A little over a year ago, in frustration over the 2012 election result, I decided to intentionally focus my attention away from politics and onto other, more edifying things. For a while I blogged about the things I was doing instead of politics, calling it the Anything But Politics Challenge. I think it's time to do that again, only this time not with politics, but with Facebook. I am still paying less attention to politics than I used to, and I think that has had a positive effect on my frame of mind. When something tends to cause more frustration and restlessness than not, it is time to reconsider its place in your life. So tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, I am kicking off my Anything But Facebook Challenge. It will coincide with the season of Lent, but I am not looking at it as giving up Facebook for Lent. In the first place, I am not going to totally give up Facebook. In the second place, I am hoping that at the end of my ABF Challenge I will find that I don't immediately revert to my previous ways. I would like this to be a permanent life change.
I joined Facebook in August of 2008. For a while it was just this thing that I didn't understand, a place I existed in name only because I never signed into my account. Over time I started spending more time "there." It was fun. It was often informative and sometimes intellectually stimulating. I liked having a place other than my blog to share things, especially things that seemed unworthy of blog posts. I reconnected with some people that I had lost track of, including the maid of honor from my wedding.
But over the years Facebook has become too important to me. And in the last few years, especially, it has become an escape. When day-to-day life becomes a source of increasing pain and confusion, it is nice to have a place to run to, a place where affirmation comes easily and where you feel like you have a bunch more friends than you do in real life. It is nice to have something to do when you can't find the energy or motivation to dive into the day. "I only have 15 minutes until _______. That's not enough time to do anything meaningful. I think I'll check Facebook." Before you know it, you're checking Facebook twenty times a day. Imagine if all those little 15-minute blocks were invested in other pursuits.
So here's my plan. I am not going cold turkey. There are people I want to keep tabs on. But, with apologies to my 500+ Facebook friends, I don't need to keep tabs on everyone. If I miss something, I have a feeling I'll survive until such time as I really need to know what I missed. So I am going to whittle that list of 500 friends down to the small group I actually tend to interact with regularly and with whom I truly desire to keep in touch. I am not going to unfriend anyone but instead will go from reading my news feed to reading a custom group. Into that group will go family, local friends, long-distance friends who are dear to me, and a few Facebook friends with whom my relationship exists only online but whom I have typically found to be a positive influence on my day. It's looking like the number in the group might be around 200, although I would like it to be even lower. For Lent I will only be checking in on that group, plus a couple of other private groups to which I belong. I also plan to limit my own posting to sharing links to my blog or videos plus no more than one other "share" per day.
I know. It doesn't seem like I'm giving up all that much. Shows you how high my Facebook usage has been if this is what cutting back looks like!
As with the Anything But Politics Challenge, I will do some blogging about the things that I am doing instead of Facebook. I don't know if I will blog every day. I would like to but am not sure I can keep it up for forty days.
I'm hoping that in addition to making more room in my life for things that matter, this Facebook diet will benefit my reading life. I used to be an English major. I ate books for breakfast. But between parenting and aging and life, I have trouble reading in depth anymore. I think Facebook bears a large share of the blame. Facebook trains the eyes and brain to scan, not read. I have found myself reading longer texts as if they were Facebook. It is very difficult for me to read every word of a blog post or newspaper article, and I think it's because I am so used to scanning that it is hard slow down and digest every word. Not only my reading but my attention in general has been affected, as I find it hard to concentrate for long on anything.
If you would like to join me in the Anything But Facebook Challenge, comment here and write a similar post on your blog. We'll do it together and keep each other accountable. (I like that idea better than this one.)