Seventeen months ago, I deleted my Facebook account — not just deactivated it, but fully deleted it — and the relief was tremendous.
No longer did I have to check for updates, deal with friend requests (is this someone whose updates I want in my life? do I want them to see mine?), post whatever was happening in my life, be grossed out by inappropriate sharing, listen to those who wanted to promote their latest business or interests, care about what Farmville game someone else was playing, look at what other people are having for lunch or what parties they’re going to, see “funny” photos, worry about whether people “liked” my update or photo … and so on and so on.
This is not to belittle what others do, but to reflect on the noise that builds up when we participate neck-deep in a social network.
Living in a Facebook-less world is an interesting experience. I’m certainly not alone — others have quit too, and still others never joined.
I no longer am as in touch with what family members halfway around the world are doing on a daily basis — I hear about the most important stuff through email or phones, but the little interesting details are lost. But so are the other details I’m not as interested in, and in my experience, the noise of Facebook outweighs the signal about 10-to-1.
My day is quieter now. I focus on more introspective stuff. I still share on Twitter and Google+, but only occasionally and I don’t check them more than once daily. Instead, I write. I read longer-form journalism, or novels. I walk, and exercise. I play with my kids, and spend time with my wife. I learn things.
I’m still able to express myself, even without Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Whatsapp (the latter three of which I’ve never joined). I express myself on this blog, and through occasional articles on a home-brewed site that I code and host myself. Hosting your own site isn’t hard, but for those not willing to learn a few technical basics, there are a lot of free, hosted blog platforms for expressing yourself.
I’m still able to collaborate with others: I have a handful of peers I email for advice, and who I work with on a regular basis (we tend to use collaborative tools like Google Docs). I meet with people one-on-one via Skype or G+ hangouts. I’m not all alone without the extensive use of a social network — I just use a variety of tools to collaborate or express myself.
We are social creatures, and so it’s natural that we look to socialize online. But it’s a superficial socializing, with a comment here and there, a “like”, maybe a message or two to those we’re close with. It lacks the richness of a one-on-one tea session or workout or walk in the park.
We socialize, but do we fear being alone?
Is there something scary in an empty inbox? Are we bored to death without checking Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Tumblr other social sites?
Can we disconnect and face the fear of being by ourselves, without distractions, with nothing but the thing we want to create?
Try it for a day: go a day without going to Facebook or any of the other social sites you might traverse on a regular basis. Go a day without email or text messages. Disconnect, and just create, reflect, journal, sketch, brainstorm, walk, sit alone and meditate, read a book.
This solitude can be scary, but in time we can learn to be our own companion, learn that there’s no better company. That’s a valuable lesson to learn.
We miss out on social connections, on news happening with our friends, family and peers, when we opt-out of Facebook. We are no longer in tune with the rest of the world. This means we are forced to march to the beat of our own drummer, to make it up as we go, to invent the rhythm and reason of our lives ourselves.
That’s a difficult task. It’s much easier for the antelope to fall in with the herd, to shift when the rest of its family is shifting, rather than having to stand on his own, to find his own path, to be afraid of being eaten by a lion. And yet, as an antelope, spend a little time in solitude and see what happens. The quiet tends to tell you things: that the noise was unnecessary. That the other antelope don’t know what they’re doing either. That we’re all running in a pack, headed mindlessly wherever the pack takes us, without deliberation or conscious direction.
It’s useful to learn to stand on your own. It’s powerful to learn that you can. What power in knowing that you can turn off your connection to others, even for a day or two, and find your own voice, make your own way, listen to your own ideas and your own counsel … and be OK.
As the theme song of Cheers told us, making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Perhaps it takes too much, and we would rather fall to the familiar comfort of checking social networks. But it’s a worthy effort, giving all you’ve got, in order to make your own way. The path you walk on your own, it’s a path worth giving your soul for. Your feet on the barely-tread ground, the fresh air of wilderness around you, and your own voice for company. It’s worth everything you’ve got.
‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.’ ~Henry David Thoreau
By Leo Babauta, Courtesy of Zen Habits.