It's been a year since I defriended Facebook

I have no plans to again gorge on the junk food of acquaintanceships.
Written by Ross Rubin, Contributor

Last August, I deactivated my Facebook account, that is, indefinitely disabled it as opposed to permanently deleting it. It wasn't done in protest or out of principle or as a savvy step to protect my privacy. Indeed, the departure was marked more by apathy than passion. The corporate entity is still wise to my activity, as I've kept using Messenger (albeit much less) and stayed on Instagram, where I have far fewer connections than I did on Facebook's eponymous service. And I maintain an active social presence on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The whole idea of Facebook puzzled me, as it emerged from college campuses to national prominence. I understood the value of LinkedIn, which allowed one to make and maintain business connections. But Facebook? Why did I need a service to stay in digital touch with people I already knew? Isn't that what email and instant messaging were for? I'd come to learn that Facebook's value lay not in its functionality but its membership; it is the closest thing we have to a global directory. The best gift the service gave me was helping me to reconnect with two old friends who were barely sufficiently active on the service to reconnect. Soon after reconnecting though, our future exchanges all occurred off the platform.

Monotony and a desire to minimize distractions led to my drift from the social network. It was service clutter. First, I began posting less and feeling less inclined to robotically click Like in response to posts. If a friend posted something significant about their lives, I would comment. Then, I deleted the app from my phone. After posting that I needed a break, I effectively left digital society. Or at least tried to. Over the years and despite my avoiding using Facebook to log in to various sites and services, a few had slipped through and I would unwittingly reactivate. After a few weeks, though, I'd finally disentangled myself.

Likely because of my gradual scaling back, I didn't encounter much withdrawal. In the months since leaving and even in this extraordinary time that has impeded in-person connections, I have loved catching up with old friends through emails, direct messages, and phone calls. I've found these communications to strengthen real relationships as opposed to wading through the flotsam and forwarding that would fill the timeline. Leaving Facebook confirmed my sense that many of the "friendships" on Facebook are the relationship equivalent of junk food. They're easy to obtain and quickly digested, but they're not very nourishing.

For me, Facebook offered too low a signal-to-noise ratio, but there are occasionally some important signals. For that, I recommend having a Facebook-friendly friend or family member who is connected to many of the same folks you would be (or would want to be). Indeed, my deactivation was in part inspired by two college friends who never had Facebook accounts, but whose wives acted as conduits. Now, my wife, who enjoys being on Facebook more than I did, has graciously become my Facebook ambassador. When I organized a small group late last year, I turned to Band, which offers a Facebook Groups-like interface that people have found less imposing than Slack or Microsoft Teams.

One topic I've long considered is the chasm in public perception between Facebook and Google. The two internet giants have similar business models, but Google is largely beloved while Facebook is widely reviled. Much of this is due to the many political and privacy-related scandals that Facebook has suffered and is primed to endure. But, fundamentally, Google simply offers not only greater utility to most people than Facebook, but wisely associates itself with positive emotional connections. My favorite example of this is Google Maps, which has guided -- and now welcomes -- millions of people home every day. In contrast, when a photo shared on Facebook touches our hearts, we ascribe that positive emotion to the person sharing the photo. But when we read a political post that infuriates us, we grow angry at Facebook for showing it to us.

While I kept a door open to returning to Facebook, I've had little temptation to step back through it. So, how then should I mark the anniversary of Facebook forfeiture? A celebration of friendships seems fitting -- one that includes writing and calling and lots of liking, but no emotion-swallowing buttons.


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