Illustration by Alistair Blacklock/The Gazelle

On Leaving Facebook

I deactivated my Facebook account in October, intending for it to be a one-week detox. It’s almost February now, and I still haven’t returned. This is ...

Jan 25, 2014

Illustration by Alistair Blacklock/The Gazelle
I deactivated my Facebook account in October, intending for it to be a one-week detox. It’s almost February now, and I still haven’t returned. This is the longest period I’ve been away from the site in the six years since I first created my profile. For many people, disconnecting is unimaginable, and I used to think likewise. More than anything, though, I’ve found it refreshing.
My break with Facebook followed months of growing disillusionment with the platform at NYU Abu Dhabi. I was tired of the repetitive posts in student groups, the inflammatory bickering and the generally overwhelming amount of activity to keep up with. Recognizing that I myself was a contributor to the noisy culture I was beginning to resent, I decided I needed some time off.
I’m not necessarily anti-Facebook, but I’m not fond of the way it’s used at NYUAD. Here, it’s more than just a social network. It’s a way of life. Many of us spend hours on the website every day, clicking through status updates, photo albums and shared links during study breaks and class time alike. We follow every event pushed in the Student Life group and every need announced in the Room of Requirement. We’re updated on dozens of groups, hundreds of interest pages and thousands of friends. The pleasure we get out of the number of “likes” we receive is actually a little disturbing.
Facebook isn’t just a fun, easy way to keep up with people. It’s our primary social outlet, even eclipsing more meaningful face-to-face interaction.
Coming back to Abu Dhabi for January Term made clear the gap between Facebook interactions and reality. More people were unaware of my Facebook-less status than I expected, considering I had deactivated three months earlier. That in itself speaks volumes about the quality of our connections online — when friends are out of sight, they are out of mind. Should we need a catalog like Facebook to remind us of whom we care about?
And then there’s our time management. Just over J-Term, one person told me he couldn’t rationalize leaving his room to spend time with me as he had too much work. Online messaging me, on the other hand, was apparently no problem. The same utility calculation perhaps applies to the seemingly escalating number of students who eat their meals in their dorm rooms rather than in the dining hall. I’m willing to bet that these students spend more than the half an hour it takes to share a meal with friends each day on Facebook. What makes us prioritize Facebook as a study break over seeing each other in person, or debating an issue via Facebook comments over going to a forum on it or confronting people face-to-face?
It was only when I went abroad that I realized how strongly Facebook was tied into our university experience. I was far from Abu Dhabi, but it was bizarre how I could still feel so engrossed in NYUAD when I logged in. I started asking myself what value I was getting out of interacting so much on this network. I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory explanation for the massive amount of energy I spent cultivating my Facebook identity and relationships. I resolved to cultivate my reality instead.
Facebook does serve an extraordinary function in our school as a place where everyone can gather, regardless of where they are in the world. But when we’re living in the same building, I’m not sure that the priority we give it is healthy. We should be making more real time for each other and for ourselves. We should be giving the relationships that mean the most to us the most attention rather than dividing it amongst the easily-consumed and instantly-gratifying items on our news feeds. And we should be less concerned with the image we’re building of ourselves and more with who we actually are.
Deactivating Facebook isn’t going to be the right answer for everyone, but it’s important that we’re conscious of the role it plays in our lives. Does it make us happier? Does it enrich our real-life experiences, or are we letting it substitute for them? Truth be told, it’s not nearly as necessary as we think it is. The news, events and people that really matter will still be there for us, whether we see them on Facebook or not.
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