Monday, October 7, 2013

Musings of a Facebook Expat

By Laura Christine
This Felicitous Life

I deactivated my Facebook account two years ago.  At first, the thought of getting off Facebook was terrifying.  How could I stand being so disconnected from everyone?  I hate feeling out of the loop.

But I knew Facebook was feeding too many of my baser instincts to judge, to compare myself to others, to pry into personal details that are none of my business.  Worst of all, I was not fully appreciating my daughters’ sweet, fleeting childhood moments.  Instead I was engrossing myself in the lives of people whom I did not care much about.  How does Facebook do that to us?

I really don't need to know everything going on in the lives of hundreds of people I barely know.  It’s nice that a person I went to school with but haven’t talked to in ten years just had a baby.  I’m misprioritizing, however, if I spend time reading about that instead of loving on my own babies, or instead of bringing a meal to a new mom who lives down the street.

Deactivating my account has been so freeing.  I used to know a lot about people.  Now I focus more on knowing people.  People are my vocation right now—primarily my husband and children but also my extended family and close friends.

I miss out on thought-provoking articles and political discussions.   I don't think, however, that I am less informed about issues that really are important for me, at this stage in my life.  My primary obligation is to my family.  What I really need to know is how they are doing, what their needs are, how I can best take care of them.

As a citizen, I do have an obligation to stay informed about the state of the world around me; however, I don’t need to know in real time about bills debated on the Senate floor.  I don’t need to know all the details about each new assault on religious liberty.  I don’t need to know about each new dumb thing Joe Biden says.  I certainly don’t need to know what opinion each of my three hundred Facebook friends holds on these topics.  I read the Wall Street Journal; I read blogs and articles on the internet; I read lots of books.

That is enough.

At the same time, I'm considering getting back on.  The extent of my disconnectedness struck me recently, when I found out that a close but far-off friend's newborn baby had been hospitalized for three weeks.  I hadn't known all that time.

A few years ago, someone would have sent around an email asking for prayers.  Now, one safely can assume that posting important personal news on Facebook will inform all the pertinent people.

It just won't inform me.

I've heard an argument that goes something like this: “If someone really wants to be my friend, they'll call or email me.”  It's true to a certain extent.  But it's not reasonable to expect someone in crisis to make that sort of special effort.

As Facebook becomes society's primary means of communication, it becomes less reasonable for me to expect people to go out of their way to keep me in the loop.   I miss out on photos of family members and close friends, photos of their kids, news about weddings, graduations, and babies. I can opt out of modern technology as much as I choose, but I can't expect others to accommodate me.  I have to choose the balance I want between connectedness and freedom.

I really don't like to rail against modernity.  Everyone is born into a particular, imperfect time and culture.  As Christians we're called to transform our society, but I don't think that means we need to reject every part of it that is less than ideal.  Technology and other trappings of our culture may be better or may be worse than what came before them.  Essentially, however, they are neutral.  We can choose how and whether to use them.

So while I enjoy being off of Facebook, it is not a matter of dogma for me.  Right now my life is best away from it, but at some point the scales will tip in favor of getting back on.  I’m just trying to savor the Facebook-free life while I can. . . .  And if you need to reach me in the mean time, please do so the old-fashioned way and write me an email.

My name is Laura, and I'm a Catholic Christian, a mom, a lawyer, and a reader. I like to think Big Thoughts, and I like to laugh at life as much as possible. 

Blog: This Felicitous Life
Twitter: @felicitouslife


  1. I really appreciate this, and just took Facebook off my phone for many of reasons you list above. I've found that this, coupled with hiding the profiles of those people that I don't want to entirely relinquish possible contact with (college teammates, for example) has made me less prone to spending time on Facebook reading about the lives of people that I'm really not all that close to, while still getting updates from my close high school and college friends who are far from me geographically. And of course even people whose feeds I don't see can see mine and get in touch with me.

    I'm still refining my facebook 'system,' but so far I think this is working for me... a lot less envy/superiority, a lot more cute babies.


  2. I'm sure many of us have seen the studies saying that people who spend time on Facebook are actually less happy than those who don't, for precisely the reasons you left--comparisons, etc. It's PR for the masses. You only see, generally, the version of their lives people want you to see. And yet, how do we stay in touch with our loved ones around the globe? There simply aren't enough hours in the day for all of those phone calls . . .

  3. I think you really hit the nail on the head with all of this! It's why I find myself often re-evaluating whether or not to reactivate my account!

  4. I have the same love/hate relationship with Facebook. It is the primary way I keep in touch with my sister, who lives out of state, and how I see pictures of my grandchildren who live way too far away. I also like to check up on former students. However, I don't need to see everything that everyone posts. I've "hidden" some of my friends and have trained myself not to read everything every day. I now have to train myself not to compare myself with others...The bottom line is that we each need to figure out what works for us so that we can continue to be productive and confident and informed and sane.

  5. This is great, Laura. I was off facebook for a while too (twice, actually) but I got back on in June because I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that the person responsible for my issues with facebook (and with food, body image and the like) was me. I could control it. So I decided to get back on and strive to have an adult relationship with facebook. It's worked pretty well so far, but I've had to be brutally honest with myself and my relationships so lots of "friends" who were not really friends at all, were unfriended and others who lead me to judge or compare are blocked from my feed. Being back on facebook definitely helps me keep up with family, especially my in-laws, and now they get to see pictures of the kiddo. I'm trying to see the good in it, and control/reject the bad.

  6. Elizabeth and Ellen ^^ You each mention "training" or "controlling" yourself and your Facebook usage, and I think that's a good point. My problem is that I am so bad at it!

  7. Spot on. Going to Miss Sandra's funeral today. Never did write her like I meant to. But I sure saw a lot of FB newsfeed while she was sick.

  8. I quite sympathize. Most recently I've tried deactivating my account for a week or more, then reactivating just to check in on whatever semi-important things I missed, then immediately deactivating again until the next week. Because that way it isn't just a mindless click away. As it currently is, and so the love/hate dynamic is back in full force.

    Speaking of technology being neutral, have you read any Neil Postman? The Internet as we know it was before his time, but /Amusing Ourselves to Death/ is still highly applicable-- though it was written with TV as the representative metaphor for how national discourse has changed for the worse. We are awash in triviality and entertaining meaningless tidbits of whatever we feel like sharing with each other, and there is an opportunity cost to going along with that, as you point out. I don't necessarily disagree that technology and modern circumstances are neutral, but that doesn't mean we stop thinking about and responding wisely to the negative effects it may have on us.

    A great Postman intro/example of his general thesis:


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