Closing the Facebook

It's been two weeks since I deleted my Facebook account. I do not see myself going back. The reasons for leaving have nothing to do with cybersecurity or privacy - they have to do with what Facebook is doing to me as a person.

I began using Facebook about a decade ago. Ten years ago my life was very different. My wife and I had lived in a different state for a stretch and recently had moved closer to home again. My life had been going through changes as our family had grown from 1 children to 4 children. As a young family, the idea of being able to share our lives online with family and friends was quite appealing: why not post photos for grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other friends we had made while living in multiple states to see?

There was a stretch of time when I was quite happy with Facebook and found its utility to be helpful. My mom would "like" photos of her grandkids, I knew when my uncle or aunt would have a health emergency, and most importantly I would know when new branches were added to our family tree or less-than-close family members would get married.

However, even back then I found that I was using social media to trumpet my opinions and slap people upside the head when I believed that they were wrong. I would open Facebook and feel a chemical rush as I saw that not only did I have "notifications" to check, but somebody thought I was important enough to argue with me (more about that chemical rush later). I don't recall ever changing anyone's mind, but I remember spending a lot of my time quite worked up.

As I moved toward attending seminary and becoming a pastor I decided that my Facebook use needed to be measured and careful. No more shooting from the hip and picking fights wherever I could find a willing participant. I resolved that my Facebook page would be a place of positivity and up building other Christians. I shared helpful articles, interesting news stories, Bible verses, and quotes from theologians that I hoped would help friends, fellow pastors, and parishioners.

As I became more "disciplined" in how I used Facebook I noticed a few issues:

1. Problems With Other people

One of the things that has become apparent to me is that I almost never (with a couple of exceptions) feel my esteem for others grow as I read their Facebook walls. People I heretofore assumed were relatively level-headed Christians would end up:

  • Sharing the cooky-est conspiracy theories I have ever heard
  • Supporting organizations and groups that I couldn't even conceive a rational person being excited about
  • Picking fights with people and arguing illogically and angrily
  • Showing me that they have way more time on their hands than I ever assumed they did.

I had a family member that practically disowned me because she disagreed with my political expressed on Facebook, of course. If we had spoken in person and I had told her my views, we would probably still be in touch; but, Facebook has a way of helping us speak in the worst possible way and read one another in the worst possible light. Facebook ruined a close family relationship. You might say it was me, or my family member, but I don't think so. The online format is a great way of losing friends and family, but not a very good way of making or keeping them.

Even worse, it turns out that Facebook is a bad place for the work of the church to take place, as well. I have talked to numerous pastors and elders who have joined Facebook groups for their own religious groups only to be filled with tremendous disappointment.

I initially joined a Facebook group for my own denomination soon after being ordained and assumed it would be the one place on Facebook where I would find a refuge from the insanity of our times. Unfortunately (and I can't emphasize this enough) it has actually been the most disappointing place for me on the entire internet.

As a young idealistic pastor I had assumed that my peers were dignified men who would carry themselves carefully and thoughtfully. I assumed they would only speak when necessary and have sage wisdom. I have found this to be true of many elders. However, I also discovered that there are massive quantities of biblical and theological illiteracy within my denomination - men who didn't even seem to understand the basics of our church government. A few times men admitted to bizarre beliefs that are against our church's teaching, but when I confronted them they said they had no intention of ever reporting their odd views.

Worse, it turns out that many elders in churches today are actually deeply immature men who name-call each other, are defensive and childish in the way they speak to each other, and who are very quick to show their dislike for one another. Eventually I left the group because reading it on a daily basis left me grieving for the future of denominational discourse.

I am more convinced than ever that Facebook is the worst possible place on earth for the work of the church to be done.

In time I realized that the only pastors whom I felt a growing esteem for were those who did not post on Facebook at all. Over time I respected their restraint, and I found myself imagining the best about them instead of seeing the worst on Facebook. I started to wonder: if I respect most those who interact the least, what must others think about me if I post daily... sometimes as many as five times a day!

2. Problems with Myself

Facebook is making you unhappy. It's making me unhappy. You see it, I see it. We all see it. The argument made by Facebook is that yes, their research does show that using their product correlates with growing unhappiness, but they do so much "good" in the world that the bad side-effects are tolerable.

I have had a lot of conversations lately about Facebook, and probably 90% of the people I have spoken to hate Facebook but still use it. They know it's poisoning public discourse. They know face to face conversations (or at least well thought articles and opinion pieces) are a healthier way to hash out disagreements. They know that the negativity and anger of other people online is rubbing off on them, and yet they are still using it. The question is why? I'll offer some thoughts toward the end on why I think Facebook still persists in spite of its negative impact on our hearts and souls.

3. An addiction to feedback

Jaron Lanier, in his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now talks about the chemical rush that comes from opening your social media and seeing notifications. The truth is, we all feel an affirmation of our existence each time we open Facebook and see that red number in the corner. Lanier says that we become so addicted to seeing it that we will write for no reason at all, just in hopes that we'll see the feedback that we are becoming addicted to.

How do I know we're addicted? Well I don't know that you are addicted, but I know that I am. It's been two weeks since I deleted my Facebook account and deleted the app from my phone, and for the first week I was incessantly opening my phone and staring at nothing. And I know what I wanted... I wanted Facebook. What did I want on it? Nothing. It wasn't there. I had seen how unhappy it was making me. Why would I want to look at that awful app?

I may not have been wanting anything from Facebook, but telling my body that was something else. My body had become accustomed to the physical act of opening, looking, and seeing the red number for over ten years. After about three days I was admitting to others that I thought I was feeling physical withdrawals from the ritual and the experience. Where would I go to share my little thoughts? How would I know what is going on around me?

Well that leads to the next point, which is this: I should call them. Text them personally. Talk to them. Visit with them. Catch up with them at church.

4. Facebook Relational Laziness (FRL)

I've had more than one conversation in person with someone where I start to share a thought and realize that I already said it on Facebook as a status. And so I'll say something else instead. My Facebook usage was affecting my personal interactions. I found myself saving my best thoughts and ideas for social media instead of putting them into sermons or sharing them with a hurting person in person.

When people would say, "How are you doing?" I found myself not saying as much because I had assumed they saw my Facebook feed already and I didn't want to be redundant. I haven't called my mother in a very long time, and I would suggest it's because I haven't felt the need. After all, I can see what she's up to, and she can already see what I'm up to: why call each other when we can see all the necessary information? The answer: FRL.

A decade of using Facebook has reshaped how some of us do relationships, and not for the better.

Why Are We Still Using Facebook?

For some, it's a matter of necessity. It's hard to be a public official in 2018 and not have some sort of social media presence. I even told myself that I had to keep social media so I could manage our church Facebook page (I figured out an annoying work-around). One family member owns a business and tells me she would drop Facebook in a heartbeat if she didn't need it to stay in business.

But truthfully, I suspect the greatest reason why we still use Facebook is loneliness. Some people truly wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they didn't have Facebook. They'd probably get so lonely that they might go out in public, join a club, invite a friend over... visit a church... do something to combat that feeling of alienation.

Hugh Laurie played the titular character of the TV show House for about ten years. His character on the show walks with a limp. In real life he has no limp, but the actual actor started to be impacted by his use of the cane and the need to affect a limp for his character. Eventually he persuaded the show's writers and producers to find a way to fix his character's limp. Using an unnecessary crutch or cane can begin to ruin us, and I want to suggest that Facebook has been a relational crutch for us, and it has affected how we walk and live and talk now.

Loneliness is an epidemic in our day, and the younger you are, statistically the more lonely you are likely to be. Isn't it ironic that the most "connected" generation is the most alienated and lonely? Just a few weeks away from Facebook has shown me how dependent I've been on the feedback and affirmation that comes from being clever, liked, and followed by others on Facebook. I may not have spent time with more people, but I've done something close enough to a "relationship" that I persuaded myself that I wasn't lonely. Facebook becomes "good enough" as a substitute.

Why use Facebook when it makes us so unhappy? Many would rather be angry and unhappy than lonely. Even if you're mad online and surrounded by people you don't like very much, you're still not alone. Another reason they use this monster that they don't like is Fear of Missing Out. What if something happens and you find it out later than everyone else? What if someone has a baby and they never tell you?

I would suggest that an open-minded evaluation of social media's effect on our own hearts and lives will show that it is slowly draining us of our immediate experience of the real world. It is making us people who perform for others, but do not really live. It's making us more isolated, but at the same time making us think that knowledge about others is the same as knowing others. It's making us confused about what a "friend" really is.

It's time for all of us to rethink relationships. It's time for us to rethink Facebook.