If you’ve never said to yourself or another person, “Wow, I really need to cut back on my Facebook habit,” or “I spend way too much time on Facebook!” then move on. This post isn’t for you. If you have, however, well… come in, please. Let me pour you a cup of tea, and let’s talk this out.
I’ve been an active member of Facebook for a good five years. I joined at the encouragement of one of my writing gigs. In five years, I’ve learned how to post status messages that get “likes” and comments, how to share links that friends will enjoy, and how to interact with fellow Facebookers. I’ve made connections with many people via Facebook, and discovered some interesting and helpful resources. And yes, reconnected with old friends and made some new friends.
I was so good at Facebooking that a big not-to-be-named company hired me to ghostwrite their Facebook posts.
Then, I quit that gig. And now I’m (mostly) quitting Facebook.
Now, before you panic on me, I’m not closing my account. I’m not completely disengaging. If I have some big news to share, I’ll share it. If you’re one of my clients, don’t fear. I’ll still update my professional pages and “play the game.” To friends and family, I will still post occasional kid pictures.
That said, I am stepping away from Facebooking. Far, far away. And visiting as infrequently as possible (no more than once a week, for five minutes). If you want to be in touch, you can email me.
Why, you may ask?
Because I have discovered, after months of careful introspection, that Facebook was eating my brain.
Like, seriously. Chomping up my grey and white matter and replacing it with some dull yellow stuff. And not even pretty yellow. More like puke yellow. Eww. I want my grey and white matter back.
My Brain on Facebook
Chances are this isn’t the first you’re reading about the possible negative effects of Facebook, whether from a personal standpoint or a research one. In fact, just last week, a new study reported how Facebook use can impact mood. And there were, of course, a slew of responses, with some saying it’s all true and Facebook is evil, and others claiming that Facebook is heaven sent and the study is evil.
But for a moment, let’s forget all the science that says Facebook is junk food for the brain, and let me tell you what I discovered from my own little experiment. Not because I think my experience is universal, and not because I think how Facebook affected me will be the same way it affected you, but because… well, because this is my blog. So you’re getting my thoughts on the matter!
And maybe we can all learn something. Who knows.
I’ve long suspected that Facebook was a problem for me, and I don’t mean in the checking-it-too-often way, though that is also an issue. I used (and disabled) time limiting programs for Facebook. I uninstalled (and reinstalled) Facebook on my mobile phone numerous times.
I certainly wasn’t in denial that I was a bit addicted to the social media site. (“A bit”…. The same way an alcoholic finds alcohol “a bit” of a problem.)
But what I started to notice – and this was the first worrisome sign – was that Facebook was having an impact on my time away from Facebook. Even if I limited Facebook scrolling and posting and liking to, say, thirty minutes of the day, and even if I didn’t disable blocking programs, Facebook still had a hold on my mind.
This is exactly what the makers of Facebook want.
I’m not going to go all conspiracy theory on you, but this is from a purely logical marketing perspective. Facebook is a consumer product (even if it’s “free”), they want you using the site as much as possible so they can show their ads and make money.
That’s not a bad thing. (I don’t think Dove is bad for wooing us with their True Beauty campaigns either.) But, you know, it’s important to know Facebook is designed to create addiction. All good products are.
While I respect Facebook’s right to create a compelling product, I’m not cool with my brain being held hostage.
Next, I started to take note of not only how much I thought about Facebook when away from Facebook, but how I felt while on Facebook. I practiced mindful Facebooking. (Haha.) As I scrolled past status messages, instead of just reading and skimming and liking and commenting, I would check in and ask myself questions:
What am I thinking right now? How does that make me feel? Why am I liking this and not that? What is that person posting trying to do or show? How do I feel about that? Why am I posting this? What’s my goal? How might my friends react, positively and negatively? As I comment/like this friend’s post, do I feel more or less connected by doing so? What do I really want right now?
I discovered something really disturbing. Facebook – despite being a site I felt compelled to check and be a part of, despite it being something I thought I enjoyed – made me feel bad way more often than it made me feel good.
Didn’t I check out Facebook because I liked the site? Didn’t the connection with fellow writers and far away friends make me feel, well, more connected?
No. That’s what I thought, but what I thought didn’t match my actual experiences, once I started paying attention to them. And if the site was actually making me feel bad, why was I doing it? What drew me to the site? And how could I get those needs really met? Or not?
To Be Continued…
This realization that Facebook actually made me feel bad is what led me on a four month journey — of watching myself use Facebook, watching others use Facebook, and researching the effect of Facebook and the Internet not just on mood but also on creativity and on thinking patterns when off Facebook. I’ve looked at my own experience, but also at various research studies and opinions.
In very short, I found that Facebook (and some other forms of Internet browsing)…
* diminished my creativity reserves
* caused me to live “in Facebook” (even when off Facebook) instead of in the moment
* took up precious room and resources of free space in my mind
* made thoughtful, slow reading more difficult
* brought up a variety of negative feelings, from sadness to anxiety, from isolation to lower self-worth
* created a low, constant buzz of distraction throughout the day (even when not on Facebook)
* ate up ridiculous amounts of time, especially when taking into account Facebook Brain aftereffects
* reduced my feelings of connection with the people I wanted to connect with most
* kept me in touch and in contact with a number of toxic people
* led to me disliking people I used to really enjoy being with
* did not actually deliver the way it was meant to, in terms of ROI for my writing work
* caused a number of awkward social situations off of Facebook
… and more.
I also struggled (and answered, in my own way) all those “But, but.. !!” objections that come from those who say they want to cut-back on Facebook but “can’t.” You know, like, “But that’s the only way I get updates on my family,” and “But how will I network and market my work,” and “But I work at home, and Facebook is my watercooler!” And so many more buts!
So come back for more in this series, which I’m titling This Is Your Brain on Facebook.
I have been mostly away from Facebook for a good two weeks, and while I won’t deny the occasional pull to check in (“just for a minute”), I’ve mostly resisted. And I feel much better for it.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, or want to tell me something, send me an email or even comment on this post! I’d love to really connect with you!
Fellow creative peeps and writers, can you relate? When you’re honest with yourself, is Facebook (or some other Internet site) causing more harm than good? Share your thoughts in the comments. 🙂 Love to hear from you!
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