I’m leaving Facebook this week, just before I move to Sacramento to start a new job and join a whole new swing dance scene. Midtown Stomp, I’m coming for you!
My decision to leave Facebook was tricky, because Facebook is how I get a lot of information about dance events, and often how I contact organizers about DJing. However, I’ve decided that I would be better off without it, for the following reasons:
Facebook is an attention economy. It thrives by selling your attention to advertisers, who are then able to put advertisements in front of you as you scroll through the news feed.
Facebook, not me, controls what I see. Algorithms and personalized advertisements ensure that what I see on Facebook will be engaging for me, and keep me coming back for more. Which reminds me…
Facebook is intentionally addictive. Seeing new notifications activates dopamine centers in your brain, rewarding you every time you log on. It is really hard to stay off of Facebook, and that concerns me. I want to bring things into my life because I want them there – not because I’m addicted to them.
Liking and commenting are shallow forms of social interaction. I consistently find that Facebook interactions are of lower quality and produce less relational benefit than interactions that take place outside of social media.
The air is full of people. This is a line from one of my favorite books, Hamlet’s BlackBerry by William Powers, describing how – thanks to wireless Internet connections – we are never truly alone anymore. We are surrounded by people who can contact us at any time.
My ability to focus is in danger. Study after study after study has shown that Facebook and other social media platforms have detrimental effects on the human attention span. According to Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work, checking Facebook (or any other distraction) for one minute decreases your ability to focus for the next twenty minutes!
My contentment is in danger. As with attention, study after study after study has found that checking social media causes people to feel less content with their own lives. After careful consideration, I’ve decided I’m okay with being less aware of what other people are doing, so that I can be more content with what I’m doing.
My personal information is not safe. I’m not exactly a privacy freak, as evinced by the availability of my real name, approximate location, and email address on this blog. However, it does freak me out that Facebook has access to so much information about me – and about billions of other people – and I’ve decided that housing my personal information solely on my own corner of the Internet, namely this blog, is a safer way to share information about myself and my adventures.
I want to build genuine relationships. I have consistently found that my strongest friendships are with people who text me, call me, email me, and video chat me on a regular basis. (I have a few who even write me letters!) Leaving Facebook will give me more time to invest in my relationships with them, while wasting less time on relationships I don’t really care about, with people I don’t really know.
My online presence is less impactful than my real-life presence. I’m concerned about the problem of “social media activism,” and sharing or retweeting about a problem while not doing anything about it. Leaving Facebook will force me to actually contribute towards solutions, instead of perpetuating the echo chamber of complacent awareness.
I don’t need, and can’t have, that many friends. Robin Dunbar is famous for discovering the Dunbar Number, which is the approximate number of meaningful relationships a person can cognitively maintain. For modern humans, our brains can manage about 150 relationships. Even though Facebook’s upper “friend” limit is 5,000 people, I know that there are only about 150 people on there that I really care about – and I can keep in touch with those 150 people without the help of a massive, monopolized company.
What do I want to be good at? I’ll be honest – “getting lots of likes on social media by posting cute photos and thought-provoking shortform writing” isn’t high on the list. I want to be a good dancer, a good conversationalist, a good psychology student, a good writer, a good reader, a good lover. All of these things require effort from me, not crowdsourced social affirmation.
Enjoying the real world. It’s not every day you get to move across the country! I’m looking forward to exploring Sacramento, the nearby city of San Francisco, and all they have to offer, without the pressure to share my experiences on Facebook. If my friends want to know how things are going, they can text or call me, and I’ll happily send them photos and updates – but only if they ask for it.
I’ll be online less. Over the past few months of slowly reducing my Facebook use, I’ve started to realize that there really isn’t that much I do online besides look at Facebook. I like the idea that when I’m off Facebook for good, I’ll have more time for other offline hobbies, like practicing my solo jazz dancing!
Wherever you go, there you are. I have often used Facebook as a form of digital escapism – picking up my phone and scrolling when a real-life conversation gets boring, or a work task gets demanding, or a social event gets overwhelming. I want to stop doing this and be more present in the work that I’m doing, and I think getting off Facebook is a good first step.
How will I keep swing dancing?
It’s a valid concern, for sure – almost all Lindy Hop events and scenes use Facebook as their primary mode of communication with their attendees. However, I’ve found a few workarounds that I think will work for me, especially if I implement them as I move to a new scene.
- I’ll use Google, websites, and word-of-mouth to find out about dance events and workshops I want to visit.
- SwingPlanIt has helped me stumble across some great events, and it’s becoming more mainstream for organizers to advertise there.
- I can email events and organizers I want to work for, instead of Facebook messaging them.
- Yehoodi is a great source for worldwide Lindy Hop news!
- While I’m at an event, if organizers post a critical update on Facebook, friends who are on Facebook can help keep me in the loop. Organizers I am working with as a DJ will be fully notified ahead of time that I am only reachable by text or call, and I’ll keep my phone on me in case of emergencies. (“Quick, we need some Cab Calloway STAT!”)
- The Lindy Blend gives organizers several options for contacting me, including my email, available on my about page, and the contact form on my contact page.
What will I do instead?
As a practicing minimalist, I’ve had to learn and re-learn the lesson that what you remove from your life is far less important than what you put into it. So, here’s what I’m planning to do with my newfound free time and distraction-free headspace:
- Write more here on The Lindy Blend.
- Search for great jazz music to add to my library and use when I DJ!
- Practice yoga every day, which helps keep my hardworking dance body flexible and strong.
- Write letters and notes to the people I love.
- Text silly things to my friends like the goofball I am.
- Video chat with all the dear folks I’m leaving behind in Michigan and keep up with the important things happening in their lives.
- Throw myself into my new job – I have lots of new things to learn, including data programming and running an fMRI scanner, and I’ll need all the focus I can get!
- Go for lots of walks and bike rides to explore Sacramento!
Leaving Facebook may not be the right decision for everyone
Facebook definitely makes life easier if you’re a swing dancer, that’s for sure. Bobby White at Swungover has a brief but interesting take on how technology has improved his life. And, obviously, there are the 2.19 billion monthly active users of Facebook, most of whom (I hope!) are finding some value in it.
I’m financially privileged to have my own online space with a .com URL that I pay for myself. Many people don’t have this kind of financial access to a personal website, and using Facebook for their career and personal purposes makes more sense for them. While I may not think social media is ultimately a very helpful tool, I know that a lot of people see it differently, and I think it’s a discussion worth having.