When I was in kindergarten, I believed my teachers lived in the school building. The idea that they would venture beyond the hallowed halls of learning after school hours seemed unfathomable to my 5-year-old mind.
I still remember the shock I felt one Saturday morning when I encountered one of my teachers at the local supermarket wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.
"Say hi to your teacher!" my mother proclaimed excitedly, but I just stood there next to a bin of cantaloupes, jaw dropped, eyes wide in disbelief. What was my teacher doing out in the real world, buying milk, bread and eggs? Didn't teachers sleep in the supply closet? Didn't they dine on hot dogs and fries in the school cafeteria?
I can draw many parallels between my experience as a former Facebook user and kindergarten days (and I'm not even talking about infantile behavior -- that's a whole new post).
For several years, I used Facebook religiously. I felt I had to, to make plans or keep in touch with people I knew.
Recently, I had begun to feel like that kindergartener in the Kroger. Only this time it was friends who had become trapped in the computer, with no possible hope of extrication. Requests to get together in real life, short, polite messages and other communications were unheeded for weeks, then months, then years.
Where had everybody gone? I knew they were alive -- I had the breakfast updates to prove it. Had I done something terrible to warrant the silent treatment? Was my ego lashing out and what was this telling me? Worst of all, I began to question my value as a friend.
It was like some sort of space-aged, existentially based horror story.
Three months ago, I decided to take a permanent FaceBreak. While I acknowledge Facebook has beneficial qualities -- the ability to share photos and stay in touch with friends and family who live far away, or receive status and event updates from groups and organizations -- it does have a dark side.
While I had deactivated my account in the past, this time I plan to stay away for the foreseeable future. There is life outside Verona walls.
This is what I've learned from Facebook exile.
1.) Your real friends will still make time for you in the analog world:
We are all busy with careers, school, families, finances, chores and the messy, beautiful business of life. We're trying to make our big dreams into realities, but that time honored wisdom still stands true. Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten -- we make time for the people and pursuits that mean the most.
Your real friends will still want to connect with you post-Facebook -- and not just to scroll through your party pictures or see who you're dating or Facebook invite you to every gift-giving occasion held in their honor. And, if they don't respond or won't respond (or can't respond due to a Candy Crush addiction) for a long length of time, they're not really good friends.
2.) You will begin to release the past:
In theory, Facebook should make friendship easier. No longer are we subject to time-space communication constraints. We are allowed unfettered, real-time glimpses into each others' lives without telephones, telegraphs, carrier pigeons or long-distance runners.
Absence does not make the heart grow fonder because we're all thrown together all the time, taking pictures of our breakfasts or talking about our child's toilet-training or bragging about our workout routines like there's no tomorrow. Facebook is making our "social networks" into huge dysfunctional families.
Anthropologically speaking, human beings are not wired to carry around thousands of "friends" for the rest of our lives.
We change so much during our lives, as we accumulate rich, new experiences. The tragedy and the opportunity? Everything changes. People with whom you may once have shared a close bond may no longer be feeling the love and vice-versa. This is especially true of long-distance connections or social bonds formed during intense periods in our lives.
The denouement? Nothing stands still. Not water. Not air. Not time. Not people. We wish them well. We let them go. We try to be thankful for the good times. Life is a cycle and we must live in the present.
3.) You will feel a greater sense of calm:
If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it actually fall? If something happens and you don't status-update it, does it actually happen?
Before I deactivated, my Facebook experience had begun to remind me of talking heads screaming at one another during cable news shows. Whoever spoke the loudest seemed to "win." What it was, I couldn't say. Approval? Ratings? Adulation? It made me feel icky.
It almost seems as if listening has become a lost art, to say nothing of the virtues of patience, contentment and humility.
Does the increasingly atomized, competitive nature of Western society make us feel as if we must constantly outdo each other -- to have the best job, the best relationship, the cutest kids or the best body? When does self-confidence cross the line into pride? And how do we stop the green monster of envy from rearing its ugly head?
Commit to social oblivion. Give up any desire to win the self-promotion rat race. We all have unique strengths and weaknesses. As my kindergarten teacher used to say, "Keep your eyes on your own paper."
4.) You will embrace loneliness:
Spend that hour a day you used to spend on Facebook engaging with the real world. Read a book. Play with a pet. Practice yoga. Organize your sock drawer. Enjoy a sunset. Volunteer. Visit somebody who is homebound and would really love to have a real, in-person conversation. Join a Meetup group and make some new friends.
Think Facebook will miss you? (It won't.)
Original version first published on Elephant Journal.