When the season of Lent started in February, I happened to be IMing with my sister. She mentioned that she was giving up Facebook for Lent and although I am not a member of her religion, I said I would too. It was partly to keep her company and partly because I thought it was an interesting experiment.
Before I go any further, let me be clear that this is not going to be a diatribe against Facebook. I joined Facebook some years ago so that I could have a window into what my nephews and nieces were doing. It’s been great for that, but also for reconnecting with classmates from decades ago, seeing what faraway friends are up to, and reading interesting articles to which links are posted. For professional reasons, I also have to stay familiar with the procedures for setting up and managing profiles and pages.
However, when I went cold turkey on Facebook, I realized how many times a day I went to the site, clicking on an endless supply of quizzes, scrolling through items I wasn’t that interested in, and in general, being almost completely mindless about what I was doing there. If I was sitting at my computer and couldn’t think of what to do next, I’d shoot on over to Facebook and what started out as five minutes to check on the doings of my Facebook friends turned into 30 minutes. Or I’d pick up my phone while I was reading in bed (bad sleep hygiene, I know) and check to see what was new, as if much would have changed since I last checked the site an hour previously.
What made me even more conscious of spending time there, besides going cold turkey, was an article I read in January, titled “To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death.” In it, the author talks about the misalignment between what people derive satisfaction from and how they spend their time. So how much time I spend on Facebook or in similar activities isn’t necessarily about wasting time, but about spending time in ways not in line with my values or not as satisfactory as other ways, like reading or writing or even staring at the beautiful view out my window.
Surprisingly, to me anyway, I didn’t really miss my six weeks away from Facebook; what I missed most was seeing pictures of my great-nephews and great-niece. And while I can’t say that I found the cure for cancer or wrote a novel with the extra time, I seemed to have more time and energy to focus on the tasks for which I need my computer time.
As a result, I’ve removed the app from my phone and I no longer stay logged in to Facebook. I log in each morning, spend a few minutes checking the news feed, and log out. If I want to check Facebook again, I have to log in again and many days, the morning check-in suffices.
Most of all, the experiment made me more mindful of how much time I spend, not just on Facebook, but online in general, and what it is I do there. I’m going to try to hold on to that mindfulness going forward.
Arthur C. Brooks. “To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death.” The New York Times. 9 Jan. 2016.