4 days without Facebook

I never thought of myself as someone with an addictive personality. I tend to get really excited about things — hobbies, television shows, fashion trends — for a short period of time and then get bored of them relatively quickly. I'm an absent-minded perfectionist, a picky consumer of culture, a bit slow on the trend uptake, but an addict I am not. I thought about this a lot around the time I got my first iPhone a couple of years ago, a couple of years behind most of my friends. The great thing about the iPhone, everyone said, was that you could have all of your social media in one place, at your beck and call whenever you wanted to look. I didn't understand at the time why that was such a plus; I didn't spend all that much time on Facebook or Twitter, and had never used Instagram. I wouldn't be one of those people constantly glancing down at their phones, I swore.

I was, of course, wrong. It didn't take long before I got a rush of adrenaline (and likely oxytocin) whenever a little red notification popped up, and I eventually found myself mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed in particular even when I knew there was nothing new or interesting to see. I sometimes felt that I had "FOMO," Fear Of Missing Out, or just that I needed a distraction, even when all I was doing was watching a movie or eating dinner or, I'm ashamed to say, working.

So do I have an addictive personality after all? I'm not sure. Is there something about social media — and Facebook in particular — and the way feeds are curated and participation rewarded that keeps people, whatever their disposition, coming back for more, even when it's counterproductive? I think so.

This past week, anyone who uses Facebook likely saw a phenomenon that has become commonplace in the world of social media in the wake of a disaster or tragedy or other headline-making event. Facebook posts and interactions in the wake of the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown could (and probably will) be studied by social scientists, psychologists, political scientists and anthropologists alike. I have conflicting feelings about the necessity and efficacy of discussing things like this on Facebook. On one hand, Facebook is the main form of communication for a lot of people, and can provide an opportunity for exposure to information and opinions one might not otherwise encounter. On the other hand, people are already prone to digging their heels in on issues of politics and morality, and there's a lot of convincing evidence (anecdotal, but scientific as well) that sitting behind a computer screen with the ability to type anything and the feeling that something must be typed immediately and often does not bode well for conversation about anything, let alone issues as controversial and multi-layered as what has happened and continues to happen in Ferguson. There's also evidence that it makes us depressed. I was starting to believe that last bit.

So on Wednesday, as I was wrapping up my work before the holiday weekend, I used one of my Facebook detours to post a message that said I would be leaving for a while. (We could probably have a separate discussion entirely about why I felt the need to do that, and whether anyone cared, but that's for another post.) I also deleted the Facebook app from my phone. It's now Sunday afternoon, and I haven't been on Facebook since.

It's been relatively easy so far, since I've been spending time with family, Christmas shopping and relaxing, but I've also noticed some major changes. I feel calmer. I feel less anxious, which for me is really saying something. I feel like I am sleeping better. My blood pressure is lower (at least according to my at-home testing cuff.) I've been more productive, even in "vacation mode." And I don't find myself with FOMO at all. The friends I care the most about have stayed in touch via text message, I've kept up with news via Twitter (which doesn't have the same addictive effect on me, for various reasons), and I generally feel happier.

Facebook has made an effort to interrupt my break, though. Yesterday I got an email letting me know that I had 18 "notifications." This isn't actually true; I have notification emails turned off. The email was really a sneaky way to try to get me to come back to the site to see what I'd "missed" over the last few days. I resisted.

But it's only Day 4. Stay tuned for an update.