How I Deleted My Facebook Account and Walked Away from 555 Friends
This is the story of how I became a social media misfit and deactivated my Facebook account last week.
Before it became an attractive nuisance, Facebook was fun -- really, really fun. At the start, I enjoyed reconnecting with old pals and coworkers I hadn't seen in years. A few had published books or become grandparents; others had moved to retirement homes in Tampa or Hilton Head.
In addition to cute family photos, I got an eyeful of political rants and viewpoints that took me by surprise. (An editor I'd pegged as liberal, for instance, turned out to be a closet conservative.) It was all so compelling that, instead of tackling a new project, I'd spend entire mornings reading Facebook updates from literally hundreds of folks, a few of whom I'd met only once.
How many friends do you (really) have?
By the time I deactivated my Facebook account last week, I had accumulated 555 friends. The list included former classmates, relatives, students from my writing workshops, readers of my columns, and background actors I'd met on film sets. My posse also included good neighbors who lived just a couple of blocks away, which seemed like overkill, but what the heck?
I wasn't exactly a friend whore (someone who collects random friends to appear popular) but I rarely turned down friendship requests, and I un-friended only one person whose political comments were ill-informed and cruel.
In any event, with so many people to look after, Facebook soon became another task on my ever-expanding to-do list. And I started feeling conflicted about using it.
In 2009, Sheryl Sandberg reported on The Facebook Blog that the average user had 120 friends. Today, Facebook reports that the average user now has 130 friends -- and we all know users who have upwards of 1,000. But in my admittedly old-fashioned view, even 130 friends are difficult to keep track of in a timely, courteous fashion -- unless you have nothing to do but twiddle with your computer all day.
Either way, I've always believed that real friendship is reciprocal, not promotional. And certainly more than virtual. Real friends do more than punch the "like" key on your status updates. Real friends call you directly on the phone, send cards, help you move furniture, meet you for breakfast, babysit your cats, or otherwise make three-dimensional efforts to be there for you.
Of course, you need lots of extra time for real friendship like that. My "networking" on Facebook was devouring some of that time, and I was starting to feel guilty about it.
Along the same lines, it also struck me that Facebook fosters laziness. Even in a crisis, I wasn't getting as many emails or phone calls from family members because, as one put it, "We already read your updates on Facebook."
Forget you. It's all about me.
Worse yet, I worried that Facebook was making an egomaniac out of me. (Isn't it enough to be writing a blog?) Along with photos of my latest art projects or links to my articles, I started posting attention-getting tidbits, which, before Facebook, I would have shared with a mere handful of trusted, longtime friends. Why in the world did I need to broadcast to 555 Facebook users that my cat suddenly decided to pee in the toilet in our master bathroom?
In short, Facebook was becoming a tool to promote myself, with a few family photos thrown in for good measure. I'd gotten so busy that I wasn't taking time to comment on my friends' updates and photos -- unless they left comments on mine. I've always tried to avoid one-sided relationships, but good lord, there I was, conducting one of my own.
So, here are the questions I asked myself when I considered pulling the plug on my Facebook account:
1. Am I giving up my family's privacy in exchange for building a platform or a following on Facebook?
2. Do new acquaintances on Facebook deserve the same attention as my oldest friends and relatives?
3. Do I care as much about other friends' status updates as I want them to care about mine? Am I using or exploiting my Facebook friends?
4. How much time do I have to reciprocate comments?
5. How much do I need to know about other people -- and why?
6. Do the "friends" I've met only once need up-to-the-minute details of my life? Who should be informed that my mother is ill? Or that I attended someone's 50th birthday party last night? And is it safe to broadcast when I leave town on vacation?