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July 6, 2014

Why I Deactivated my Facebook Account—& Keep Reactivating It.

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Let’s not deny it: Facebook has become an integral part of our lives.

We may go from posting five or more statuses per day, to being a passive observer who never posts, or logging in once in a blue moon to check our messages.

It’s integrated with our gadgets, smart phones, phone apps, cameras (with auto upload!) and always hanging out under the “share” widget on the top right corner of our favorite websites.

Even the quaint ma n’ pa bistros, exotic fair trade coffee shops, hipster thrift shops and remote natural landmarks that exude everything natural and un-facebooky have signs encouraging customers to take pictures and upload to their Facebook page.

Your place of employment most likely has a page moderated by a social media intern, PR strategist, whatever.

Facebook started as a networking tool for college students or high school graduates who no longer needed Sconex (does anyone remember that?).

It grew into a medium of maintaining casual and non-committal relations, into staying in touch with friends and family without the awkwardness of in-person interactions (how long are you supposed to make eye-contact?) and cultural normative-barriers (when and how will you ever speak to this person again?). Somehow, it irrevocably ballooned from a simple networking tool to something that encompasses a large part of modern interactions and marketing broadcasts.

Don’t get me wrong, there are immense benefits to this increasing social networking immersion in our lives:
we could all benefit from the perpetual connectedness and sharing of experiences, information, and resources, as well as the personal growth fostered by the online identities we cultivate.

We get to explore our interests, perspectives, abilities, and sense of identity through self-reflective and diary-esque posts.

Plus it’s a huge confidence-booster when your opinions and accomplishments (however embellished) are instantly validated by your Facebook peers.

But there’s a limit to how much we can benefit from it. There is a fragile, thin divide between over-reliance on Facebook and casual usage.

Studies show significant links between high usage of Facebook and depression, decreased life satisfaction, increased social comparison (when you evaluate yourself by comparing to others), and increased feelings of jealousy and isolation. I can personally attest to this correlation, coming from months of depression and episodes of self-deprecation, feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness, and a constant itch to log in and anxiously check for comments or likes.

It’s an addiction.

There’s even a classification of addiction called Facebook Addiction Disorder. It’s so real that addicted users experience withdrawal when they disconnect.

We internalize certain values, traits and accomplishments reflected in Facebook posts because they elicit instant reinforcement from our online peers. Tell me, how many times have you seen a status about running a marathon or Spartan/Warrior/Mudbath-whatever-crazy race “liked” and commented on all the way to the top of the newsfeed? Did it convince you to want to do the same thing?

Or, if you’re a starry-eyed Millennial ambitiously stepping into the workforce and you have friends on the same boat, how many times have you seen a status about someone getting a new job at a multinational investment conglomerate, highly regaled production company, etc. and felt a tinge of jealousy, regret and self-doubt?

How many times have you seen your fellow Millennial friends “checking in” from fine dining establishments post pictures of food you could possibly never afford—and felt ugly things about yourself and where you are in life?

It’s an echo chamber of a certain set of values, standards and expectations caught in a ceaseless, unmoderated feedback system. It’s spiraling out of control and creating a harmful culture of narcissism, overreliance on external validation, and overdependence of online interactions in lieu of in-person interactions.

In some cases, facebooking is more of a lifestyle than the user’s actual life:

So I quit.

I deactivated my Facebook account for two months.

It’s a two-step process, purposely intended to catch uncertain quitters and lure them back in—pictures of random friends blown up on the screen under the claim “your friends will miss you!” and being prompted to answer why you’re deactivating. Believe me, I’ve done this multiple times—it’s like a dysfunctional relationship with a needy, verbally-abusive partner who keeps luring me back in with false promises at the moment I put my foot down.

And I’ve been lured back, many times over, because my friendships were so thoroughly integrated with the Facebook world that I was becoming a hermit without it.

I didn’t have half of their cell numbers (strange, considering how often we messaged each other) and I wasn’t invited to 90% of birthday bashes, fun BBQs, movie nights. Even when I texted friends the conversations were either one-sided or had a tendency to peter out quickly.

Disconnecting from Facebook disconnected me from my social bubbles and friends, so many of whom were so vested in their social media lives that their physical and online existence have merged into one inseparable entity. And so have mine.

But one thing’s for sure, despite my nagging loneliness, deactivating my Facebook account allowed for much room in mental capacity and exploration of interests. Since I wasn’t mindlessly browsing my newsfeed every hour, I had so much free time to catch up on my reading list, to cook new dishes, to learn a new skill, to go outside and fully imbibe everything fed through my senses without the urgency to share that experience online.

Disconnecting granted “Me Time,” a gratifying isolation, a much-welcomed silence and stabilization in a rapid-paced society where we are persistently bombarded with information, marketing and arbitrary opinions and status updates.

However, I missed my friends. While I enjoyed allotting my free time to productive and enriching activities, I wanted to stay connected with friends, stay in touch, share and receive information, participate in friendly debates and inclusive jokes.

So I compromised.

I deactivate and reactivate my account when needed. I keep Facebook off my phone, off my “priorities” and will myself to read the news or a book during my commutes, after waking, and before sleeping.

For the most part, it’s inevitable to have some level of involvement in our Facebook accounts, especially when the majority of our social circles, culture, technology, and businesses are increasingly immersed in the social media platform.

So we must learn to make an active practice of differentiating our online and physical lives, to disconnect and connect when needed, and to clearly define our level of immersion.

Good luck and see you in the real world.

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Apprentice Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Travis May

Photos: Pixoto/Eugenio Marongiu

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Laura Bang