Looking back on a year without the Facebook app

What would make you take a step back from something that had been a part of your life for more than decade? Would it be one big thing, or a thousand little ones?

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the day I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Since 2006 – a year remembered fondly because of its association with my real-keyboard-and-roller-ball BlackBerry – I had held the social network in the palm of my hand.

For the past year, I’ve received no pinging notifications. I’ve not scrolled while waiting at the doctor’s office. No photos from my travels have been immediately shared.

The few posts, shares, likes, comments and other activity I’ve had since last March have been completed at a computer. And, honestly, those interactions also have become less frequent – not because I’ve planned it, but because life outside the timeline is more interesting and satisfying.

If you search, there is no shortage of people who have taken a break from Facebook. Many, I’ve discovered, had far more withdrawal symptoms than I did. I think that’s because I was disenchanted long before I deleted the app.

A mobile device displaying a Facebook app deletion verification screen.
People who temporarily delete Facebook get a small but significant improvement in life satisfaction, a study shows. (Johannes Berg/Bloomberg/TNS)

My decision came on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but wasn’t solely because of it. Thanks to old headlines, I already understood the privacy considerations of being on the network.

Rather, my decision was rooted in general dissatisfaction. I was tired of seeing ‘promoted” posts, and of an algorithm that continually filtered out posts important to me. Facebook became less about sharing information and working together, and more about creating a brag book and retreating into comfortable echo chambers.

For instance, months ago I sat with a friend as she maniacally rearranged things on a restaurant table. She brushed away invisible crumbs, stacked menus and shifted condiments until I finally noticed the sparkly rock on her third finger. It was a squeal-worthy moment, and her cheeks blushed a bright pink as we indulged.

That was the first time in a long time – years and years – that I was surprised by a friend’s news and able to see the joy in her eyes. All that time I scrolled and scrolled, thinking if I didn’t pay attention I’d miss something important. I’d forgotten the memories we cherish and hold the tightest are rarely digitized for the masses.

I’ve made a point of visiting Facebook over the past few days, searching to see if there was something I missed. I commented on a few posts, made one or two of my own, watched a video for a new-to-me makeup brand, liked a couple of photos and dodged several heated political exchanges. By chance I saw and was able to respond to a post from a mom on the birthday of her stillborn daughter. I was thankful for that opportunity. But the rest? Meh. None of it made me, others or the broader community better.

Most family members and friends text me now. I haven’t lost touch, which was an initial fear. Invitations to events and happenings arrive in my inbox. A few lovely souls strike my digits.

Facebook still exists, I’m just no longer beholden to it.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on March 20, 2019.
Photo credit: Johannes Berg/Bloomberg/TNS