FACEBOOK ABOUT FACE


I stopped going on Facebook during Lent, not that I observe it.  It was sheer coincidence, plus the New York Times.

A day or two prior, I hadn’t even considered such a possibility, but a concatenation of events led to my decision.  I had been having significant insomnia—middle of the night awakenings during the darkest hours of both life and the position of the Earth.  Admittedly, I haven’t slept all that well since medical school, when I was on call every other night, every third, or in my subsequent practice, 581 times, where if I woke up and gave clear advice I wouldn’t easily get back to sleep.  Or, if I hadn’t fully awoken, I would learn the next day what I had said that I had no idea left my lips.  Neither is healthy for a doctor, or his patients, a fact I futilely bemoaned until I finally left medicine for good.

After that, I did sleep better, until the run-up to the 2016 election and subsequently.  I may not be alone in this latter experience, but in any case, I realized I needed to do something about my sleep hygiene.  One issue was clear: between my recent subscription to the online Times and my nine year sojourn on Facebook, I was constantly bombarded by bad news and dozens of daily requests to support causes, sign multiple petitions, read “must reads” (a term I come close to using the word despise) demonstrate for or against issues, and of course donate money to every 4+ emergency on Earth, with the expectation I’d carry the banner for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.  I wasted ample time watching videos I didn’t need to watch, reading conspiracy theories that astounded me, and deleting cookies from sites I went to, after I discovered they increased my spam.

I liked the concept of Facebook, because I could be in better contact with my brother and nieces. But Facebook can be like eating potato chips. It’s easy to take a little bite (log on), and have another one (look at one more post) and eventually eat the whole package (spend a whole hour).  One is a problem of consuming excessive calories; the other a problem with consuming precious minutes.  Neither potato chips nor Facebook is healthy in large doses, junk food and junk news.  When I comment, which isn’t often, my grammar and spelling matter, at least to me, so they take time. And for what?  Getting 100 likes, a rarity, doesn’t change the world, or even a small part of it, compared to spending a day out in the real world trying not to be a jerk.  I’m not Nicholas Kristof, Eugene Robinson, Gail Collins, or Thomas Friedman, whose words provoke thought and change many minds.  I wondered how much of what I read was true. One can get news from Facebook, but the Times, The Washington Post, or Reuters are far better.  It wasn’t just right wing posts that bothered me; many left wing posts had for months spoke about an imminent end to Trump’s presidency.  It wasn’t going to happen.  My comments that the man had been and still was grossly underestimated, were mostly ignored.  (Read: no “likes”.)

Facebook is more than politics and religion, although those are two dominant subjects.  Much on Facebook are highlight reels of people’s lives.  It is almost competitive, I think, regarding who has done the most interesting thing, gotten the most likes, posted the best pictures, received the greatest compliments, or had the most shares.  I didn’t need this.  Competition is toxic. I didn’t think Facebook was improving my life, and I decided to act. I said nothing online about my decision, I just disappeared.

For a couple of days, I occasionally found myself automatically opening the bookmark, quickly closing it, as if seeing the blue border would somehow would be like a blue computer screen at night, adversely affecting my circadian rhythm.  There were comments about me, posts of hikes I went on, conversations showing up temporarily on the banner in the upper right corner of my computer screen, but I didn’t bite.  I didn’t have to know the details about the best snowshoe trip of the year I missed or see pictures of my friends having a great time.  I was freed from reading comments or wanting to argue with those who with online anonymity have helped make the Internet a stew of hateful, ignorant, false, poorly written missives.

There was more.  A picture of me a while back had someone ask why I wasn’t smiling.  A friend of mine—in real life, too—wrote, “Mike never smiles.”  That hurt.  When one has only words to go on, no ability to see body language or hear intonation, words alone are insufficient.  I do smile, of course, but many pictures of me were taken during hikes I led, where I had responsibility for several others and couldn’t be a happy-go-lucky hiker.  No, I may not smile when I am asked to pose for a silly ass picture when I’m concerned about why some people are lagging or wonder why so many seem to be directionally challenged. I had been pilloried on Facebook the year before after leading a difficult 26 mile hike (called by the individual posting a death march) that I said at the outset would be long and hard. The hike was 20 minutes longer–a huge issue in a 9 hour hike–because the individual videoed the first part, solely because of wanting to post it.  We paid dearly later, when it was much hotter and we were more tired.

I hadn’t thought much about the competitive aspect of Facebook until I went off it and suddenly didn’t feel I had to make my hiking posts sound like the greatest thing this side of Eden.  Indeed, when I came home from a hike, I now had free time.  I discovered quickly that I could read more books and magazines.  I had more time in the morning for the New York Times, good, accurate news, opinion, with useful links and still have time left over to do other things.  I even started listening to podcasts again.  My life was simpler, less cluttered.  I could please myself, rather than try to be erudite to those who could care less about my comments, or the small few who might actually read them.

I watched the number of Facebook notifications increase on my phone screen to 10, 20, then 50, 60.  I got two emails from Facebook listing the number of pokes, likes, comments.  I deleted them and in my second week away, went snowshoeing in the Mt. Hood area.  When I got home, a friend posted a bunch of pictures apparently, because my email had links to the post.  My iPhone Facebook app read “99,” which maxes out the number of comments I have waiting for me. Nearly all are a “like”, and it really isn’t important.

Let the posts wait.  I don’t need the constant hounding that I “must” do something for the sake of the world.  No, I’m not going to give my opinion about the President so I can be asked for money, and should I donate it, be asked to give a “tip” to the organization asking.  I won’t be emotionally blackmailed by someone who says “I’ll know who my real friends are because they will share this post.” I don’t fight cancer by sharing a post but by supporting sound science.   I won’t see the requests for donations to some medical charity in somebody’s name.  I won’t read about people’s detailed medical problems or see pictures of “friends” or their elderly parents in some hospital looking absolutely blank.  I’m not seeing any of that.  And you know what?  The world still turns, and while country has indeed become worse, it was going to anyway.  After a fortnight, nobody with my email address has contacted me asking where I am. I’m not surprised.

I’m sleeping better, too, although it is probably bedtime restriction and phototherapy rather than being off Facebook, although the positive changes have been in the last two weeks.

I don’t usually give advice to people because they neither want it nor take it.  I just report on things in my life that I find interesting and if others do, too, great.  I thought it would be difficult to stop logging on.  Nah.  The real world is better.

Will I go back?  Yes.  But I will declutter my news feed, post far less often, and have strict time limits.

I will not return to eating potato chips, however.

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