the community I had lost in stepping back from work relationships and student and faculty friendships. Prior to that, Facebook served two purposes: 1) it was an escape, and it was 2) a resource-gathering tool. Mostly, I’d work on some task I didn’t like (administration) and then as a reward spend some time “recovering” by going to Facebook. Often when there, given that I’m a learner, I’d discover some article, book, story that intrigued me. I’d explore it then or at a later time. This added mental stimulation often meant that I carried unfinished and unrecorded tasks through the day and, frankly, clogged up my mental bandwidth to do more important tasks. This gets back to the management element, it’s important to streamline and limit the information you take in from the internet. Too much information can be as paralyzing as too little.
Once Lent is over, I will return to Facebook with the proviso of placing boundaries on my usage. It’s likely, however, that on Shrove Tuesday 2014 I’ll be putting a status update on my Facebook account saying: “back in Easter!”