Facebook-Free – and Almost All Social-Media Free
I was having dinner with a friend recently when she took a selfie of us to post on Facebook. It was just a dinner so I didn’t see the point, but it seemed important to her and I played along. “I’m gonna whiten our teeth and get rid of our wrinkles with my new app,” she announced before posting the picture there at the table. She was seemingly unaware that her words might be a bit offensive or that we had been in the middle of a conversation.
“Leave me the way I am, please,” I said. “I don’t want to be digitally enhanced. Really, I’m fine with the way I look.”
“Are you sure, because I am going to whiten my teeth and then yours are going to look even more yellow?”“Really, I’d rather you just leave me untouched, please,” I said, chuckling uncomfortably. She obliged, posted the semi-altered picture, and we resumed the conversation. Yet, no more than five minutes in, she once again picked up her phone, scrolled through her Facebook feed, and said:
“No one has liked this yet. What’s going on?”
I felt more like a high school student than a thirty-something woman of the world, and I felt tremendously sorry for my friend. Not only was her enjoyment of the evening contingent upon how many people “liked” her — a digitally enhanced her, nonetheless — but she was completely outside the moment, distracted by an alternate universe instead of being engaged in the real one in which she existed.
Yet, as sad as this moment was for me, it was also terribly validating. You see, I live a nearly* social-media free life, which means I have about 20 friends, and I rarely worry if they “like” what I am doing.
Don’t get me wrong, I care deeply for these people, try to remember their birthdays, help celebrate their special events, and pray for their safety, health, and well-being; yet, whether or not they give a thumbs-up to my new hairstyle, current exploits, or vacation pics really has no bearing on my life, chiefly because I don’t share those things with them unless they see me, join me, or ask to see my photos.
It’s a decision I made in the early 2000s and continue to adhere to today.
My experience as a journalist during the time social media started left me yearning for privacy and screen-free space. Having a by-line with an email address opens a person up to all kinds of unsolicited feedback, and while it was rare to get hate mail, it did occur; thus, when I left writing, I really couldn’t see opening up my personal life to the same sort of accessibility I had in my career by creating online social media accounts.
Moreover, my new profession as a high school teacher compounded the possible conflicts, as “friending” or denying friend requests from students, parents, and colleagues seemed to cause unnecessary stress for my real-life friends. The risks and discomfort didn’t seem worth it.
Finally, a startling report I heard while driving to work one day asserted that social media was one of the leading causes of marital conflict. This re-affirmed my decision to protect what was sacred to me by living my life more offline than on. (Thankfully, my husband and I share the same perspective on this issue.)
The follow through has not been easy, and I am often confronted by less than positive reactions from others who assume that I am insecure, narrow-minded, or inflexible. There have also been numerous instances where my husband and I have been left out of the loop on family affairs — including almost missing a funeral – and I often worry the decision is hurting my career.
Plus, there are plenty of positive benefits social media has produced in the lives of our friends and family: enhanced networks, long-distance relationships, heightened awareness of important issues, re-kindled friendships…
But I know myself, and I could very easily become as obsessed with my online profile or how many people approve of it as my aforementioned friend.
So, my husband and I keep a small digital footprint, and that requires a bit more work to nurture relationships. We try to inquire about others through text, email or phone calls, schedule outings with loved ones, and even send cards via snail mail. It also requires us to listen actively to people’s responses and to share candidly and openly with them about ourselves. There is no scouring of feeds to see what’s new in the lives of those we care for and no scripting of a narrative for a life we wished we lived by posting blemish-free photos or updates.
And while there may be inconveniences and a general feeling of exclusion in a world where it seems nearly everyone communicates through Facebook, making the decision to live social-media free has been the right decision for me in terms of my mental health and relationships.
How about you? How does social media impact the relationships you have, and how might your relationships play out if you didn’t have access to others via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.?
*Disclaimer — I do have a LinkedIn account, which I recently started at the suggestion of a job coach as I engage in the process of re-inventing my career.