The Unexpected Side Effect Of Quitting Facebook

Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
Once upon a time, there was no Timeline. Or News Feed. Or Facebook Live, or Status Update, or even photo-sharing, if I remember correctly. There were Pokes, though?

At least, that was the case at Vassar College in 2004, in the golden old days of TheFacebook.com. In these bucolic early months, The Facebook was not something we checked every day or updated frequently. We were too busy creeping on our college crushes IRL. But since then, the Facebook net has expanded wider and wider.

The day I signed onto Facebook and discovered a former high school classmate’s Status Update, live from the delivery room (“Cervix 8cm dilated!! Only a couple more to go!”), I knew that Mark Zuckerberg had created a monster. I mean, okay, the birth of your first child is a big deal, and sure, share that process with your 1,000 closest acquaintances if you want. But more and more, the Facebook Updates that my “Friends” (no one has 1,000-plus actual friends) posted were mundane at best, terribly offensive at worst, and all crafted in order to further an online persona and gain Likes. And I was absolutely guilty of this, too.

I would spend far too much time on one Status Update, ensuring it contained exactly the right balance of originality and acerbic wit. I would never, I promised myself, become one of those people who posted incessantly about brunch. Or blindly shared political rants or passive-aggressive, attention-seeking, impossible-to-decode posts. (“Those days when you just wish certain people were different…”) Or the bane of everyone’s Facebook existence: the gloating humblebrag about your adorable partner, meaningful and perk-filled job, and generally amazing life.

But were my posts any “better”? Of course not. I was so obsessed with not coming off as performative or self-involved or sharing too much that I basically only posted landscapes and photos of graffiti walls for eight years.

Plus, the more “Friends” I acquired, the less comfortable I was sharing, well, anything. In real life, I’m an open book (just ask me about my experience giving birth; I dare you), but what did I really want 1,000 people I vaguely knew to know about me? 1,000 people that included my coworkers, exes, and my 13-year-old cousin?

I began, slowly and carefully, to back away. I started paring down my profile. I weeded my nearly 1,000 “Friends” down to 500 — removing every old coworker, classmate, ex, and summer-of-2000 camp buddy with whom I wasn’t remotely in touch with in real life. I started checking Facebook very rarely, and I turned off all my email notifications so I wouldn’t get reminders of what was going on in Facebookland between those checks. I felt saner already.

My friends and family, though, felt decidedly less sane. “But how will I reach you??” became a common question. When I suggested email, text, or even (gasp!) a phone call, it became clear that these were all unacceptable modes of communication for many of my Friends. And the less I checked Facebook, the more the backlash grew. An actual dialogue I had many, many times:

“Amelia, I didn’t see you at [insert name here]’s birthday / engagement party / performance / housewarming / crafternoon / etc., what's up?"

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know that was happening.”

“What do you mean? The Facebook invite went out last week — we were ALL supposed to go!”

“Oh, yeah, I haven’t checked my Facebook in a really long time. I’m trying to stick to, you know, emails and stuff?”

This would be followed by eye rolls and disparaging remarks, which would be followed by me feeling terribly guilty, which would in turn be followed by me curling into a ball and maybe not leaving the house for the next 67 days.

After a few months of this, I figured I should just rip off the Band-Aid and delete the thing altogether. So I did. (This coincided nicely with the end of a nonprofit job that required me to run the organization’s Facebook page, so I was able to kill two Zuckerbirds with one stone.) It was surprisingly freeing.

But my plan to start receiving messages and event invites in the cozy interior of my actual email inbox was wishful thinking. My friends and family were quick to let me know: Not having a Facebook account at all is even worse an affront to modern life than simply having one you don’t use. Instead of reaching out via email, text, or phone, people bizarrely began to communicate with “me” via the Facebook accounts of…other people.

“Happy birthday, Amelia!” is an annual post on my partner’s Facebook to this day.

“Tell your sister that…” appears on my sister’s page quite frequently.

My personal favorite is when my face appears, wily and untaggable, in other people’s group photos, and folks take that as an opportunity to post a comment “addressed” to me: “When are you coming back to Facebook???”

The assumption, presumably, is that the photo-poster will see me in real life at some point and pass this message on. Which they do, bless them — but isn’t this an insanely complicated method of communication? These comment-messages come from people who are absolutely in possession of my email and/or phone number, and yet the Power Of Facebook is so compelling that it trumps all logic and even, apparently, the convenience of direct communication.

Nothing good ever came of my near-decade on Facebook, nor have I been able to escape all of the platform’s unfortunate aspects, even after deleting my account. In the years since I quit, I heard secondhand that a friend had announced my pregnancy on Facebook before I’d told everyone. And when I shared with my family, in confidence, the name we had chosen for our son, my mother posted it on Facebook for her 400-plus “Friends” to see. After both of these instances, I received emails and texts from actual friends who were hurt that they’d had to hear the good news via someone else’s public posting and not from me. “I was planning to tell you in real life,” was the bizarre phrase I found myself repeating.

I’ve been blissfully Facebook-free for almost three years now. I continue to largely ignore the indirect Facebook messages I receive via middlemen. I write the occasional article (hi!) when I get the itch for a mass dispatch. And among my real-life friends, I gently advocate for the more private, simple, and direct methods of day-to-day communication.

Before a recent wedding I attended, the bride’s father sent a lighthearted but firm email to all the guests, asking for them to refrain from posting photos of the ceremony on Facebook. I can only imagine the absurd-sounding email I’ll send before my son’s wedding, requesting that guests please refrain from live streaming via Snapchat or hologram or 3-D hoverboard printer or whatever The Future holds. But you better believe I’ll be sending that request via email.
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