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This past November, I reentered the world of Facebook, almost a year after deactivating my account.
There’s something about the month of November—I first joined Facebook in November of 2009, well after almost everyone I knew had taken the plunge. When I complained to my cousin that I didn’t know one of his kids had done something momentous, he teased, “I posted it on Facebook.”
FOMO finally got me. I set up my account and spent the next couple hours frenetically sending friend requests to people from all chapters and segments of my life. It was quite intoxicating to reconnect with people I had completely lost track of. I made sure to only accept friend requests from people I actually knew. In my mind, Facebook was just an expansion of an already healthy social life.
At the end of November 2020, after wrapping up my 30 days of gratitude posts, I deactivated my account. I had several reasons to need a break from Facebook, but the main one was that it had become a time suck. I had a book to write and the pandemic was unsettling me in ways I did not need amplified through Facebook. My efforts to be the kind of friend I like to be translated into lots of worried scrolling and commenting sympathetically every time someone posted something distressing.
Last month, I reactivated my account. I have been cautiously reentering the real world as well, so reconnecting through Facebook seemed like another good step. I finished my book and have been advised I need to build my platform, whatever that means. Facebook offers an opportunity to connect with other writers and potential book buyers.
After about a month back in Facebookland, I have come up with three lessons I learned during my time off:
Everybody posts for different reasons.
I previously limited my Facebook contacts to those people I actually know. When I first joined back in November of 2009, I was excited to reconnect with people from whom I had previously become disengaged. I wanted to know what they were up to, how their families were, how their jobs were—all the things that interested me about them in the first place.
It was rather disconcerting, then, when some of my friends only posted videos, memes, or other content not original to them. I enjoyed and “liked” these posts for the first week or so, but after time, I struggled with how to respond. That’s when I found the “unfollow” or “snooze” feature.
While on my vacation, it occurred to me that, for some people, posting these kinds of things is a way for them to express themselves. That’s all—no more, no less. And the lesson for me is that I don’t need to react in any sort of way, if I don’t feel like it. Along with unfollowing or snoozing, I can simply scroll by something that bugs me.
Pushing content is hard work.
I recently read that a post lives on Facebook for 2.5 hours. It’s 48 hours for Instagram and only 18 minutes for Twitter. Then there are those darned algorithms. I don’t understand how they work, nor do I care to. When I started promoting my writing, I noticed that if I reposted the same content, the same people would react. I have had to start being more strategic about when I post something. And, if I want to see a wider variety of friends’ posts, I need to log on more than once a day. I also have to accept that photos of my dogs are always going to get more hits than posting a link to a blog post or an article I’ve written. The test will be if I can use them more as clickbait for the actual thing I’m trying to promote. Stay tuned…
Real friendships actually take effort.
While my vacation from Facebook allowed me to focus on writing, it also strengthened those friendships that could stand on their own without being propped up through social media. Facebook is an easy way of staying “in touch” without actually expending a ton of time. Real relationships require care and feeding in the form of direct communication.
I remember last November when the pandemic forced us into lockdowns and limited Thanksgiving contact to members of our own households. My household of one plus dogs felt glorious. For the most part, I didn’t mind. I do solitary really well. But when friends started to reach out suggesting FaceTime happy hours and afternoon gab sessions, I found myself feeling really grateful.
Bottom line? The break did me good. It helped me reconfigure myself and my expectations for a medium that, at its best can bring us together and at its worst, can tear us apart. We all have the power to choose how we interact with Facebook…and with each other.