The #DeleteFacebook movement is the perfect opportunity to get happier

Life without Facebook is a happier one.
Life without Facebook is a happier one.
Image: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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I remember the exact day I joined Facebook: May 15, 2005. It was the day of my college graduation, and I was eager to keep in touch with my classmates as we scattered across the world.

Thirteen years later, I’m one of the 2.13 billion people counted among Facebook’s monthly active users. But as the #DeleteFacebook movement gains strength in the wake of revelations over Cambridge Analytica’s illicit use of user data to influence the 2016 US presidential elections, I’m wondering if it’s finally time to cut my ties to the social media giant.

Leaving Facebook isn’t a clear-cut path to data privacy. As HuffPost explains, deactivating your account leaves your data intact. It’s possible to permanently delete your account—and with it, all the information Facebook has gathered about your political leanings, relationship status, and shopping habits—but it’s a long and complicated process. Besides, in our current state of surveillance capitalism, even if you get off Facebook, other tech companies like Google are busy auctioning off your data to advertisers, too.

That said, a large exodus of people from Facebook would be a way to send a message to CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the need for the company to overhaul its approach to privacy protections—and perhaps locate its moral compass.

Based on the testimonials from people who’ve taken the leap into a Facebook-free existence, there are plenty of other personal advantages to getting rid of your account, too.

Facebook is not necessary

People who leave Facebook seem to come to the same liberating realization as those who Kondo their apartments or give away big portions of their incomes: A lot of the things we think we need in life are actually 100% optional.

“I used to think of Facebook as a utility—I didn’t enjoy being on it, but I couldn’t possibly get rid of it,” says my Quartz colleague Rosie Spinks, who spent many years as a freelancer writer. “How would people find me? How would they follow my writing?” So she stayed off Facebook for a month as an experiment—and found that she didn’t miss it at all. Since then, she says, “What I’ve found is that people find other ways to find me (as a person who writes for the internet, this is admittedly not challenging), and that I simply waste less time looking at things that make me feel icky.”

Facebook’s big value proposition is that it’s a convenient way to communicate with your friends and family. But it’s far from the only way to do that: We also have texting and email and phone calls and a myriad of other social-media apps. Even without the convenience and serendipity of Facebook, there are still plenty of ways to get in touch.

Filtering your friends

It’s true that Facebook is a convenient way to find out about all your friends’ parties and concerts and baby showers. But writer Helena Fitzgerald points out that it’s not so bad to receive invitations only from friends who bother to reach out directly to you:

I regularly receive Facebook invitations to shows in cities I don’t live in, and to parties thrown by distant acquaintances who might well give me a quizzical look if I actually showed up. I don’t think my social life would grind to a halt if I got off Facebook; I’d just go to the events of people I actually know, and remain ignorant about the other stuff.

Real talk instead of Facebook humble-brags

Research suggests that getting off Facebook actually helps us feel more socially connected, not less. As San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge explains:

In one experiment, people who were randomly assigned to give up Facebook for a week ended that time happier, less lonely and less depressed than those who continued to use Facebook. In another study, young adults required to give up Facebook for their jobs were happier than those who kept their accounts.

Researchers suspect that Facebook makes us unhappy because we spend a lot of time engaging in social comparison—measuring our achievements and self-worth against our acquaintances’ status updates.

When we log off, we may still hear about envy-inducing tropical vacations and exciting book deals. But we’ll hear about the boring and bad stuff too: the bout of food poisoning that spoiled the end of the trip, or the fearsome case of writer’s block.

People who’ve given up Facebook say that they’re less up to date on the daily goings-on of their social network, but they’re still in close contact with the people they really care about. And in regular conversation, people are less apt to present their lives in highlight reels—which makes everyone feel a little more human.

A longer phone battery life

The Facebook app takes up a ton of energy on our phones. There are ways to adjust phone settings so that it consumes less power, but the easiest way to make your phone’s battery last longer is to delete the app altogether.

Wasting time the way you want to

I’d love to imagine that giving up Facebook would turn me into an ideal version of myself—someone who spends all their free time reading literature and writing handwritten letters and making soufflés. Realistically, however, I’d probably still find a way to kill a half-hour—browsing Twitter, for instance.

As my colleague Nikhil Sonnad pointed out last year, as long as we have smartphones handy, we’ll probably find some dumb way to waste our time. “The constant presence of my phone has caused my brain to get accustomed to a less thoughtful kind of functioning—distraction,” he writes.

Still, without Facebook, at least you can curate your distractions. On Reddit, pick threads about new scientific studies or skincare regimes. On Twitter, create curated lists focused on literary gossip or philosophical debates. On Instagram, bask in the heart-warming glow of baby animals and humans, and ogle food porn.

All in all, deleting Facebook won’t do all that much for your data security. It won’t turn Zuckerberg into a non-billionaire, and it probably won’t even make you a smarter, more cultured person. But it is one small way that you can pile onto the social-media giant’s existential crisis, and it might make you a little bit happier. That’s good enough for me.