D(r)eactivating Facebook: Taking Back Control

Last Tuesday I deactivated my Facebook (FB) account for one week as part of an experiment to see just how big a part of my life it has become.  As I said last week,

Often times we do not realize what role something plays in our life until we are forced to no longer have that in our life (this works with people too). Thus, I have decided to proactively eliminate Facebook from my life in order to analyze the role it plays in my daily routine.

For more information and background on my rationale for this experiment, read last week’s entry.

In this follow-up to the experiment I will discuss three items: A.) how it felt to be off FB, B.) three things I learned about FB and social media habits, and C.) how this will (hopefully) affect my future use of FB.

A.) How it Felt

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words” and since today’s entry is already long enough, here is a picture from our Australia trip last March that exemplifies how I’ve felt over the past week without FB in my life.

FREEDOM!

Freedom!

Liberation!

Dramatic words, I know, but that is exactly how this FB-less week has felt.

I have tried many times before to limit my FB logins but it has failed because there always remained a FB profile to log into. By deactivating my account, however, this urge to log in substantially decreased because there was nothing left to be missed; no messages, no event invites, no wall posts, and no photo tags because it became impossible for people to interact with my FB profile.

I mentioned last week that I would keep a daily journal of sorts to document how the experiment was going. While I did not write everyday (graduate school schedule of death), I still ended up with a total of four “journal entries”. Below is a quote from the first entry discussing how the initial action of disabling FB felt.

Wednesday September 28th 5:21PM

It felt very good to disable Facebook.  I think I got an adrenaline rush just doing it, and felt more ‘in control’ of my world! It’s funny that such a simple thing felt so good.

FB addiction...as presented by Comedy Central's South Park.

As noted last week, I had made it a habit to log into FB a lot and to make it a part of my daily routine. I also mentioned that I did not hate FB but that I hated my FB habits instead because I was wasting a lot of time on the website. I would not just log in, check my messages and posts, and then log out (as many of my much stronger willed friends successfully do). I would log in, check my messages and posts, and spend the other time mindlessly browsing FB and clicking other people’s profiles to “stalk” them (we all do it, some people just don’t like to admit it).

After I deactivated my account and stopped logging in on a daily basis, I realized just how silly this waste of time really was. Instead of mindlessly browsing other people’s self-created online identities, I could now do more productive things, such as classwork.

It felt really good to not know what hundreds of my acquaintances, excuse me, my “friends”, were doing every second of the day.

Believe it or not, it was still possible for me to have an enjoyable day even when I didn’t find out what hundreds of people thought about the weather or the latest football scores.

B.) Three things I Learned About Facebook and Social Media Habits

1. Facebook as a communication tool. I realized over the past week just how much my friends and I use FB as a tool for everyday communication that has nothing to do with the aforementioned mindless browsing of profiles. I learned this by finding myself in situations in which the other people wanted to use FB to communicate but could not since my profile was gone.

  • I got the following text message from a friend who wanted to send me a question about an upcoming trip to Chicago via FB just a few hours after “the deed” of deactivating it: “Did you get rid of Facebook?!” We ended up talking about the trip through text messaging instead.

  • Last Wednesday a friend from New York sent me an article link via email because she could not do so over FB and we had a back and forth email conversation about the article. Usually this would have happened through FB. Appropriately enough, the article was about FB!

  • Last Friday I asked a friend to send me a text message of his address so that I could enter it into my GPS. He told me he would send an address to me via FB because he had limited text messaging. He had to send the address via email instead.

  • Yesterday I got another text which said, “OMG ARE YOU NOT ON FACEBOOK ANYMORE!?!” from a friend I had seen the night before but didn’t tell about the experiment.

Obviously, all of these interactions were casual and not serious, thus it was not a big deal that I had to use email and text messaging instead of FB. Despite the lack of “seriousness” in these messages, an important point can still be taken away from my experiences with them. Facebook was seen as the first option to communicate; the other forms of communication were only used as “Plan B” after my friends found out that FB was not an option. This tells me that we have made FB an important communication tool for our daily lives.

2. The “urge” to know. As the FB-less week wore on, the initial feelings of freedom were accompanied by feelings of being out of the loop; I actually wanted to know what my closest friends were up to. Some more quotes from the journal entries are warranted here:

Thursday September 29th 1:17AM

I am actually still happy to be away from the ‘traffic jam’ of FB. I will admit though that I had urges to check up on friends and to log in when I was browsing the web, which tells me that I have formed somewhat of a habit on checking it.

Saturday October 1st 2:00AM

I do feel a little “out of touch” with a few people that I feel that I am usually more “in touch” with.

I have “urges” to share information with the world, and have been doing so more with Twitter and Google lately.

I had developed tendencies to check up on what my friends were doing on a daily basis. While I enjoyed not following hundreds of acquaintances on a daily basis, I began to miss “being in the loop” of my closest friends.

3. Other social media. The third thing I learned during the FB-less week was that FB is not the only social medium allowing us to effectively communicate and share information with our friends online. My usage of Twitter and Goolge + increased over the past week. The former was awesome, the latter not so much.

I’ve had a total of 48 tweets since deactivating my FB, which is an increase from the 40 tweets I had the week prior. For those who have not joined the awesome world of Twitter, a “tweet” is the equivalent of a FB status update.

I spent a lot more time in the past week checking my Twitter feed because the FB feed was not an option. Twitter was a much smaller time investment than FB because there were no extensive profiles to “stalk”; just 140 character statuses to read. These Twitter statuses were often links to interesting articles with brief commentary, so it felt like a more productive use of my time. These feelings led me to post the below “tweet” a few days ago:

I also spent more time on Google +, but it was not as good a replacement for FB as Twitter. Putting on my communication theory “thinking cap” while writing in the journal, I pondered about why Google + might be less exiting than FB and Twitter:

The “newsfeed” of FB and of other similar social media websites has created in us a need to be constantly updated. Even if these updates are absolutely pointless, its not about the content of the updates anyway, its about the updates themselves. We feel more connected if we see that other people are doing stuff, even if that “stuff” consists of “liking” an obscure comment from a friend we never know or commenting on a random photo. Google + also has a stream, but so few people are on this stream that it updates only about every half an hour. On FB, however, there are updates nearly every minute! So I feel that Google + is less exciting because I do not see the constant updates!

Psychologist William Schutz (1976) (as quoted by Pearson et al. (2011)) found that human beings have three basic interpersonal needs: inclusion, affection, and control.

It seems that social media websites such as FB have become popular in part because they satisfy these basic human needs. Particularly relevant for this topic are the constant status updates on our respective social media home pages.

It may not matter that these updates are pointless. What matters is that us seeing these updates everyday might lead to a feeling of being included in our social circles.

Assuming this educated assumption is true, I might have perceived Google+ as less exciting than FB and Twitter because there were no continuous updates from the social circles on Google+ and I felt less “included” in the overall discourse as a result.

Being away from FB definitely helped me to learn and realize a lot. It has also inspired me to take some practical actions related to my FB use from now on.

C.) How This Will (Hopefully) Affect my Future Use of FB.

Last week I said,

I want to use Facebook as a tool and I want to control Facebook. I do not want Facebook to use me as a tool and to control me.

As mentioned above by Schutz (1976), a sense of control is one of the basic interpersonal needs for humans. Using FB as a communication tool loses a lot of its luster when that tool takes control of our lives. When we feel “urges” and “needs” to log into FB and to mindlessly stalk others and endlessly update our own profiles, I believe that we have let FB take control.

However, if we use FB as a communication tool (as the first point above under the things I learned exemplifies), I believe it can still be very beneficial for our lives. It still does the best job of keeping us “in the loop” with what our friends/family from all over the world are up to.

In May I wrote about the predictable fear of new communication technologies. There have always been people who assert that technology is taking over our lives and that we have no control over it; examples include the people who feared the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and people who blame television (instead of social, economical, and familial factors) for increases in violence on American streets.

Deleting FB without critically thinking about how to improve our experiences of it by changing how we use it would just be a continuation of the centuries old fear of new technologies. Instead of fighting against these new trends, we should embrace them (with a caution).

I encourage the reader to become more consciously aware of how they use FB on a daily basis and to take back control if they have given that control up, like I had.

I plan to dramatically reduce the amount of time I spend on FB. I will use it as a communication tool but I do not want it to become a time consuming daily routine. I have learned about my FB habits and will work on changing them.

Among the specific things that I will change include not re-downloading the iPhone application (for me, FB on the phone leads to over involvement) and forcing myself to not spend more than a few minutes a day logged into FB unless I am chatting with someone.

Hey, Facebook User…This post is not just about the author.  It’s about YOU. 

This experiment was not done just for my personal insights. I hope that these insights will inspire others out there to consciously evaluate their own uses of FB and other social media websites and to conduct “experiments” of their own. Many people have done what I have done (check out this ABC article) and I am certainly not the first to blog about deactivating FB: this person did it, this person talked about doing it, and I am sure there are countless more related articles on the Internet about this issue (I would die if I tried to give you all the links).

For some people doing what they are already doing is working just fine. My brother, for example, has never had a FB account and is completely content with life!  For many others, however, FB has taken control over your daily routines and you need to take that control back!

I encourage you to do so in whichever way is best for you. When it’s all said and done, FB and other social media are just accessories to communication, while the best form of communication is still good old face-to-face! The Internet has forever changed how we communicate, but we have a say in this change because we can (as of now) choose to take advantage of FB and to not let FB take advantage of us.