Every year I take a hiatus from Facebook. The first year, I also took a hiatus from Twitter and stayed away from Twitter for 4 years, only returning for a few months last year for an experiment with my students. One day I ran into a friend who had also left Facebook and we lamented about all of the events we were not being invited to, how everyone had turned their backs on true friendships in favor of social media. It’s both easy & impossible to form lasting friendships via social media, particularly those friendships that will live only on social media, those people who are, technically, friends with your Facebook wall or Followers of your Twitter feed, but not friends in real life, not face-to-face friends, folks who you wave at on social media, but who you also sit down to meals with, who you cry on the phone with, who you send postcards and letters to.
It is, to say the least, a conundrum.
The first time I left Facebook, it was an experiment. It was National Poetry Month & although I didn’t ask people to send me their daily poems, they did. Every day my wall was burdened with poem after poem after freshly written poem. People I hadn’t talked with in social media for months had suddenly “seen” me and were bombarding my wall with their drafts. & there I was, responding to them. Until I couldn’t anymore. Until I woke one day in a panic and thought “these people don’t care about you; leave Facebook and see if they even notice”. I left & not one email not one phone call came to ask where I’d gone. I was right, of course, and knew I was right before the experiment. But logging out of Facebook was a relief. No more procrastinating no more endless scrolling no more refreshing no more silly typed arguments no more pressure of being someone’s favorite poster. Suddenly, I could see the flowers again. The pollen was perfectly yellow and the streets of Brooklyn were alive with steaming dog poop and double-wide strollers. The weekend newspaper was once again rapidly being unfolded between my lover & I on our solid red couch, our white cat licking the black ink off & shredding the pages in an hysteric fit. I was alive & the world around me was filled with music.
I went back a year later to promote a book and left a few months later & returned to promote something else. I left, I returned; I left, I returned. How much easier it is to do task-oriented work when I can take a bit of a break to scroll through a news feed. How much easier it is to ignore my non-existent social life when I can get into a heated debate on X or Y’s wall. How much easier it is to not focus on writing those poems when I have a Page to upkeep.
A great friend always chides me for leaving social media. “Just unplug,” he says. I wish I could explain to him the reality of addiction.