Something Weird Happened When I Tried To Quit Facebook Cold-Turkey

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woman using laptop

I have one rule when it comes to Facebook browsing: I never do it at work. But here’s the thing: I don’t have a job. Tricky, right? So, where does that leave me?

You guessed it: On Facebook, all the time, like a terrible, terrible human being with an addiction I can't kick.

I personally spend very little time on Facebook when I visit the site; sometimes thirty seconds or less. The problem is, I pop in all day long.

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One of the most insidious things Facebook has done, as all of my fellow problem users will attest to, is updating your newsfeed with brand new content every few minutes or so, even if no one has posted a status update.

The newsfeed used to be strictly chronological so there would never be a surprise post. Now, you’ll suddenly see people expressing appreciation for birthday posts that are two days old. 

I find this annoying.

Actually, I find most of Facebook a little annoying these days. More specifically, I find the content of Facebook annoying.

Very specifically, I find all of my friends, and all of the amazing things they do each and every day, annoying.

This is not their fault.

Friends of mine have been doing amazing things for many years now but I never knew about it on a daily basis or saw beautiful pictures of them going to amazing places where the sun only sets in amazing ways, every few minutes.

I see these posts and I get jealous, and then I get angry, and then I get sad, usually within the space of about two seconds.

Jealousy has always been a gateway emotion to contempt, but this used to happen more organically when I would see friends out in the world every few months and catch up over coffee or drinks.

I'd smile and nod appreciatively as they told me about an amazing vacation they went on or a great new job they just started. I'd wish them well and be on my way, letting my jealousy marinate for months on end until it pickled into hatred like dysfunctional kimchi.

I’m aware that this isn't healthy behavior. But is it my fault that my Facebook newsfeed is largely populated by assh*les who have undertaken fantastic, humanitarian endeavors very recently?

Due to some careful liberal scrubbing, I don’t even have any ignorant friends who publicly claim that Obama is a secret Muslim or a secret lizard person or even a secret Santa, but I do have a lot of confederates who are raising money for cancer research, getting jobs on TV shows, and shooting commercials in South Africa regularly. And in many ways, that's even worse.

So, I contemplate stepping away, wondering, how do you solve a problem like Facebook?

The answer is: you don’t.

Like every dependable vice, you spend the day hitting it a little harder than you should, then stare up at the ceiling later that night promising yourself tomorrow will be different, better. There will be more exercise, fewer cups of coffee, less degrading porn clips, and a reasonable, healthy allotment of Facebook.

The next day, of course, you wake up too tired to run in the morning, get a venti when you only need a tall, watch something you’re pretty sure would make your mom cry real "failed as a mom" tears.

And then you check Facebook like a desperate, crazy person who is certain the meaning of life is hidden somewhere between George Takei's posts and whomever you know who's currently doing Beachbody.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that hypothetical person is me.

A week ago, I’m back on Facebook after an overnight hiatus, idly and angrily scrolling through updates, wondering why I’m friends with so many jerks who are going to kindergarten graduations, running marathons, and getting cast in high profile Broadway musicals.

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In the meantime, I’m lying on the floor of my daughter’s bedroom while she pounds my face with a plastic hammer that makes comical BONK! sounds.

And then it hits me (not the hammer).

I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to be on Facebook twenty times an hour and know intimate details about the family life of a stand-up comedy instructor I had half a decade ago.

(No offense, Karen. They seem like lovely people.) 

Not long thereafter, I wonder aloud: what would I do all day if I wasn’t on Facebook being angry? And then it hits me again (the hammer this time): I can play with my daughter, actively engage, go to botanical gardens, plan a vacation, write a feature, and seriously consider composting. 

But mostly, I can create a narrative for myself without being concerned with what everyone else is doing. 

To put it another way, I always knew quitting Facebook was possible, but sometimes, a few percussive THWACKS to the head help put your life into perspective.

The next day would be my inaugural Day Without Facebook, but first, a final joke as my status update: “How do you clean a dolphin?” Answer: “With all-porpoise cleaner!”

It was to be my mic drop, a grand bow before stepping back behind the curtain. I left it on my profile page as a valediction to the world — remember this man and all the joy he brought to your lives.

For the next few hours, I tied up Facebook loose ends, wished a happy birthday to people I would likely ignore in real life, and learned some truly inconsequential pieces of information about corgis from Buzzfeed.

And then ... I was gone.

The following day I awoke with a greater sense of intention: I would be living my own life again. All of the world’s beauty was mine to experience without wondering which filter to slap on top of it or worrying how many people would say, “Yes, we've seen your efforts and we approve!”

It was a pleasure to get out of bed without reaching for my phone. I turned off all notifications, another unnecessary distraction successfully eradicated.

After a few hours, I was in a noticeably better mood than I would normally be at that time, and it was all because I'd eliminated the engine of my jealousy.

I felt like proselytizing, but where? 

By the end of my first Day Without Facebook, I had been so productive and focused that I allowed myself a single, well-earned reward: a quick glance at Facebook.

Not a drag from the crack pipe, you understand, just a harmless puff from an e-cigarette.

“FOR SHAME!” you might scream, and with good reason. But, reader, at that moment, I experienced such a joyous wave of endorphins cresting over my skull and crashing down into the dry Mariana Trench of my soul, that quitting Facebook for nearly a day instantly became the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.

It was as if God’s own plastic hammer that makes comical BONK! sounds dropped upon my forehead to tell me that my relationship with Facebook was reasonable, important, and right.

What’s more, the “all-porpoise cleaner” joke killed. I mean, it got a very respectable response, all things considered.

The next day I was back on Facebook, but a little less. I try to stay off the site as much as I can, but as Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” 

And to my jerky friends being nominated for Pulitzers and running your own businesses and directing movies: I’m happy for you, I really am. I may also hate you, but it’s my sincere wish that one day I do something impressive and honorable enough that you, too, will feel that same flush of bitter hatred toward me, even for just a second.

After all, that’s what Facebook is for, right?

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Jesse Costello is a creative writer, coach, and ultramarathoner. Follow him on Twitter.