On August 15, 2007, I joined Facebook. On August 15, 2017, I will be leaving. It’s been a wonderful decade using the site. When I first joined, I only knew two people who used it, though it had already exploded in popularity. When I leave, 831 people will have one fewer “Friend” in Facebook parlance, although of course my friendships in the true sense have not changed. I have my reasons for leaving, as you’ll read below, but I still believe the site is valuable and one of our generation’s most intriguing innovations. But we need to think about how we use it.
I’ve often defended Facebook to my friends, and I realize now that when I was an acting as an evangelist for the site, it was because I wanted the people I was talking to to be part of my social network. The more people I care about there are on Facebook, the more likely I am to use the tool. But now that Facebook has essentially reached 100% penetration among my loved ones, I’m throwing in the towel. Why?
All of us who use Facebook have become inured to the numerous downsides. Being able to connect with our friends and people whose thinking we admire is certainly a great thing, and a lot of other things would have to be wrong with Facebook for it to tip the scales towards abandoning the site.
But that’s where I am. For me, there were two drivers behind my decision. I will talk about each in turn.
- The fighting
This is something almost everyone mentions when you ask them about Facebook. But what specifically bothers me is the fighting between people I admire, over issues I care about, where I can see both sides of the story. For example, when Tim Keller (whom I admire) was recently called out by other people whom I admire for a slightly dodgy statement about the Trinity, I felt both the necessity to talk about the Trinity in accurate terms, and the danger of creating a sort of “Trinity police” that would review all statements regarding the Godhead to ensure that they did not include any heresy, or thoughtcrime.
Of course, this sort of infighting isn’t unique to Facebook, but for me, Facebook brings it to the front of my mind. (I want to emphasize the personal aspect here, because other people thrive in the intellectual debate between people across the world that Facebook makes possible). Facebook does not bring out the peacemaking side of my personality. My personality is divided between the impulse to find common ground between two sides, and the impulse to interject with a witty or sarcastic comment that moves the discussion forward not an inch. In that sense, Facebook has made me a bad peacemaker and a bad debater.
2. The addiction
I recently finished David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. One of the central concerns of the book is a fatally seductive bootleg film, referred to most of the time simply as “The Entertainment,” although its title is in fact Infinite Jest. Anyone who watches even a few seconds of “The Entertainment” is consumed with the desire to keep watching it. If the viewer is given his way, he will watch “The Entertainment,” forgetting to eat, sleep, or use the toilet, until death by starvation. Even if the viewer is unable to continue watching “The Entertainment,” he will refuse food and become catatonic with desire and eventually die in much the same way.
In Infinite Jest, almost every character displays some form of addiction to everything from marijuana to alcohol to sex. Reading the book with even a cursory knowledge of Wallace’s own struggle with narcotics gives the heartrending depictions of addiction a creepily autobiographical aspect. “The Entertainment” is the apogee of addiction; it gives pleasure so intense that life itself becomes worthless in comparison.
Facebook is for most people, including, I hope, myself, a pleasant diversion, rather than a crippling and life-sucking addiction. But a pleasant diversion that extends across so many minutes for so many days and weeks– eventually, an entire decade–must become something else.
The longest time I previously went without Facebook was 5-6 days, in 2010 or so. Because, like many users, I check Facebook compulsively, a conservative estimate puts my total number of clicks to Facebook 36,000. A little more math allows me to see that I’ve probably spent somewhere between 12-20 days on Facebook in the last decade. That’s not a huge amount when you consider that I’ve spent 1,216 days sleeping in the same time period, but if every minute of every hour of our lives holds significance, then those are days for which I will one day be called to give account. (Edit: I tried to make a more realistic estimate for the time I spent on Facebook. Out of seven days, I calculated that I spent 60 minutes one day, 5 the next, 10 after that, 20 after that, 10 again, 20 again, and 20 a third time, for a total of 145 minutes per week. Over ten years, that comes out to 52.375 days, which is an insane amount of time.)
I am not leaving Facebook permanently. Or at least, I haven’t decided to do so yet. I will be completely deleting my account (so that if I do come back, I will have a clean slate). I will be taking a one-month sabbatical at least, which I will probably extend for months, perhaps even years, perhaps permanently.
I don’t anticipate that my life will change enormously as a result of this. I won’t become a better person overnight. I will probably use much of the time I save from not compulsively checking Facebook checking other sites or wasting time in other ways. But this is a part of my quest to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. Wish me luck, my friends!