7 things I learned from deactivating Facebook for 2 years

Two years ago, I deactivated Facebook after a residency I had in Philly. Mainly, I was burnt out from promoting the production on social media and I needed a break. I wrote a righteous little post about the joys of being off Facebook here.

It’s funny that I’m back on the platform. My friends know I’m so adamantly against it. I think I’m homesick for Philly enough that seeing my friends on Facebook lifts my spirits. And I’ve learned how to use social media in a way that works for me, so I’m not concerned about it taking over what matters to me. Here’s what I learned from being off Facebook for two(!) whole years:

1. How to protect my energy

Sometimes on digital platforms, whether it be email or social media, we lose our ability to be soft and compassionate with people when we disagree. Digital communication makes it easier to be polarized over disagreements. Ever had an argument in status comments with a friend of a friend or an acquaintance you lost touch with? It’s an unfortunate habit. Words on a screen are the tip of the iceberg of a person’s context, life experience, worldview. In my opinion, engaging a conflict only makes sense if I have a relationship or shared project/community with the person. If we’re not actively sharing a community or vision, it’s more likely that we won’t cultivate mutual understanding and a generative way forward. Digital disagreements usually foster agitation and defensiveness.

2. How to budget my attention

Social media is designed to be addictive. Because of the sensory experience of newsfeed, the refresh feature, endless scrolling, sounds and colored, animated flags with our notifications, it’s easy for hours to go by passively consuming without a focus. And isn’t capitalism all about passive consumption? I recently set a time reminder on my Instagram, so that I can avoid using it for more than an hour a day. My working plan is to only check Facebook once a week. If anything is time sensitive, people who need to get in touch with me can contact me directly. There are other things I’d like to do, like read, take naps, develop projects, cook, listen to podcasts, rest, dream.

3. How to detox digitally

One of the most beneficial books I read this year was The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. If you’re not familiar, it’s kind of like a 12 week workbook with tasks, prompts, practices, and inspiration designed to give you a deeper spiritual connection with your creativity. It’s effective and I highly recommend it. This book was written in the 90s-one of the weekly tasks is to abstain from all reading. Cameron talks about the ways newspapers and magazines can be distracting, and challenges the reader to reflect more abstractly without so much constant stimuli. I interpreted this as a social media fast. Facebook especially loves clickbait articles, candid time lapse videos, and provocative screenshots of tweets. Social media likes reaction. There is more spaciousness to be a human apart from the digital pollution of content curated in algorithms for us as if it was fast food.

4. The commodification of digital data

In the recent documentary The Great Hack (available on Netflix), it tells the story of the advent of social media advertisements for political campaigns. In recent years, data became more valuable than oil. In a nutshell, collecting data for targeted advertising through social media is what gave us the outcome of the 2016 election.

5. Being present with discomfort

Vaguebook anyone? Status and story updates make it so easy to proclaim to dozens of people in an instant that something is the matter. I’m guilty of this, especially in my Instagram stories. More recently, I have been trying to sit with feelings of tension and restlessness before posting about it on social media. To use mediation, journaling, or a phone call with a trusted friend (or therapist in some cases) when I experience restlessness or personal crisis/heartache.

6. I can set any boundaries I need, no questions asked

I especially feel this way when I have lost touch with people and the connection no longer exists. No one is entitled to the details and process of my life. Plain and simple. This also includes boundaries for work. Sometimes people really need their social media to be used to share their personal life with their loved ones.

7. Relationships built IRL are the strongest

None of the artists I admire the most became successful by building their social media presence and following. All of the artists I admire the most have thousands of connections by actually doing the work in their communities. People who are bad at social media or are often some of the best to be around. I’ve always noticed a particular energy of clarity, creativity, and well cultivated imagination with artists who limited their social media use or abstained from it altogether. I also think about how some of the strongest relationships in my life were cultivated entirely offline. There was no newsfeed to passively hide behind, we actually did real and beautiful work of discovering each other, asking about our day to day, and building at the pace of trust.

Social media is a tool. It’s not an end in itself. By cultivating a connection with those you love and showing up for what you’re passionate about IRL, life will feel satisfying and balanced. I’m glad to be back on Facebook with more clarity, boundaries, and more grounded sense of my time commitments and priorities. With my newfound focus and self care strategies, I think it will be a lot more fun to use! There are so many wonderful people from around the country now that I’m excited to keep on touch with after a full season of travel and relocating.

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