I will try to keep this post brief: I am just writing to explain my decision to leave social media (Facebook, really) in a month or so. I have been on the cusp of making this decision for years, but I’ve always held back; this post will outline why my thinking has changed.

Why to leave

My reasons here are, I’m sure, entirely typical. There are legion articles discussing the ill effects of social media usage. Here are some of what I’ve noticed in myself, in no particular order:

  • It breeds narcissism. It’s easy enough to see this in others, but of course what really bothers is what I see in myself.
    • How ugly to find oneself thinking, in the midst of some unrelated activity, what a book Facebook post would be.
    • How ugly to evaluate the quality or importance of what one has said by the reaction it gets on social media.
  • It wastes time (though see the qualification below).
  • It puts my train of thought in the control of a computer algorithm, which is not a nice thought.
  • It prioritized quick, superficial interactions, rather than slow, genuine interactions.
  • I have not found it to be a complete echo chamber, but I find that even when I encounter views on Facebook that differ from my own, I tend to get involved in conversations that are confrontational rather than constructive. This is not always the case, but it is frequently the case. In general I do not believe that the speed and superficiality of social media support thoughtful discourse.
  • Connecting with people over superficial channels of communication is, to some extent at least, antithetical to being present to the people who are physically present to you (including family, but not just family).

A note on wasting time. I am a champion time waster. Before Facebook, I wasted time by reading news sites compulsively. Since Facebook, my time wasting is a combination of reading news and checking Facebook. After Facebook, I expect still to waste time reading the news. I cannot blame Facebook for this weakness of my own, but leaving Facebook is at least one way of addressing it in myself.

I want to emphasize that these are not evil things that Facebook has done to me. They are evil things in me, which Facebook facilitates. Too many articles create pictures of evil Silicon Valley technocrats taking advantage of the benighted masses. Whether that’s true of anyone else, it’s not true of me. I’m the one who turns the computer on and off; I’m the one punching web addresses into my browser.

Why to stay

The reason I have stayed on Facebook for so many years is that it is the only way that I keep in touch with many people. I usually live overseas, move around more than average, and know people from many different social networks. I have 700-odd “Facebook friends,” and sadly I will lose touch with many of them when I leave Facebook. I don’t want to let go of friends just because I no longer live in the same place, or do the same job. I don’t want to lose touch with former professors or students. This is really what has kept me on Facebook for the last several years.

There have also been real friendships that have persisted because of Facebook—people I’ve connected with in a real way, sometimes to a greater extent than we had had the opportunity for in real life. I will be most sad if these friendships cease, but I also believe that they are strong enough that they will endure.

Why to leave after all

In short, I think I’ve been deluding myself about the nature of contact that social media really permits, and the quality of relationships that it enables.

This point was driven home recently when a friend’s spouse suddenly disappeared. Not literally, I assume: but the spouse disappeared from Facebook instantly. I had never met the spouse, but had sort of followed the relationship from a distance, and was aware that the spouse existed. Then (I assume?) there was a divorce. And this was the convicting part: of course there had been no announcement to which I could say, “I’m so sorry,” but I also knew that I had no relational standing with this person to say, “What happened?” or, “What’s next?” or any of the things one would say if someone I actually knew was going through a divorce. And at that point I have to reevaluate and ask myself: exactly what sort of relationship was Facebook enabling? Really, no sort of relationship at all. And in fact, something less: it provides the appearance that I am keeping in touch with people, whereas in reality I could hardly be further from their lives.

Just to be clear on that last paragraph: I’m not saying that people need to vomit their emotions onto Facebook—indeed, that’s awkward in its own way. The whole thing is set up to be the “brochure version” of someone’s life, the version of yourself you give when you’re not looking to make a real connection with someone. That’s fine, it’s just not real relationship—at any rate, for me it’s not worth what it costs to maintain it.

So then, the cost-benefit analysis comes up with a pretty straightforward result. Facebook encourages parts of me that need to die, and provides very meager interpersonal connection in return.

And just to take a step back: I am trying to slow down in life. Less technology, more face-to-face time. Fewer articles, more books. Reading more slowly and intentionally. More time in language learning. More time having ‘normal’ friendships. More time with family. Being present where I am. (This sounds so incredibly hokey, even as I write it, that I feel the need to emphasize that it reflects sincere desires!) I’m really just trying to cut out the junk food and focus on the healthy stuff, at the relational and intellectual level.


This is as much of a plan as I’ve got for keeping in touch with people I connect with primarily over Facebook:

  • I’ve made a Facebook announcement a month in advance, providing my email address and asking people to stay in touch. (Probably I should repeat this weekly.)
  • I’ve downloaded all my Facebook data, which includes a list of my contacts (among all my other data). So I won’t forget entirely that certain people existed. I imagine I will need to chase some people down.
  • I hope that my email correspondence will become more meaningful.