I recently completed a weeklong media fast. The experience was refreshing, uncomfortable and eye-opening. It even helped me confront some unhealthy patterns in my life. Here are the ground rules that I followed, most of which were inspired by The Four Hour Workweek:
- No newspapers, magazines, audiobooks, or non-music radio. Music is allowed at all times.
- No news websites whatsoever.
- No social media whatsoever.
- No television, except for one hour of pleasure viewing each evening.
- No books, except for The Four Hour Workweek (nonfiction) and The Silmarillion (fiction).
- Read and send email only twice each day. Most media-related emails go straight to the trash.
- No web browsing at work unless it's necessary to complete a task. In the words of Tim Ferriss, "necessary means necessary, not nice to have."
In the past, I've tried similar fasts. Last year, I deleted all of my social apps, disabled web browsing, and turned off email on my phone and tablet. That experiment lasted about two weeks. I would only check email from my laptop. Limiting access to email and Safari provided greater awareness of my communication consumption, but proved problematic when I needed to find information on the go. I didn't feel bad when I turned those apps on again. As for social media, I came crawling back to them as well, even though I felt like a cat eating its own hairball of shame in a dark corner.
There are two kinds of digital communication: those that improve our lives, and those that harm. If that seems too black and white for you, consider our second-greatest resource: time. Besides love, time is perhaps the most valuable thing we have. Though everyone this side of terminal illness or calamity has time in spades, it is limited and non-renewable. You can't buy more of it. Compare time with money, which is distributed unevenly yet virtually unlimited for those with the wherewithal to create it. By all means, be careful when spending your hard-earned cash; but spend your time with ruthless discernment. The world has great need for your best work, words and wisdom. It has no need for wasteful or addictive habits.
It can be hard to tell the difference between healthy and toxic communication tools, and many of them have mixed amounts of honey and arsenic. Some digital tools, however, have been around long enough to prove generally unhelpful for society. And for myself and at least one other person who has my utmost respect, Facebook falls squarely into the toxic category.
This is why I'm leaving Facebook for good. I'm certainly not the first to write about such a decision, but hopefully I can contribute something new to the conversation.
Here are some reasons for leaving, in no particular order.
- Facebook made it easier for me to be a crappy friend and family member. Aunts, cousins and even grandmothers can stay up to speed on the Steel household, thanks to Facebook and Instagram. I almost never have to pick up the phone. I'm the only one to blame for this, but I certainly don't need Facebook to empower my relational apathy.
- You can go broad, but you can't go deep. A friend of mine recently described the baseline for his Facebook connections as "people he'd recognize in a line-up." Because time is precious to me, I'd rather focus on deepening my social network instead of broadening it.
- It's addictive, and not in the "OMG this product is so useful and amazing" way. The devious brilliance of Facebook is how those little red flags induce the release of small amounts of dopamine in our brains. Those little squirts of brain-buzz never mature into lasting feelings of joy. Like any addictive drug, Facebook always leaves you unsatisfied and wanting more. I'd go as far as to say that Facebook is to friendship what porn is to sex. A poor substitute for the real thing.
- Facebook is the perfect platform for presenting a designed self. But the allure of deceit by design is all too powerful. I can carefully curate my life to look like a shimmering stream of Hallmark moments. To people browsing their newsfeeds, this can produce feelings of envy, depression, or (perhaps most ironically) isolation and loneliness.
- My ego doesn't need the fuel. Facebook provides a never-ending popularity contest of likes, comments and reposts. Just because narcissism is more pervasive than ever, that doesn't mean it's okay.
- Real communication is messy, hard to control, requires vulnerability and can take decades of hard work. But it's infinitely more beautiful and more rewarding. Having total control over the way we present ourselves makes us less human.
- I've found that every time I browse Facebook, I'm avoiding a more challenging yet meaningful use of time. It distracts me from the real stuff of life, whether it's playing Legos with my kids, enjoying rare moments alone with my wife or designing something that will improve people's lives in some small way.
- Selective ignorance is a profoundly peaceful state, particularly when...
- The majority of content is utter garbage.
- I rediscovered the prudence of privacy.
- When I clicked the (hidden) Deactivate button, I was informed that my "370 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with me." Bullshit. Thanks for making it easy for me to follow through, guys.
We are far too easily pleased. --C.S. Lewis
So as of February 23, 2014, I've decided that the time has come to change the way I use Facebook. People interested in the ideas and work being done at Grain (my company) can follow our Facebook page. But I am choosing to stop using Facebook for personal communication with family, friends or clients.
If anyone has glossed over this entire post until now, leaving Facebook doesn't mean you (or I) have to leave relationships behind. For myself, I'm actively choosing to deepen the real relationships I already have, and create more space for new ones.
I'm excited to see what my life is going to look like without Facebook.
Matt Steel is a St. Louis-based creative director, designer, type-lover, poet, wave-starved surfer, father of three and husband of one. He is a co-founder of Grain, a full-service creative firm. Visit www.grainforall.com for more information.