When someone becomes dependent upon Facebook for social interactions, they’ll probably spend increasing amounts of time on the social network. For some, what starts as a 1-hour-per-day hobby can escalate to an 8-hour-a-day addiction to Facebook.
The trouble began in 2009, on a rickety boat in the Peruvian Amazon. As I relaxed with a beer, my friend Fiorella snapped my picture with my phone. “Oh!” she said. “That’s a Facebook profile photo for sure!” And it was.That started my varsity-level Facebooking — Facebooking as a verb, a premeditated crime against spontaneity.
I drafted posts, and timed them for publication to maximize traffic (3 p.m. Eastern time caught people returning from lunch while nabbing West Coasters just beginning their break). Friends noted, with mixed subtext, that I was the most active user they knew. “I’m sure it gets exhausting,” one said.
The shame began in 2012, when a friend at Yahoo told his brother, who told me: “You know whose Facebook game is on point? Richard Morgan.” Ugh. A knack for Facebook is like a knack for being the 20th caller and winning the Katy Perry tickets: There are no real winners.
Like any addiction, mine crept up on me. I got my first Facebook friend on June 11, 2007 (hi, Cyrus!) but didn’t write my first status update until Sept. 17 of that year: “Richard is psyched to show his little brother around the city.” (Back then, you had to refer to yourself in the third person.)
Facebook has tipped me off to viral stories. It’s gotten me dates. It’s reconnected me with classmates and co-workers. A major league baseball player friend-requested me. On Facebook Messenger, I’ve chatted with City Council members and the Winklevoss twins. Facebook is how I learned that Maya Angelou, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Gabriel García Márquez and Robin Williams had all died — and it helped me mourn them. It’s how I know when it’s raining in Los Angeles. Or when the sun sets in Brooklyn.
And I have a core group of friends there who are extremely kind. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, my friend Lila will nonetheless like it and leave a comment.
But the more bits of myself that I broadcast on Facebook, the more those bits metastasized, turning me into what people call our “Facebook self,” connecting with “Facebook friends.” When virality is a virtue, we all aspire to be Typhoid Mary, the patient zero who made Throwback Thursday, or the Ice Bucket Challenge, happen.
In July, I posted 159 times to my 2,308 friends, or about five posts a day (peaking at 12), and got a total of 1,110 “likes,” or about seven per post (peaking at 228). Sometimes I commented on or liked my own posts, a pathetic kind of Freudian Möbius strip. There were two days in July when I didn’t post at all, but that chastity was undone by sharing videos posted by Diddy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a Barack Obama Throwback Thursday photo, and a status update by the astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I was an old lady working the social-media slot machine. And my own likes felt perfunctory, never more so than my compulsion to like all the birthday notices posted on my page. Loading Facebook began to feel a lot like opening my inbox: lots of flotsam and jetsam.
It ended like any relationship does: bit by bit, then all at once. I wanted out from under Facebook’s thumb. So in mid-August, I deactivated my profile. (This can be undone at any time, unlike permanently deleting an account, a step that gives users 14 days to change their minds, and that I’m hesitant, for now, to take.)
When my friends tried to check in on me, they saw only an Error 404-style page. A typical note from an over-30 friend was “Are you O.K.?” A typical under-30 note was “Did you block me on Facebook?” Their self-centered hysteria only amplified my abstinence.
In our age of so-called social media, my act is inexcusably antisocial. I don’t tumble, tweet or Instagram. I am not linked in, nor have I pinned a pin on Pinterest. But no Facebook? Even in our most secluded moments, Facebook puts the spite in respite; we are expected to brag-post our feet on a lounge chair on some Greek isle, or our wet baby moments after its birth. It’s an orgy of insistent intimacy. I ached to abstain.
Abstinence means nothing without temptation. During my hermitage, I’ve attended a free comedy show where Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer and Hannibal Buress gave surprise performances. I’ve been to a countryside wedding replete with colored smoke, homemade rockets and a 1-year-old’s first steps. I’ve dressed so well for a job interview that someone, not a bum, stopped me and asked me for a job in “asset management.” I’ve spied a pineapple on a lawn at Washington Square Park, the kind of only-in-Manhattan quirkiness reserved for “How I Met Your Mother”; I told nobody, although I have the photos.
After I quit Facebook, statuses and posts tingled my fingertips, with nowhere to go. I realized how many photos I had taken more for Mark Zuckerberg’s sake than for my own. (But when God closes a Facebook window, he opens a text message. I’ve been on my smartphone more, slapping my patent-pending electronic high-five left and right: o/\o.)
I caught myself watching folks in parks and subways looking at Facebook, so many blue-lit zombie stares. I guess that works for them, I told myself with my jealous-ex snark. It reminded me of my sister, who once eschewed meat and began calling it “carcass.” I wanted to scream, “Soylent Green”-style, “Facebook is made of people! Peeeeeople!”
Truth be told, I missed being among the like-minded. If you fall deep enough down the well of likes upon likes, you can like anything, believe anything. Maybe you are that “Mad Men” character.
Thanks to the likes — and “likes” — of James Franco, et al., Facebook brims with a billion do-it-yourselfie performance artists, turning our Fear of Missing Out into the fear of being missed. Facebook makes us all thumbsuckers. Others might like to their heart’s content but Facebook feels done for me. (Lo, a quandary: Do I reactivate my account to post this essay?) If I return, it’ll be with post-Lent shakiness: I know I can get by without it. The spell has been broken.
Friends ask “What happened?” as if breakups always require conflict. Meh. As far as Facebook knows, I went out for groceries and never came back.
Instead of posting a photo of the wedding I attended, and hoping he’d see it, I texted it to my friend Abdul. He wrote back something even a billion blue thumbs can’t express: “Love it.”