I also said goodbye to the fat kid in my fourth grade class who got shot in the belly with a BB gun; my Uncle David’s dog Penny, and several dead friends who, even from the afterlife, continued to maintain their Facebook pages (What would Jesus do? Update his Facebook page, of course).
This was not my first attempt at quitting Facebook. How many times had I found myself traveling – on a bus in rural Guatemala, at a hostel with finicky internet, waiting in line to buy tacos al pastor from a street vendor in Mexico – only to realize that my mind was filled with the chatter of a thousand random Facebook status updates?
“Check out my amazing photo with Justin Bieber.”
“My dog has a urinary infection.”
“Jesus loves you! Read your daily Bible scripture.”
“I lost 15 pounds on a raw foods diet!”
“Hubby, I love you pumpkin! Looking forward to our super special date (and you know what)!!!!”
“In the Bahamas soaking up the rays!!! OMG…..Love my life!!!!!!!!! .”
I hated being only half present in my own life and always thinking about my next status update or boy-I-look-beautiful-and-happy photo opportunity. But at the same time I loved it, craved it, and needed that attention. I wanted to be known and loved by everyone. I feared that people would forget me entirely if I left Facebook. My love-hate relationship with Facebook caused me to spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook some weeks and then quit entirely others.
Even when I was traveling, my wanderlust-filled-heart was never really lost or immersed in a place. Instead, I spent my time broadcasting to my network of friends, hoping to find the familiar even as I yearned for a true disconnect and the giddiness of facing the unknown.
I was traveling – Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico – but my smiling avatar remained connected to hundreds of minor acquaintances and to the potential that I would meet one of these slightly known characters on my rambling Central American adventure.
Most recently I quit in an effort to finish my dissertation, and I vowed not to return until I was done. I went through an intense period of withdrawal, as if I were a drug addict in need of a fix. Even though I didn’t have a profile status to update, I would find myself in the kitchen making curry and mentally posting something to my Facebook wall about “making a tasty Thai basil curry.”
Only upon quitting did I begin to realize the extent to which Facebook had implanted itself in my mind and my life. I had grown accustomed to a flood of emails from Facebook, to my friends always knowing exactly where I was and what I was doing, to the mindless broadcasting of my thoughts and feelings.
After I quit Facebook, I spent weeks yearning for the day when I would join again and announce that my dissertation was finished. “220 glorious pages!” I would post on my status. I did finish my dissertation, but somewhere along the way, something changed. I began writing letters, remembering birthdays on my own, making homemade cards, and calling friends.
I relished a life free of the random agonizing moral dilemmas presented by Facebook including but not limited to: can I unfriend a dead person? Or will their family be upset? Or is a Facebook page for a dead person the modern way to pay homage to a loved one? Although I did suffer moments of intense sadness, I realized that while Facebook could provide an amazing quantity of interactions, it could never make them truly meaningful to me.
I did miss Junot Díaz, or at least I missed the idea that maybe he would notice my witty status updates and peg me as a writer. One afternoon I sat at home reading “Trading Stories” by Jhumpa Lahiri. She wrote, “How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?”
And I began to cry, sobs wracking my body.
I knew that at heart, Facebook was about editing myself, presenting a perfect, beautiful person to the world while omitting all the dark, difficult bits, the poetics that, at their core, made me who I was.