Retreat...

Retreat…

 “Do you ever want to delete FB?” she asked.
It was late evening on April 11, 2016. I received a private message on FB from someone, asking why I unfriended her.
I was happy to receive her message, but sad to admit I had no real reason other than wanting a smaller friends list.
“I’ll be honest, I struggle on FB. I get stressed with a big friends list and then I sometimes unfriend many people who I just haven’t communicated with much. It’s not a good system and I never intend to hurt feelings.”
“It’s ok, I do the same thing,” she replied.
I was so glad she reached out. I have never unfriended to hurt someone but of course I have done so out of interest to no longer communicate, because the bond felt off or because I felt conflict with the person that I did not see getting resolved or benefiting from social media connection. Gone are the days when you have a spat with a friend or even loose acquaintance (or just don’t feel comfortable with them) and you just drift apart. In the digital age one contends with remaining connected, sometimes across multiple platforms.
More often than not though, it wasn’t personal.
We got to chatting and she mentioned that she thinks about deleting FB sometimes.
Yes, I have thought about deleting too, I wrote. But I use FB to document memories.
Oh and I go through phones a lot so it’s nice to have quick access to old photos even when I get a new phone.
Oh and I have a business page and a couple other FB pages and I need a personal profile in order to run those.
Also, I move a lot and it makes it nice to share all the chapters . I am rarely around family other than husband and son so it’s a good place to stay connected
I had numerous reasons why I relied on FB, why I needed to stay, why I valued it as a medium and digital space. But while I had (and still have) all those great reasons, I have for long had my own critiques too.
“I feel like social media makes it easy to look up and find people easily but I don’t think it is necessarily always the best connector. Or perhaps better said, I think for many people it is not the only connector they want to rely on. Sometimes I don’t mind drifting out of contact with people and then coming back together. I feel like FB makes it so finite with the friends list and it feels offensive to unfriend people but often it’s not meant like that.  
She agreed.
Anyone who really knows me should know that even if we are not connected online, my heart is still open, as is my time for meeting up & communicating via many channels. There were (are) many things I enjoy about FB. The seeming ‘finite’ nature of the friends list was not one of them.
At some point during the chat, she mentioned leaving Facebook and being “free”.
My spirit winked and my mind was on the move.  In that cool late evening space, snug in my den with my toddler son curled up on my lap and in the comfort of this private  chat, I was able to own up and have a moment of deeper truth.
“There’s all that good practical stuff about connecting and storing memories but I definitely have a virtual addiction. I’ve had it for years….”
My friend agreed she had it too.
I went on to reflect that the problem I have is largely wrapped up in FB. While I post on IG and Twitter I don’t have any issues with balance there
In less than an hour since she initially wrote me, I was admitting that leaving FB did indeed sound very freeing. We agreed how much time, precious time, it consumes for us.  I was hooked on the idea, the prospect of days free of constantly checking my notifications and the appeal of giving up my need to share multiple thoughts and moments every day.
The decision was a little more blissful than the execution.
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If you think talking about Facebook (or social media in general) at length is boring or indulgent, stop reading here & return to your life.
If you have ever thought about leaving Facebook (or any other social media), you may find this relatable.
If you have ever reflected on how use of social media  affects us personally as well as collectively and recognize that people have a wide and varied approach to using social media, from very impersonal to daily journal like posts, then maybe you’ll find these reflections interesting.
I write this mainly to remember the moment. That’s why I started this blog back in 2009, as a digital journal, before my first cross country trip with my husband (newly married) from the Pacific Northwest to the South.
I’ve always been a written communicator, having a number of pen pals as a child as soon as I could draft the simplest of letters.My boxes of diaries and journals from over the years are hefty and precious cargo to me.
I was born in the seventies. I grew up using a landline and wrote my first email in the very late nineties. In 2002, while living in Stockholm I joined Friendster. That was in fact the first social media site I ever joined and hints of attachment (or addiction) were, I recall, already present in these early years of use.
MySpace came along and I plugged right in. Like many, I eventually left both platforms for the next. Facebook was great. It seemed everyone was on it.  All that potential to reconnect with folks, from your childhood friends you drifted out of touch with to the loose acquaintances you establish at various points through life.  So easy to find and communicate with folks!  I was fascinated. It was connective and exciting, distracting and a phenomenal time drain.
Looking back, the introduction of social media, to massive and mainstream use, as part of a quickening is clear as day. You can find plenty of people who have not (and will not) ever join FB, IG, Twitter or the rest. But you can just as likely be surrounded by people who use these platforms regularly, multiple times per day . FB has become a modern rolodex for plenty of folks, a digital coffee shop, a place to read news, have fun, be entertained, work for a cause, debate, run the virtual storefront of a business and follow businesses and brands.
Some might wonder what all the fuss is about and why anyone would ever imply that leaving FB can feel like a drastic shift. Think instead how in a span of less than two decades, FB has, for a great number of people, come to replace nearly all other forms of communication, aside from talking and texting. I have on more than a few occasions heard someone say that they don’t use email much (relying on FB msg’ing instead) or “How will we stay connected” if I left FB?
My decision to close my personal account was quite sudden. I didn’t decide to leave because something bad happened. I didn’t decide to leave because I was tired of seeing people’s posts. I didn’t decide to leave because I was going off the social media grid.
I didn’t post that I was planning to leave within a few days because I wanted or needed attention or needed to grandstand an exit. Announcing it, for me, was a courtesy for those on my list who might see the post and care to keep in touch.
But I didn’t just announce it. I also wrote to many on my friends list to collect emails to stay in touch. Why did it begin to feel like a great big good bye? Because really, that’s precisely what I knew it would be. Many friendships are nurtured on FB and even more acquaintanceships born. But I was under no illusion that leaving would not change that.  It would take effort to stay in touch with people. I didn’t mind but I was realistic in knowing many of those online acquaintanceships would fade.
I was immediately hit by those sad, tearful  face emoticons and understanding words in response to my first post about leaving. These were people who had watched the growth of my son in his first 2+ years and frequently commented. I remember the joy I felt to post his 1st photo on FB, while still in the hospital, less than 12 hours after his birth, sharing that moment with friends and family globally.
Leaving FB in a personal sense initially meant, for me, deleting the account, not simply deactivating. I wasn’t interested in “taking a break.”  The bliss and relief I felt in deciding to leave FB was about closing the door to my personal profile and the habits and patterns I had developed there.
This wasn’t my first rodeo.  Back in 2009 I had deleted a personal FB account, for very much the same reasons I thought to do it now.  More of a quiet mind and less digital distractions.  We were living in Alabama at the time and months later as we were moving to Germany I started up a new account.
So here I was with over 6 years of posts and upwards of a few thousand photos- many treasured travel and family memories. Of course many of the photos I had on my computer as well as photo books and albums, but a good number of them (particularly the ones captured with my phone), I did not.
The day after I decided to leave, the reality of what it all meant dawned heavily on my heart. Returning my profile to a “blank slate” before sending the request to FB to delete the account meant not only an incredibly time consuming task of deleting all the content but also a rich and emotional passage down memory lane.
The bliss I felt that evening when I decided to leave, so sudden and all encompassing, strong and peaceful, had everything to do with cutting out the noise, deeply curbing that constant compulsion to share as well as the proclivity to, as one friend put it ‘narrate life in potential posts’.
I liked narrating life in posts. In fact, this type of mundane but also intimate narration is what draws me to reading the posts of friends who do the same and it is a hallmark feature of the posts of some public figures I follow. It is the type of writing I like, be it online or in an autobiography.
But, as my friend wrote, it was when she started narrating life in potential posts that she would find herself stepping back. But I had difficulty stepping back. And my style was not a choicey 1 or 2 narrative posts per day but more a consistent stream. I can only assume that those who did not unfollow me must care about me or perhaps simply have been amused.
But even with all of this talk of friends, unfollowing, unfriending etc, the bulk of my energy on FB was not about cultivating personal friendship connections.  My friends know how to find me, I don’t rely on FB to define the status of my desire to have someone in my life.
My hungry mind and interest in multiple forms of media makes these social networks a universe of endless interesting information and discoveries. I delighted in following hotels, food brands, fashion labels, bloggers, magazines, publishing houses, non profits, restaurants, public figures, chefs, authors, newspapers, regional publications..the list goes on.  I was a big time ‘liker’ but there is  of course no way that I would ever see the posts of the several thousand pages I followed, not to mention that the draw of always consuming media would take away time that I could be in the studio of my own mind, producing my own works..
A few months, or even weeks, ago, I would have likely written about FB from another viewpoint, mentioning that for some folks (such as myself) the potential to fritter away a lot of time there is high, but it is a worthwhile risk when balanced again its merits as a place to connect, a place to document (and share) memories, a place for discussion and information, knowledge and entertainment. For frequent movers like myself, the benefit of staying in easy touch with family, friends and acquaintances globally via that very popular medium cannot be overemphasized.
I still feel all of that is true. My leaving is not a critique of the system but more a reflection of my engagement with it.
That cool Spring evening I made my decision to leave stands as a beacon for me. It was all born from a beautiful human writing me to ask why I unfriended her. As we chatted and I relaxed into the realization of leaving, I felt a great peace. My soul squeezed and I get teary eyed (as I still do) thinking of giving it all up. It felt like that last week of school before Summer vacation. I felt like I was going on retreat.
My personal page is deactivated. So no, I didn’t really leave. But I brought my friends list down to 5 people including my husband and a few close family members. I won’t be activating and posting there anymore save for (perhaps) a few travel and special occasion memories. My friends and family know where to find me. In fact, if you can find your way to Google, you can figure out how to reach me outside of FB.
In the days after deactivating, I found myself reaching for my phone numerous times per day. Checking FB notifications and messages was  one of the first things I used to do in the morning. It was a strange, but lovely, feeling to realize I had nothing to really check that often. Time opened up, my mind opened up.
Part of leaving, for me, was also wrapped up in getting deeper with the energy of my crafts. I’m excited to have started publishing articles in the last year but I am also looking forward to getting deeper with my writing and bringing more of a narrative element into my work. I need space for this. Less distractions. More thinking about what I am going to cook for dinner and what I am going to write about next, less thoughts about conversation threads. I am excited to return to more photographing of spaces, environments and  buildings, the hobby that seeded my affair with the camera in the first place. I wrote fiction and poetry for many years, starting in my youth, but abandoned it at some point and I crave it again.
I need to make space for all of this as well as, of course, being completely present for myself, my husband and my son. I didn’t recognize how distracted I was.  I accepted the intensive digital engagement as part of my rhythm and life. I know it is possible to be engaged online and very present in life.  Despite all my admissions of struggle, I believe I did a decent job for the past several years. I just know I can do better.
My public FB photo page(s) stay open.  You cannot run FB pages without a personal profile so I set up a private one that only functions as admin (no friend requests accepted or sent!). You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t gone off the social media grid. I’ve just found the right balance for me. I feel the excitement of going on a deep retreat, but it’s just life.  Each day, a bit more relaxed and ready.
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April 21, 2016:  I wrote this post a few days ago to document & share my thoughts about deciding to not use my FB personal page.  I greatly valued many things about FB (and still do), particularly being able to stay in touch with friends and family no matter the location.  Creative and professional networking was also something I enjoyed on FB.  I will miss many aspects of FB but most keenly that quick digital connectivity with family to include many photos in one common place.  
I left FB in a personal sense because of my own addictive nature with it.  As I wrote above, in the original post “My leaving is not a critique of the system but more a reflection of my engagement with it.”
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