Leaving Facebook

On freedom from my past self, unfulfilling distractions, and shallow connections.

This post is not intended to persuade anyone to follow me. I find it very annoying when people who are not active on Facebook boast about not being active on Facebook, that they are somehow above the mainstream or whatever. This post is just to explain my process in coming to the decision to leave.

I will be deactivating my FB account indefinitely in a few days. I tried just cleaning out some things from the past, but it proved too unwieldy. 10+ years of content is just too much. It helped that in the past 3-4 years, my activity dropped significantly, but still, I just couldn't do it all.

My past FB persona

In my initial attempt to cleanse, I noticed a few things about my FB persona over time:

  • high school was largely posts complaining about finals, being wistful for Encounter, terribly pixelated pictures and videos, and my friends and me loving each other (plus a little bit of being a dirty Republican)
  • (half of) college was posts with emo music lyrics, being embarrassingly in love or depressed, Japan/Japanese language adventures, general Asian shit, philosophizing about religion, grappling with my identity as a Catholic while being fascinated with Buddhism and other religions, complaining about long readings and finals, cleaning my room to procrastinate on homework, being terrible at the GRE, being irresponsible with video games, running, insecurity disguised as humble brags, eating poorly, slowly awakening the feminist and dirty liberal inside, assuming I wanted to be a teacher or professor because I absolutely adored my teachers and professors and wanted to be like them, eventually discovering that I had no patience for teaching, and my friends and me loving each other
  • seeing how FB handled legacy post/reply formats with their evolving code base is amusing and confusing
  • the lonelier or more insecure I was, the more I posted (to attract mates or attention? to vainly fill a void?)

I'm grateful that my friends--especially my much more mature ones (teachers and professors)--who are still my friends, are still my friends. The ones who aren't, god I don't blame them.

Me and my current FB persona

After this experience, it's amazing to reflect on how much I have grown. I am much more private, am less concerned about maintaining difficult[1] relationships, have lost most of my Japanese (so sad), run more slowly but farther, eat much better (or too much), have a husband, am a passionately intersectional feminist, and am a software developer. I philosophize less about religion, perhaps because I feel grounded there at this point, and more about social issues, because the more people who talk about these issues, the more our world can transform for the better. I am still an otaku but more tempered. I have lost connections and made new ones with dear friends over time. I miss the connections I lost, but recognize that they lived brightly in the time that was right. I have tried to rekindle some of them, but sometimes the flame couldn't help but die out again--the other person and I changed too much, or our connection was too dependent on the transient circumstance that bound us together in the first place. Thankfully some others are still strong, or reconnecting even after long stretches is still easy. The ones I have now, old and new, are certainly a reflection of who I am now.

  1. "difficult" as in difficult to maintain: unhealthy, of little meaning, faded over time, etc. ↩︎

What triggered my thoughts on deleting

I have deactivated my account a few times before because, for me, FB

  • is distracting
  • has caused me a lot of stress over stupid things
  • tempts me to use my time unwisely
  • is addicting, and when I learned that it is engineered to be addicting, like a drug, I was appalled
  • made it too easy to connect with people, in that the connections made were shallow and just ate up time
  • has had serious privacy and ethical problems

But it still had benefits. My fewer posts lately centered on social issues and pictures I've taken since taking up amateur photography. While the former is cathartic, I didn't actually have many fruitful conversations. Besides, such things are better done 1-on-1 and/or in person. Online is possible but dangerously prone to vileness. The latter I think was genuinely valuable. I take pride in my pictures and enjoy sharing them. But the alternative of waiting to show pictures in person or just more selectively via email or messaging apps is just as good, if not better.

With the new year coming, recent events stressing me out, enlightenment about engineered FB addiction, and a refueled desire to be less distracted, I thought I should finally go all the way and delete, not just deactivate.

Deleting vs. temporarily deactivating means permanently purging my social media history here. To just deactivate, to leave the possibility for reactivation, is to continue to be attached to the past. Even if I don't revisit this history for another 10 years, the fact that it is still accessible could be bad for me. Aside from my desire to reduce my information on the Internet, I don't know if it is healthy for me to have it available--the temptation to be sucked back into the past is just there, lurking. I also don't like the idea of people I just met being able to see 10+ years into my past with the click of a button. I'm not that ashamed of my past, but the idea just seems uncomfortable.

(Aside: I have a similar dilemma with my now 4-year-old website here. But what I curate here is a lot more carefully done, and I have much more control over it.)

Edit: this original post was titled Deleting Facebook but at least for now I've decided to deactivate indefinitely. I may not be ready yet to part from my college past specifically, but at least it is inaccessible until I say so.

Edit again: In 2020 I fully deleted it!

Cons to leaving

  • can't reminisce about the past more easily
  • can't connect easily with distant connections via "like"s and small comments, thereby more quickly losing those connections
  • can't broadcast statements or pictures asynchronously to connections
  • probably will be invited to fewer events

Benefits to leaving

  • (almost) complete detachment/freedom from the past
  • forced to connect more meaningfully and selectively with people
  • not tempted to stalk, waste more time
  • can't be stalked (as easily)
  • more privacy
  • freedom from influence of its algorithms to manipulate my thinking and amplify my already-held beliefs rather than challenge them
  • the events I do get invited to will be more meaningful

On detachment from the past

When I studied and practiced Buddhism in Japan, a monk once talked about being against taking pictures. For him, taking pictures took you away from being in the present moment and caused you to be attached to the past.

Not taking any pictures is too extreme for me. But since then, I have made a better effort to be more present, to be more selective with my picture taking, and to put devices away when I'm with other people. I only try to use devices when I'm using them to facilitate our time together rather than distract myself away from that time together, e.g., looking up a topic we were talking about, or sharing a video.

The principle of detachment from the past (and other things) is still a healthy one to consider, and I think it's good for me to be detached from my Facebook past. It was fun going through my timeline, seeing how I had changed over the years, the friends that came and went and that still are here with me. But I have my life now, and something like my Facebook timeline pulls me further away from my life than enriches it. There is just too much noise, too much rawness and fakeness or shallowness, with mini online social exchanges from years ago compared to select pictures (or here, more deliberately-thought-out blog posts).

And that's that

Anyway, I can always fully delete and create a new account again if I want to and start fresh. I hope I don't get to that point, though.