When I tell someone I’ve quit Facebook, a rainbow of emotions plays across their face: first confusion, followed by surprise. Then wonder, elation, and, finally, a sad, soft gaze that wells up like a quivering tear. It’s longing—a distant, desperate hope that, one day, they too might escape Mark Zuckerberg’s unholy digital labyrinth.
“Yes,” I say, patting them on the shoulder, giving them a warm smile. “You, too, can do this. Follow me, my child. There is a better world, and you are welcome in it.”
That’s usually when someone calls the cops, saying I “won’t stop grabbing people’s shoulders” and I’m “trying to start some kind of Luddite cult,” but as I flee the scene, I like to think about how no one can ever really quit social media. As a human being on Planet Earth in 2018, fundamental aspects of existence—finding a job, finding a place to live, finding someone to love so you don’t die trembling and miserable and alone—are inextricably bound to social media. Bypassing them makes life worse, not better.
But like any technology, social media is a tool, not a lifestyle—and like most tools, you don’t need it all the time. Cutting social media out of my life—even temporarily—has helped me get my shit together. Maybe it’ll help you, too.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and the fact you pretty much have to be on Facebook, even though everyone knows that Facebook fucking sucks.”
Ben was right: Just about every dating app requires a Facebook login; just about every party is shared via a Facebook invite; just about every birth, death, graduation, marriage, divorce, and missing contact lens gets announced on Facebook. Facebook truly is our digital commons, and it’s also useful if you’re a shadowy Russian cyber-operative who wants to undermine the fundamental tenets of American democracy.
True, quitting Facebook teaches you that you have far fewer friends than you think, but it also teaches you which friendships matter.
But a few years ago, I realized that every time I scrolled through Facebook, I got depressed. Even more than usual! (Apparently, I’m not the only one; last year, Facebook itself found that “passively consuming” social media makes people feel worse.) For me, there was something about Facebook’s bottomless churning trough of empty updates and obligatory likes—and the way people I liked in real life turned glib and snide when they got behind a keyboard—that slowly, steadily wore me down.
When I quit (which Facebook made as difficult as possible, because everyone knows that Facebook fucking sucks), I was worried I’d miss out on social events. But it turns out, people email if they want you to come to something. I was worried I might miss peoples’ messages—but it turns out, people will text if they want to talk. I was worried I might miss changes in friends’ lives—but it turns out, talking to friends is more fun than reading about them. And, frankly, I was worried I’d feel lonely—but it turns out, the opposite happened. True, quitting Facebook teaches you that you have far fewer friends than you think, but it also teaches you which friendships matter.
I’m not under any delusion that I’ll always be able to avoid Facebook—for better or worse, I remain a human being on Planet Earth in 2018. But when I am forced back, it’s good to know I can keep it at arm’s length. And until then, I live the Facebook-free existence that others only dream of. You, too, can do this. Follow me, my child. There is a better world, and you are welcome in it.
In ye olden tymes, Twitter was funny and smart and weird, a place where you could find sharp one-liners next to long-form debates, and where you never knew who was going to pop up or what they might say. But when the fucking Nazis showed up, it marked a greater shift: The whole thing curdled, and Twitter, which once felt like a lively, quippy cocktail party, became the very thing its critics had accused it of being all along: a writhing tangle of vapid mumblings, showboaty outrage, and naked self-promotion. That’s not to say there aren’t great people still on Twitter—there are! It is to say, though, that you’ve got to deal with entirely too many shitbags to get to them, something that Twitter doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about.
Unlike Facebook, walking away from Twitter is easy: Nobody expects you to be on it, and nobody notices when you’re gone.
While I don’t miss Facebook, I do miss Twitter—but if I’m honest, the Twitter I miss ceased to exist long before I stopped tweeting. Twitter is something else now, something uglier, angrier, Trumpier. Unlike Facebook, walking away from it was easy: Nobody expects you to be on it, and nobody notices when you’re gone. And with distance, you realize how quiet and useless most tweets are—how quickly they echo into nothingness, how thoroughly they fade into the digital netherworld. They float past the abandoned warehouse of LinkedIn, flickering out somewhere near the rotting corpses of Mastodon and Ello.
For all my self-righteousness about Facebook and Twitter, I’m still a regular user of one of Facebook’s subsidiaries: Instagram! And... I feel okay about it? Because if you curate it right, Instagram is basically the Great British Baking Show of social media: a fluffy, feel-good collection of fun, polite people putting their absolute best selves forward! Sure, it’s all built on motherfucking lies, but they’re the kind of lies I can live with: aspirational, earnest, and with pretty filters that help you briefly pretend existence isn’t a horrific joke. Instagram also has lots of dogs!
That, in fact, is the problem with Instagram. It’s such a pleasant, mindless diversion that sometimes I look down to find my phone in my hand, my thumb scrolling through pics, before my brain has even realized what’s happening. So about once a month, I delete Instagram for a week or two—to retrain my brain and my fingers, to remind myself that it’s actually fine if I don’t fill up every spare second. Then I go to the park to look at real dogs.