My Facebook Sabbatical

On October 3rd I decided to take a Facebook Sabbatical.  I was inspired by my friend Leah White and the Fast Company article by Baratunde Thurston entitled #Unplug: Baratunde Thurston Left the Internet for 25 Days, and You Should, Too.  Much like Leah, I decided to leave only Facebook.  My reasons are different from hers.  I have never been a heavy user of any other social media tool than Facebook.  My Twitter account is really only used while I’m at conferences.  I occasionally try to read through it, but I mostly feel overwhelmed by all the continual noise that comes from it.

Leah White describes her experience in a wonderful blog post.  She accurate describes the detox like withdraw from Facebook.  I highly suggest you give it a read.

My experience was slightly different.  Like Leah, I deleted the app from my phone.  However, on my first day I noticed myself mindlessly opening up a browser and typing Facebook.com.  I even did this in meetings, and when speaking to other people.  (I’m sorry if I ever did this to you, that was very rude).  So I installed page blockers to all of the browser on my computer (Safari, Chrome & Firefox).  This certainly helped me a lot.

There were some unintended consequences to my blocks.  Many people create content on Facebook and link to it from Twitter and other social media sites.  I couldn’t access any of this.  Facebook was also used to authenticate myself on a lot of sites.  For example, my Goodreads account login uses my Facebook for authentication.  I had to try and remember passwords for sites that I hadn’t actually logged into for some time.  This demonstrated how deep into my life Facebook has reached.

For the first week or so, I substituted Twitter and Instagram for my Facebook habit.  This waned as I entered my second week.  Something interesting happened during week two.  I start Yelping like crazy.  Weird, I know.  That has also waned.  Now I’m barely even using my phone.

One lesson I really learned with my substitution is that social media provides us with more than a network.  It provides us with a voice.  I think that is lost in most of our discussions of social media.  Whether I decide to use my voice or not, I know that I can and that is really important.

During this time I found more focus.  I started writing a lot more (the whole voice thing); expect more blog posts soon.  And I started to think more.  I kicked around a lot of ideas in my head.  Both of these could be caused by something other than my Facebook Sabbatical, but I don’t think so.  I had expected to read more, but no change in my readings habits occurred other than reading the Sunday paper.  I did find myself listening to NPR more though.  I also did more things.  Erika and I even went to the Science Museum (awesome) and I meet with more people face-to-face.  Again, all of this could be contributed to something else, but I don’t think so.

I also found myself more focused on the here and now.  I may not know what the social scene is like at Internet Librarian, and what were the good afterpartys, I do know that we have friends coming over for dinner tomorrow, I managed to learn all of my students names, what is happening in the city I live in and what important things are happening on a global scale.  I am also getting more in touch with myself.  I now, sometimes, find myself just sitting quietly.  A few days ago I had coffee with a new friend from Chicago.  As I patiently waited, I didn’t check Facebook or anything else, but I immersed myself in the coffee shop, the smells, the sounds, the taste of the coffee and the conversations happening near me.  This has happened so many times over the last 30 days.

Leah makes a great point about the social “highschoolish” pressure on Facebook.  I think that’s very true.  For the librarians, just take a look at the ALA Think Tank.  I, on the other hand, would extend this to other social networking sites as well.

I also think Facebook gives us a copout for not admitting friendships have met there natural conclusion.  This is really hard for us to admit.  But so many friendships in our lives are only for a season.  With Facebook, it seems we don’t have to come to terms with that.  Facebook gives us a way to not have to say goodbye.  Heck, my dad’s Facebook page is still active even though he has been dead for 2 years.

I certainly think my Facebook Sabbatical had a detrimental impact on my personal learning network.  A lot of articles that I read, I find through Facebook.  I was hoping that Twitter would take up this role for me, but it didn’t.  Perhaps its because I’ve had a Facebook for so much longer, or because it is my de facto social media site, I’ve devoted more time to my newsfeed and friends.  I am far stricter with who I friend on Facebook than on Twitter.

This whole experiment has gotten me to think a lot about social media from a librarian perspective.  For some years we have heralded the positives of social media with virtually little discussion of its negative impact.  Those who have been bold enough to question it are quickly labeled a luddite, dismissed, harangued and vilified (of course on the social media sites, grow up and while your at it get off my lawn).  We know that echo chambers and filter bubbles are detrimental to our society.  We also know that during the rise of the Internet and social media, our worldview has shrunk.  Some argue this is not a result of those phenomena (but they certainly cannot prove that).

So will I return to Facebook?  I think so, but I’m not ready yet.  I need to set some pretty strict rules for myself.  I think I will not add the app back (this whole experience leads me to wonder how much I actually even need a smart phone).  I think I want to limit myself to like 15 minutes a day.  Which on the one hand seems like a lot of time, and on the other hand is nowhere near enough time.

Overall the experiment has been great.  I certainly want to try more experiments.  Like the Matt Cutts TED talk about trying something new for 30 days.  I want to try using only a Chromebook for 30 days.  I want to write a letter a day for 30 days.  I think to get the full experience, next time I will follow Baratunde’s model and remove myself from the Internet entirely; a full digital detox.  I want to understand how truly locked in I am.

Are you considering a Facebook Sabbatical?  If so, may you find the experience and the experiment deeply fulfilling.  May you find spare time, deep connections with those you love, and to know yourself a little bit better.  And may you find your eyes open to all that we let into our lives and an honest dialog of positive and negative impact that has on us.

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