Two weeks ago today, I did something that I thought was fairly non-controversial (I was wrong, apparently). I deactivated my Facebook account. And not just the half-hearted deactivation option Facebook offers, whereby your account remains saved and can be reactivated at any time—I actually completely deleted my account.
Here’s the really crazy part: I’ve spent the last 14 days fielding hundreds of emails from family, friends, and periphery ranging from mere curiosity to utter disbelief that I’m no longer on Facebook. No one can understand why I would ever want to disconnect myself from the (unfortunately) ubiquitous social network. Well, here’s why.
I spend roughly 13 hours a day staring at flat, glowing screens, toiling away in the limbo of cyberspace. And my evenings (sadly) often center around staring at TV screens. So with the precious little free time that I have, I want to actually experience things in real space—in the flesh and blood, three-dimensional world. If I feel the need to discuss an event or something of interest, I prefer to do so by engaging in private conversations with significant people I legitimately care about.
Both of these inclinations are antithetical to the behaviors that Facebook reinforces. One of the things that creeps me out the most about the core Facebook demographic—I call them “Screen People”—is that their entire joie de vivre seems centered around documenting their moments on Facebook’s screens. The Screen People derive their real pleasure from assembling a two-dimensional record of the (often insignificant) day-to-day minutiae of their lives.
Everyone’s always complaining about reality TV and Paris Hilton and Keeping up with the Kardashians with some variation of, “Nowadays, people are famous for absolutely nothing.” That same principle is what grosses me out about Facebook—it’s like the Screen People want their turn to be reality stars, and Facebook has granted their wish by providing them with a screen and audience for their very own reality shows. It reminds me of Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—the kid who loved TV so much that he volunteered to be transmitted through the airwaves into a little tiny TV set. The Screen People love to focus their attention on screens so much that they voluntarily shrink their lives down into little scripted chunks on the Facebook screen. Cue the Oompa Loompas!
In truth, I am also profoundly, vicariously embarrassed by the oversharing that the Screen People constantly engage in. I do not care that you made yummy Tuscan vegetable soup for dinner, and I definitely don’t need to see a picture of it. I don’t feel any real sympathy about the fact that you have a cold. And I’m guessing that the cute picture of your baby doing a silly thing that you just mobile-uploaded would’ve been a lot more meaningful if you weren’t distracted by the Facebook posting ritual in the wake of the moment.
What makes it even worse is that it’s a phenomenon that feeds off itself and isn’t limited to the screen. Think about the last time you went out in public. Chances are you were involved in a conversation about what someone posted on Facebook, and/or that you posed in a picture that was immediately uploaded to Facebook. This is the big triumph of the Screen People—they’ve successfully reduced life to little more than posts and status updates and mobile uploads and tagging and likes, and now they’re cheapening actual in-person interactions by redirecting the focus back to the screens, even when we’re not sitting in front of the screens (but we are carrying them in our pockets and purses, now that phones are really just tiny iPads).
Hopefully I’m not the only one who feels this way. I would love to find out that there are at least a few other people who prefer living life to living life for the sake of capturing it on a tiny screen. But judging from the disapproval to which I’ve been subjected ever since stepping off the grid two weeks ago, it’s safe to say that I’m in some sort of Luddite minority when it comes to disconnecting.