I Don't Know What You Did Last Summer

Forget relationship status updates or enviable vacation photos. If you really want to create a buzz on Facebook, deactivate your account. That's what happened to me this summer when I pulled the plug.
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Considering quitting Facebook? Here's what happens when you do.

Forget relationship status updates or enviable vacation photos. If you really want to create a buzz on Facebook, deactivate your account.

That's what happened to me this summer when I pulled the plug. And apparently, I was just in time. Now there are thousands of current users who are up in arms, threatening to defect over the new layout and growing privacy concerns. But the final push for mass exodus might be Facebook's scary omniscient powers with the introduction of the "timeline" feature, documenting, in chronological order, painful flashbacks of postings past. (Think Hot Tub Time Machine but with hundreds of your online friends.) Whether or not Google+ will be our social savior remains to be seen.

Of course, for most, leaving Facebook will be an idle threat. But what happens when you actually make the leap into the friendless abyss? And what made me finally do it?

Like a lot of conflicted users, I had been toying with the idea of de-friending the social network ever since I joined. As a fairly private person, I was actually a Facebook holdout until my best friend touted, "It's a great way to keep up with people without ever having to speak to them." This appealed to the misanthrope in me. Plus, I had a book to promote. And it was this self-serving need for publicity combined with my slight antisocial tendencies that created a perfect personal Facebook storm. I was ready to "connect and share with the people in my life" in that distant, electronic sort of way.

But after two years, I decided I wanted to limit my distractions. I had planned to write more this summer and would be with my kid full-time. And nothing is more seductive to a writer staring at a blinking cursor or a mom sentenced to the purgatory of a children's museum than a time-sucking website.

Plus, I always felt slightly embarrassed by Facebook even though everyone I knew was on it, including my 90-year-old perpetually caps-locked Mamaw. ("I LOVE YOUR PICTURES MARY! THAT GRAND BABY IS ADORABLE! I LOVE YOU! MAMAW... ) It just felt self-indulgent, and, at times, a little needy (Like me! Friend me!). Worse, it seemed kind of uncool. In fact, the shame I once reserved for my visits to PerezHilton.com now dogged me as my laptop's display announced the telltale FB layout. (To Mark Zuckerberg's credit, unlike Perez, he does not circle pictures of my friends and scrawl "fat" or draw penises orbiting their heads.) But with my growing FB shame, the writing was clearly on my Wall. Deactivating seemed like the right thing to do. Besides, as an on-and-off-again poster, I probably wouldn't be missed much. Among the 300 or so "friends" I had collected over the past couple of years, I would likely slip quietly into the status update ether.

Or so I thought. Within days, my personal email account was flooded with inquiries. Some were direct and merely curious; others more vague and laced with what I call "hopenfreude" -- the hope of possible misfortune behind my departure. Suddenly divorced? Gained massive amounts of weight? Joined a cult? Joined a cult for massively overweight divorcees? The interest was less a commentary on my personal popularity than the group's shared belief: Only something truly terrible could lead to such a decision. Even The Facebook Team was dubious, but patiently humored me as I headed toward the door. "Are you sure you want to deactivate?" they asked. Then they proceeded to show me images of online friends who would "miss me," including a local roofer with whom I had shared a one-time repair estimate. Deactivate. "We'll be here if you decide to come back," sounding not unlike a mother to a precocious child threatening to run away to the backyard.

Look, I never thought Facebook was all bad. Here's what I knew I'd miss: Seeing old friends and their growing families, the Sally Field-esque thrill of someone "liking" me, the rapid-fire birthday alerts that only inflated my sense of self-importance on my special day. (Last year, I chose a more inventive way to acknowledge my well-wishers: "Thank you to all those who sent birthday greetings. Now to de-friend the rest of you!")

But here's what I wouldn't miss: Getting awkward friend requests (My ex's current girlfriend? No thank you.) or being dragged online into people's break-ups and divorces via FB ("Did you see that heifer he's dating?"). Not to mention the time I nearly drove into a tree when my phone alerted me to tagged photos of high school hair past. Until I discovered the permanent "untaggable" setting, the potential of a tagging assault and an actual assault evoked equal amounts of fear. The site's recent shape-shifting has only served to make me even more wary of refined and improved avenues of online humiliation. Specifically, the new "auto-share" feature that tracks and shares what users do and purchase on the web. (Yes, I downloaded Katy Perry's "Firework." But I swear it was for my 6-year-old!)

Other FB buzz kills? My upcoming 20th class reunion won't have near the magic as pre-FB 10 year. At the time, I literally had not seen my classmates for a decade and with it came the kind of in-person delight and surprise that can never be manufactured by profile sharing. Now, not only do I already know what you're doing these days, I've seen your spouse and kids and probably know what you had for lunch. Or the fact that we just ran into each other at the reunion, if you're posting status live from your phone. (At least no one can tag me now.)

A surprising upside to breaking up with Facebook? I'm no longer obligated to acknowledge people's personal problems when I see them.

"I guess you heard my cat died. Oh, yeah, you're not on FB."

Oh, yeah.

I'm sure I've missed a lot, actually. But the nice thing is, I'll never know. Although I do recognize that Facebook is really becoming the norm of networking, I don't care to join the ranks of self-righteous defectors. As actor Rainn Wilson posted on Facebook and Twitter, "'I'm not on Facebook' is the new 'I don't even own a TV.'" Part of me knows that my sojourn is merely putting off the inevitable. Like when my elderly parents finally installed WiFi in their home and stopped proposing that their visiting adult children "sit in the window sill and jump on the neighbor's signal." And shortly after, what did my 75-year-old stepfather do but join Facebook. My mother is still a skeptic, treating FB not unlike an Aboriginal might treat a photo-op. Another stolen soul. But like Team Facebook knows, dusk will arrive, and I'll have to come in from the backyard eventually.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying being outside. Literally. I'm still brown as a biscuit from swimming with my kid nonstop this summer. It's hard to check your profile when you're dripping wet, anyway. And now when I'm bored at the museum, I've just gone back to mentally disciplining the various ill-behaved children that surround me. I've done more writing, too. Ironically, in this case, about Facebook.

And if I see you at my reunion, go ahead and tell me everything. You can rest assured that, for me, it's all shiny and new. Not that I know when and where it's being held. I'm not on FB.

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