Deactivated Friendships

facebook-screen-logoAs recently as a few weeks ago, I would not have imagined myself stepping away from Facebook for an extended period of time. This past weekend I deactivated my account. I don’t plan to stay away forever, but I feel the need to take some time away from its rule over my daily life.

Years ago when I first joined, I relished each reconnection with friends and relatives whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. The circles of my life—from elementary school to college to past and present jobs—had come together in one place, people from different chapters in my life all interacting on the same stage. It was surreal and fun to participate in this world where my former classmates could converse with my former students, and I together with all of them.  So very cool. So what happened?

I’m still thinking it through. I made my decision hastily, but so far I feel better for it. Perhaps the stage just got too big for me. Like a Peter Jackson adaptation, I got stretched too thin.  I used to disagree with the philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s belief that one can have only a few friends, but now I’m thinking there’s truth to it. At least for me.

Every day I’d scroll through my feed after making sure that the page showed all activity and not only the top stories, but as my eyes passed over each status update, I rarely read every word or paused to think about the people telling me something about their lives. It dawned on me this past week that, cruel as it sounds, I just don’t care too much about what my almost 600 friends have to say on a daily basis. Now that I’ve deactivated my connections with them, I don’t for the most part feel as though I’m missing something special, even though the network was the only place where I had any connection with a lot of old acquaintances.

I figure that many of these “friends” won’t notice or care that I’ve left. Our interactions were mostly superficial and fleeting, if they paid attention to me at all. If we met in the flesh, perhaps passing one another on the road, we might greet one another, but we wouldn’t stop to talk for very long. We wouldn’t think to rearrange our days to accommodate one another. There would be pleasantries, but no attempts to enter into our respective stories. At this stage in my life, I don’t have the time for friendships I can deactivate without any hesitation or regret.

By the droids, that sounds weird. Can you deactivate and reactivate friendships? I think not. A lot of my connections are not friends. Not really. But some of them are. Some of them are close friends, and some of these I know only through the internet. Because I value these relationships I intend eventually to return to Facebook, but when I do come back again I mean to make it a smaller place, less crowded and busy, less encouraging of the casual glances of a channel surfer.  I would like it to be a place where I care about what my friends post, not simply because it’s there in the feed, but because I care deeply for the people with whom I’m connected.  I’d much prefer to interact with a few good friends than with a crowd.

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14 thoughts on “Deactivated Friendships

  1. The way things go for me most weeks, I’m barely online over the weekend (which is why I appear to neglect threads to posts that I write on a Friday night). It happens for a few reasons. Often my wife needs the computer on the weekend for work (and I don’t browse a lot from my phone and I don’t want to touch our old computer). Usually, there are chores to do and kids to play with. And, finally, I spend every workday in front of a computer, so it can be nice to get away. I find I don’t miss much being unplugged for 48-60 hours at a time.

    Nonetheless, I still value facebook, but I also try to keep my feed lean and trim. I don’t want to hear from absolutely everyone who has sent me a friend request, and I certainly don’t accept them all.

    I can completely understand why you are deactivating.

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  2. I like Facebook as a way of maintaining a tenuous connection to a lot of people I hardly know, a reasonably robust connection to a handful of people I know well and love but otherwise would rarely interact with, and as an occasionally challenging memory game as I try to remember who the hell a distressingly large number of my “friends” are.

    If I really tried to keep up with everything the way you describe, I would find it overwhelming. For me, it’s dipping my toe in a stream, not an attempt to swim.

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  3. I think it says something about humanity that people Facebook. Every month or two I log in and my jaw drops at the useless “stuff” people want to share (excluding the cool cat photos of course). I shake my head and promise to never look again. Facebook and the local news are two of the greatest wastes of time ever invented, both tapping in to some innate urge to be caught up on useless “stuff.” My guess is a lot of hunter gatherers got kicked out of the band if not keeping up on gossip.

    Facebook is to human interaction as twinkles are to food.

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  4. All my FB friends are people I went to high school with, several thousand miles away. I used to look at FB a lot and I realized that the only thing put on the site was inane crap I didn’t care about. Really, do I need your Farmville status? Nope. I got into several “discussions” on the site and concluded that no one was interested in a debate, they just wanted to “spread the outrage” over some liberal or conservative issue-it essentially looked to reguritated talking points from each side. Seemed like it was a grand waste of my time….

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  5. For me Twitter was a life saver. It was the first place I could really be totally honest about who I was, to be painlessly “out.”

    Which is to say, I’d already been “playing a girl” online for a very long time, but it was on Twitter that I met other trans folks and could open up to them. It was there I met the person who convinced me to seek HRT. (It was Zinnia Jones, btw.)

    I maintain those relationships. Now that I am openly trans and live full time, I have followed many of those same people to Facebook, where I get to watch them mingle with my older friends.

    It’s quite an amazing thing, actually. If I hop on a plane to just about any cool city (where folks speak English), I will already know someone there, someone like me, who knows where to go, what is safe, what I can do. I’m invited into their home. We call each other “love” and “darling.”

    I suppose these social network are not for everyone. To call them a waste of time is obnoxious. Speak for yourself.

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    • I am too old to have found twitter or Facebook a lifesaver but I definitely found the older internet functions absolutely indispensable when I was an isolated country kid so I can really emphasize with this. People get different levels of utility out of these social networks; for some it’s a few moments of entertainment, for others a personal organizer and for others a lifeline to sanity (and everything in between).

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  6. Clean of FB since November 2012 and loving it. Have never had a closer relationship with my true and proper friends, and I’ve blessedly cut many of my “friends” (read: tenuous acquaintances) out of my life.

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  7. I think that Ricœur is on the money. Jerry Seinfeld made this same point; he said he only had room for three friends.

    Of course one can be friendly with a lot of people, but the actual title of friend should be reserved for someone special.

    This is coming from someone who is in politics, where everyone refers to each other as a “good friend” without blinking an eye.

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  8. If you’ve always wondered whether your friend is a horrible speller, I’ve found that facebook is a great way to confirm this.

    That said, most of my facebook feed is made up of acquaintances reposting memes.

    I admit to liking the ones about Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about injecting weed.

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  9. I don’t do Facebook nearly as much as Kyle used to. Still, I find the whole concept discomforting and I’m not sure exactly why or how I feel that way. Several times I’ve thought I’d cancel my membership. But those thoughts have always been shown to be idle exercises because I don’t cancel the membership. I think that is what makes me uncomfortable about it.

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  10. My Facebook friends list contains two people that I have never met in person. There a old co-workers, old friends from school, old friends from the military and lots of family members. I’ve thought about deactivating it, especially a week ago when I found out my Uncle died via my news feed. I was at work, had the phone on silent, didn’t hear the call come in. Saw there was a voice mail at lunch but first checked my Facebook feed. There it was, it’s not the first time I have found out about a death in the family that way. Sucks. Still that doesn’t outweigh the good I guess. I was able to chat and see pictures from my nephew in Afghanistan. I followed his battalion’s page, who knew they had Facebook pages, back when I was in during the first Gulf War things were way different, no instant communication via Skype and Facebook like now.

    I probably won’t really get rid of Facebook, even though I threaten to. Just too many family members spread through out the globe and it is way easier to have one place to go to for updates, the good and the bad, from family members.

    It used to be you called Mom or Dad to get the updates on the rest of my family, now I check Facebook.

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  11. I have some good stories about reconnecting with old friends via FB. My 8th grade class has a 25 year reunion planned for next spring that never would have happened without FB.

    I will also say that our circle of friends need pruning as we get older. It’s not as though you have to suddenly start ignoring anyone who doesn’t make the cut but it’s important to decide which friendships you want to keep devoting your energy too and which you want to allow to whither and die if necessary.

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