One week ago, I clicked the “deactivate” link on my Facebook page. They asked if this would be temporary or if I really wanted to delete it. I know you can’t ever delete your data from Facebook’s servers, and I know you can return even if you say you’re done. But I still chose the “temporary” option, because I knew it wasn’t going to be permanent.
The deactivation was not planned, but it was also an overdue detox. That evening, I realized I hadn’t spent an hour going through my news feed. I didn’t know what was going on at that very moment in the lives of 500+ friends. And, because I wasn’t posting comments, I wasn’t getting emails notifying me that someone else had replied, or that someone had commented on my latest oh-so-witty update. Suddenly, I had time to pick up the unread books that were gathering dust and overdue fines.
I didn’t quit other social media, though. I stayed on Twitter. I continued reading blogs and browsing a couple message boards where I lurk. I finally got around to reading/posting in another social site for a product I’m testing. I even looked at Google+.
The day I deactivated Facebook, I mentioned it on Twitter:
I got one response on Twitter. (I’d texted a couple friends about a bunch of other angst in my life and told them about my Facebook deactivation, so they knew and didn’t respond on Twitter.)
Five days after my deactivation, a friend contacted me on Twitter to ask if I was OK. The next day, another friend texted to ask the same thing. I appreciate it, but that was also a very good reality check: Facebook will definitely go on without me, because only two of my 500ish friends realized I was gone and contacted me. I’ve had the same email address and website for almost 11 years. I’ve had the same cell phone number for about six years. I’m the only Layla Bohm on the internet: If you can type the nine letters of my name into a search engine, you’ll find me.
No, I am NOT trying to guilt trip anyone. The fact is, Facebook censors news feeds, so we never actually see everything our friends post. It’s not surprising that nobody noticed that my Facebook page was gone. Facebook’s new default is to show you “most updates” from your friends; you have to manually change that to “all updates” for every single friend if you want to see everything.
I recently experimented with Facebook’s powers of deciding what’s important. If someone posts an update that gets no comments, it is soon pushed down in the algorithm of importance. If an update has oodles of comments or likes, it’s going to be higher up in friends’ news feeds. My experiment? I had posted something very early in the morning, and it had no responses. That evening, I posted my own update to the status, in the form of a comment. Within the hour, several people had commented, and several had “liked” my original status — which meant they hadn’t seen it before. In the eyes of Facebook, I was getting more traffic, so my update was worth pushing higher up the ranks of coolness. (I assume this is how Facebook is trying to get ad revenue — and in the process is frustrating its users.)
Anyway, why did I deactivate my Facebook account for a week? Well, the main reason is because I had vented about my rather rough week, but that venting backfired by making me more upset. It was just going to snowball from there if I didn’t shut up. Also, there were some things I just wanted to avoid seeing on Facebook. This sounds vague, I know. Sorry about that — I don’t compromise other people, so I can’t exactly go spilling personal things all over my public website.
Nine years and nine months ago, I left a close-knit Internet community in which I was very active and had some very close friends. That departure was, for lack of a better description, awful and heartbreaking. As I type this, I truly cannot believe it’s been nearly 10 years. A decade later, I still miss it. I still look at the website. And, in a couple brief moments when I’ve faced tragedies, I’ve logged in for a couple minutes in search for solace. With a few keystrokes, I was instantly transported back to the previous world I knew.
I’ve managed to keep in touch with many friends from that community, which has been a great relief. In fact, one of them was one of the two people who contacted me about my Facebook deactivation. Somehow, we’ve all kept in touch despite the many miles between us. We’ve gone through ICQ and AIM and LiveJournal and MySpace and Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and blogs. We’ve gone from dial-up to DSL to cable. We’ve gone from landlines to bad cell phone receptions to flip phones to smart phones. And, despite everything, we are still meeting up in person. Four months ago in Chicago, I met up with one of those old friends — for the very first time.
Friendships should be able to outlast Facebook. At some point, we will all gradually start shifting in a new direction. (Ten years ago, we didn’t think we’d be so connected to something called “Facebook.”) When it happens, I hope we still have each other’s friendship — and contact information. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I will more than willingly give you my phone number. I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere.