Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dealing with Facebook's virtual "stuff"

Last night I deactivated my private Facebook account. I think most of my friends have groused about doing that at one time or another, some have gone a few days or even a few weeks without it. I only have one friend (that I know of) who never had one to begin with, and I confess I love him dearly but had thought of him as an amusing Luddite about it. Now that I'm having withdrawals, I don't think his decision was light or funny any more.

Eventually I will return and make a another page for myself, a public, Google-searchable one. I can use that to keep up to date on events and invites to parties and such. But already I see how much time I spent reading about other people's lives and judging them, reading memes and news that didn't inform, help, or uplift me in a lasting way after being lost in the sea of other information. I tend to judge people lovingly and positively, but I still spent more time doing that than I needed to, when I could use that time reaching out and making deeper connections, or thinking about my own self improvement and about my upcoming book and school plans. I crafted many status updates for the maximum "likes," but what if
I'd spent that time crafting blog posts or book chapters that informed, helped, uplifted those same people in a more lasting and meaningful way? My loneliness was only temporarily assuaged, and I know it. Addressing the loneliness is the issue.

What if I'd simply had a conversation on IM or Skype or in person where we had a real connection, rather than trade sound bites? (I hate telephones.) It's been distressing to find I don't even know how to contact some of the folks I enjoyed talking to there outside of Facebook's instant messenger. I'll have to try and find their emails and phone numbers. How disheartening - and how revealing of my priorities!

How is it different than all those marketing emails from companies I once bought a product from and opted in because I wanted a coupon at some later date? Or the newsletters that I regularly skip over? What if I decided my time is so valuable and my decision making energy is so fleeting I don't even want to spend the half a second to make a decision to delete them from my inbox every day? So I spent a good solid five minutes removing myself from those lists, as well. It feels strange and maybe even a bit lonely to see my mostly empty inbox in the morning; a full inbox means I have a real life, right? Maybe. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I suspect the latter. I'm not looking at an inbox full of personal letters.

It's no trivial thing to feel lonely. Having a big loud Facebook life full of pictures and memes and chattering activity gave me the illusion that I was surrounded by people who cared. I am, in fact, surrounded by people with an interest in me, but not as many as my friendlist would suggest, and most of them certainly not of the quality I should be satisfied with. Asking for more in a recent time of need gave me an unpleasant shock, to discover many of the people who liked all my posts were liking everyone else's posts too, and didn't actually want or need a deeper friendship with me. I'd forgotten how to tell an acquaintance from a friend. I wasn't even sure I had any close friends at all, and that was a lonely feeling indeed. I'm glad I was wrong, but those were some sad times.

Removing myself from Facebook isn't merely a social experiment to see who really loves me, who really cares. That isn't measurable by frequency of contact, number of exclamation points and emoticons, or tags on a meme. I don't want a rush and flurry of "proof" that I'm wanted or needed. The idea that I'll be judged for getting off of Facebook doesn't upset me as much as potentially hurting acquaintances who thought of me as a better friend than I was, because I know that feeling all too well. It's a wake-up call to myself, to remember that I too have become satisfied with scrolling noise. I too have grown used to enjoying pictures of cats and babies rather than making time to pick up cats and babies and love them. I too have enjoyed the snuggly illusion that everyone's happy all the time, and quietly unfollowed "downers." I too have been glad for the ability to mute certain people anonymously rather than have hard conversations with them.

In short, I need to learn to deal with less, in order to appreciate and cultivate what I truly have more. There's no substitute for quality time. Life is short and death is so near to us; I want to live well now, and be a better friend and a better person while I am here.

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