Oh, you Facebook.
It was so easy to forget you.
Ours was an awkward breakup, mostly because the people I left behind there were confused. And, well, a little frightened.
See, you were all about the past — yeah, that thing I try to leave behind every day.
But I didn’t come to that realization until a year or two into our relationship.
We probably met in 2006, although I know I saw you a lot in 2008. I commented to the woman I was then dating: “You should get on Facebook, hon! It’s a blast. It’s like One. Big. Party.” She said she couldn’t because of privacy concerns and, well, she worked in public education and didn’t want her students to know all about her private life.
But Facebook, when she and I broke up in 2009, I was feeling cold about our relationship, too.
After all, the endless stream of friend requests from people I barely knew growing up, the hokey high school memories, the religious haranguing…
It just got to be too much.
So instead of quitting you all at once, I got creative.
You may remember I used your mini-blog feature to post updates about how I was feeling, something I titled “Mike’s Internal Weather.” It looked like a weather report, with weather-condition-like categories on the left, but to the right of the colon it playfully included song lyrics, poetry, or stuff I made up on the fly.
You know, because it seemed like a fun thing to do.
On April 17, 2009, just after midnight, I posted the first “Death By Facebook” Internal Weather report with a countdown of seven days (pictured at left below). I told nobody why I was doing that. I just labeled a form of death with each mysterious entry (Murder, Electrocution, Misadventure, Drowning…). “Death By Facebook” included a forecast for the remaining days, so readers would notice it counted down to one day: Friday, April 24.
The last Death By Facebook?
I know, I know. Bad form.
The phone started ringing. Folks were worried.
I explained I was killing off Facebook in as many ways as I could think of, and that seemed like a pretty final way to go out.
Then I was done. Closed down my personal account. For good.
It was around then that a friend told me about Twitter.
“Why don’t you try that? You’ll meet cool new people there. Not like the Old Folks’ Home on FB.” He mentioned that “tweets” had to be no longer than 140 characters.
“How stupid is that?” I groused. “What could anyone possibly say that was worth everyone’s attention in that short a message?”
It was May 2009 when I sent my first tweet.
It read: “Here comes the Flood.”
In early December 2015, this appeared in my Twitterfeed:
“Computer Free Holiday Week” started this past week, but I’d made the decision the second I saw Paula Poundstone’s tweets. Why wait until Dec. 20? I’d quit Twitter for three weeks.
So the first morning off social media, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, I put my hand through the kitchen window.
Hoo boy. Off to a great start.
I’d knocked on the window over the sink to scare away a squirrel. The entire pane shattered. Fortunately I emerged with little damage to my hand, since the small knuckle on my right hand took the brunt of it.
But Elvis had already left the Twittertorium.
I couldn’t tweet about it.
[Insert sad emoji here.]
It’s been a terrible December in a terrible year to have one’s social media megaphone taken away: Seeping self-doubt from three years of under/unemployment. The aches and pains of aging — complicated by the relentless onslaught of Big Pharma TV advertising.
And being a big news junkie, I used Twitter as a source for the latest info. Any new terrorist attacks, political buffoonery, and holiday hoo-haw — all had to go into the Time Out corner.
Then it got really quiet, really quick.
Outside of the kitchen window damage, I encountered waves of fear and dread in the faces on the street. Neighbors neglected to hang Christmas lights. Local coffee shop holiday music seemed forced and insipid. A friend informed me over brunch that his 50-year-old wife had been laid off her job of 17 years … Just. Like. That. Couples had separated after decades of marriage, many planning for divorce proceedings in 2016.
And sadly, my upstairs neighbor, only 45 years old, committed suicide the week before I got offline.
It was an unimaginably bleak and untweetable world I’d stepped into.
Since I expected it would be hard, I’d planned “real world activities” to take the edge off the social media withdrawal: visits with friends IN REAL LIFE, lots of walks and trips to places in town I’d never seen before, enjoying music and reading — lots of reading.
I was going to read only classics, and worked my way down a list:
A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
The Death of Socrates, Plato
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Rousseau (which I abandoned and moved on to…)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Basho
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
The Symposium, Plato
That was probably the best idea because many of the books (only a few I’d read before, years ago) still resonate with me. I discovered that Rousseau brings me down. Basho is great when he praises the poets he meets on his travels. Marcus Aurelius was a bit one note on “being true to Nature” without describing exactly what that means.
And Plato? He’s always the shit.
In high school we’d been assigned Knowles’ A Separate Peace. I remember I never finished it. Now I have.
It was awful.
Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying should be required reading in every 2016 classroom.
It was spectacular.
So what’s a social media-less world like?
Maybe the real question is: Can you tell the difference between signal and noise?
When I wasn’t reading, writing, eating, sleeping, or going on walks, I was staring out my broken window at feral squirrels romping through snowless lawns to strategically raid the back alley Dumpster. I’d become a rodent-side attendant. At odd moments I found myself singing, “I’m a squirrel watcher…”
Silence. All the silence. Then the roar of cars out in the street.
But it’s never quiet in one’s head.
We all live in our heads. And these days our heads are in everyone else’s heads. That’s a lot of heads to be living in.
The self-doubts, the money worries, job losses, ageism, racism, sexism, terrorism, the How-Fucked-Up-Can-This-World-Get-ism.
Perhaps social media, while seeming like an honest way to vent, to speak up, to give voice to a cause, only adds to the Noise Machine.
And when I think about what I may be missing, I suddenly realize I’m Not Missing Anything.
In fact, I wonder if I’ll feel the need to tweet so much when I return on Dec. 26…
Note: This originally appeared on Completely in the Dark in Dec. 2015. The author has since left Facebook and Twitter, but is happy to report he’s currently a paid member of Medium.