Thinking about quitting Facebook? Here’s what it’s like

For me, nothing is “Facebook official” anymore.
For me, nothing is “Facebook official” anymore.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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As my New Year’s resolution for 2019, I quit Facebook. One year later, it’s the best decision I ever made—at least about my online life.

I gave up Facebook for a few reasons: I grew weary of group chats, I noticed friends silently deactivating their profiles, and quite simply, I didn’t want it in my life anymore. In short, I was Zuck’ered out.

Renouncing my Facebook-ship was a privilege. I can afford a cell phone and computer, technological tools that allow me to constantly be online in other ways. And fortunately, I need not worry about family or friends in conflict-stricken countries. My folks mostly reside in the US and western Europe.

Quitting was something I planned in advance, so a few weeks before New Year’s, I deleted the Facebook app and Messenger from my phone. I wanted to start small. Then, on Dec. 20, 2018, I pulled the plug. Ignoring Facebook’s pleas to reconsider (or to only deactivate my account), I brazenly followed the instructions for permanent deletion. At 12:15 am, it was all over. Every trace of my Facebook existence was gone—or so I thought.

One minute later, I received a somber email notice: “Facebook will start deleting your account in 30 days. After Jan 19, 2019, you won’t be able to access the account or any of the content you added.” I’d have to wait.

Avoiding Facebook for 30 days would be difficult. I’d actually tried deleting before, but the grace period allowed me to lapse back into old habits. This time, though, I was prepared.

A few months earlier, I employed a few tactics to wean myself off the platform, excising my News Feed and gradually deleting my own posts and information. Each step made Facebook feel less personalized and less useful. By the time I was ready to delete it completely, I didn’t feel a Facebook-shaped hole in my life. The 30-day period passed without incident, and to my knowledge, my profile was purged.

The advantages of quitting were immediately obvious. I started to save time, probably a good 20 to 30 minutes per day, and I felt a surge of righteous vindication. Every time a Facebook scandal broke, I didn’t feel complicit. Whenever the company came up in conversation, I felt good about myself, though slightly left out. Deleting my profile wasn’t without a few pitfalls—and it also wasn’t the end of my Facebook footprint. But overall, the benefits have been worth those annoyances.

For one, deleting Facebook has helped me destroy the expectation that people, and my relationships with them, will always remain the same. While Facebook can facilitate serendipitous reunions, I’ve always found it strange how it extends the expiration date on friendships or relationships. You can watch old friends change careers, move to new cities, break up with boyfriends and girlfriends … all from a digital distance. As a voyeur in their Facebook worlds, I often felt they were no longer the people I knew.

I legitimately have no idea what some of my closest college friends do on a daily basis, and at the risk of sounding heartless, we’re probably not all that important to one another anymore. But I think that’s okay. Twenty years ago, this would’ve been normal. People change, and then they move on. And accepting that change has been better for my emotional wellbeing, I think. If you go months or years between seeing a person, it’s easier to understand that they—and I—will be different. We might even outgrow one another.

What I’ve lost in quantity of friends, I’ve reaped in quality. Instead of using Messenger or WhatsApp, I now use iMessage with my closest friends, along with FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and the occasional phone call or email. Getting rid of my “Facebook friends” helped me sort through who mattered—and it showed me who cared enough to reach out when they noticed I wasn’t online anymore. To me, that’s a win.

There have been a few drawbacks. Facebook made event planning and RSVPs remarkably easy. When my old college roommate invited me to a Halloween party, he was coerced into texting me directly. While that was inconvenient for him, I felt extra special receiving a direct invitation rather than an impersonal Facebook invite. (Thanks, John!) Of course, by removing myself from the platform I might have also missed other potential invitations—I just don’t know.

Deleting Facebook means getting rid of Instagram and WhatsApp, too. While I was never an avid WhatsApp user, I miss some Instagram content. If you try to browse the website without a profile, you’re limited to viewing recent posts. After scrolling a few times, the site prompts you to create a profile to see more. Arguably, though, I’ve replaced my Instagram browsing with other diversions, like Reddit and YouTube videos.

By deleting my Facebook account, I’ve also voluntarily deprived myself of online supporters, a random assortment of people who “liked” everything I posted and shared it ad nauseam with their own circles. Launching a business or a podcast would probably be easier with those Matt-lovers behind me.

As much as I miss annual birthday posts from people I hardly recognize, here’s what really sucked: After deleting my Facebook account, I’ve lost touch with some friends, people I genuinely care about but don’t see frequently. I don’t share articles or memes with as wide a social circle, and I’m probably worse for it. In one Facebook group, I enjoyed watching about 100 ex-classmates debate over presidential candidates and policies. It made for great entertainment and shaped my knowledge of the election cycle, exposing me to different viewpoints and sources. I’m also sad I don’t chat about basketball every day with my old college crew.

But to me, my personal and political motivations for quitting Facebook made these sacrifices worth it. I didn’t want Facebook algorithms or experiments influencing my happiness. I was tired of hearing about its many failures, resulting in ethnic clashes and election interference. For me, deleting Facebook was a political statement. A year after I went offline, I would gladly do it over again. In 2020, I plan to remain Facebook-less.

Still, quitting Facebook wasn’t as final as I hoped. Despite the measures I took to delete my data—my likes, comments, and posts—it turns out my messaging history is still floating around, somewhere on Facebook’s servers. I only know this because a friend dug up my phone number from an old conversation on Messenger. Ultimately, I suppose I’ve un-friended Facebook, but Facebook’s still not over me.

Will you give up Facebook?