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A New Year—Without Facebook

A New Year—Without Facebook

Like most, I make my New Year’s resolutions on the spot, out of guilt and a misguided attempt to start the next year off fresh. Usually they involve something inane like slimming down or writing in my journal every day or resolving to stop and admire the beauty in things like soap bubbles. One thing is for certain: I always fail these resolutions, often sooner rather than later.    

The concept of a rebirth, or fresh start, is common to the Christian calendar. It does seem fitting that we start our year anew after the period of waiting and redemption that is Advent. What doesn’t seem fitting is that so many of our resolutions tend to be image based—be healthier, happier, more organized. If there is anything that the season of Advent just taught us, it is that Christ does not necessarily come in tidy, beautiful packages.   

On Christmas night, I couldn’t help but wonder what the New Year had coming for me. Like so many, I have the typical indecisions about career choices and staying home with my daughter, of having another child or adopting, of moving overseas or staying put. But what bothered me more than anything was the persistent sense of sleepiness I had in my life, a constant feeling of performing my duties underwater with only the occasional gasp of fresh air. I wanted this next year to be wide awake, to be lived to the fullest.    

And so, I am breaking up with Facebook.    

Before you judge me as being pious or overly zealous, let me just say that I am an avid Facebooker. In fact, it has become for me something of an addiction—a look into the lives of others as I am often mired in the trappings of motherhood at home. But I am starting to realize that there are some very real reasons why Facebook and I might need to take a break.    

First, Facebook detracts from authentic community. Although it was designed to help create social bonds, the more time I spent on Facebook, updating my profile or snooping on acquaintances, the more I realized how very few honest conversations I was having in real life. Recently I noticed that many people assume they know everything that is going on with me based on my status updates. I fall into this trap too, and find myself forgetting to ask the deeper and harder questions when I am inundated with pictures from last week’s vacation or potty training updates. I assume everything is as peachy as it seems on their profile. Of course, there is so much more going on than what we choose to publish for the world to see.

Even more alarming, I can see how I shape my life to fit into a clever little status update, used most often to elicit jealousy (“drinking a French press, listening to Mumford & Sons and reading Kierkegaard!”) or sympathy (“baby sick, only got three hours of sleep last night. Blerg!”). This was not authentic. This was manipulation, done for the benefit of friends and acquaintances. Why was I beginning to view my life through the lens of people who aren’t living in community with me? Instead of worrying about them, my energy could far better be spent on cultivating relationships with those around me—neighbors, church families, the students at my school. They are my real community.    

Secondly, Facebook can be a huge time suck. Now, maybe you are a more disciplined soul than me, but I cannot fight the urge to read all the status updates in my news feed, no matter how incurably inane they might be (do you really care about what your friends are eating? Because I sure don’t). One quick log-in turns into 30 minutes of vapid screen time, and before you know it I blew the babe’s nap by reading sports updates for teams that I don’t care about.     

If I know it is such a waste of time, why do I bother to go online? The same reason why I choose to watch mediocre T.V. shows and rent whatever is available at Redbox. I am self-medicating, busying up my mind so I don’t have to think about what is really going on. Like the fact that I am lonely, thirsting for authentic Christian community. Or the way being a mother makes me feel bone-tired and dried up, all my resources gone and yet needing to be magically filled the next morning. These are the things I don’t write in my status updates, but that are ever-present in the back of my mind. And since I don’t share them with others, they nag at me until I am driven to distraction, literally filling in the hours of my day so I don’t have to think about what is really going on.  

All of us are probably guilty of medicating ourselves with entertainment in some way or another. What if this was the year we decided to assess what is really bothering us, and chose to stop and face it head-on?    

Finally, Facebook has some very real problems in the areas of privacy and confidentiality, The older I get, the more concerned I become about how much of my personal content is floating around the interwebs. It would do us all more good to be more cautious of our private lives in a public space (which, for all intents and purposes, is exactly what Facebook has turned into). Since we really don’t know how much of our personal information is being accessed by third party sites, it is probably best to be cautious. Which in many ways points us to the fact that Facebook is a billion-dollar business driven by highly individualized ad sales. Which brings me back to the fact that the site isn’t a very authentic space at all.    

And so, in light of these concerns, I will be taking a break from Facebook. I want 2012 to be a year of real relationships and authentic community. It will be beneficial for everyone close to me to get off the computer more—especially my baby daughter. What if I started calling my friends and asked how they were doing instead of reading their status updates? What if I stopped editing my Timeline and instead let the reality of my experiences speak for themselves? What if I was too busy living my life to think of a clever way of distilling it to one sentence?    

Of course, I wonder how people will be able to get a hold of me in the new year. I guess friends and family will just have to contact me the old-fashioned ways: via text, email or Twitter.

D.L. Mayfield lives and writes in Portland, OR.

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