Before and After

FAITH

Facebook is like a party, only everyone’s invited.

Whenever Lent rolls around, I look for something I’ll miss and choose to give it up for awhile. There were always a handful of things I considered third rail Lent items, chiefly coffee (I drink two or three cups a day) and internet things, like Facebook.

My hesitation about giving up Facebook was rooted in hobbies like this one–writing for a blog. Publishing online, after all, requires one to have a well-sourced distribution network. Facebook is king. How could I give up the biggest readership group for forty days? (Irony duly noted.)

But this year, particularly after a political season that hounded my news feed like an abused dog, I felt more than ready to try the experiment. I changed my profile over to an ashen cross and turned the Big Blue F off.

I learned a few things along the way.

First, Facebook pretty quickly determined that something was up. I am no fan of notifications and turned nearly all of mine off, but FB began pinging me with emails that I was missing out on things. A friend posted a picture. Someone updated her status. A family member checked in somewhere.

I deleted the emails, but they kept arriving. I’d already deleted the app from my phone, but one of the more unexpected challenges were the tile-like quick links in my mobile browser, which I inadvertently clicked on a couple of times while reaching for something else.

Within a few days I felt forced to make an exemption for Facebook Messenger, which I have installed on my phone, given the handful of people who use that to communicate instead of email. Cheating? Maybe.

But when I felt the ping to check in or post a picture, I still had Instagram and Twitter, and when I was truly desperate, LinkedIn. Occasionally Kel would want to show me something from her Facebook, and I turned away, worried that even a taste might lure me back in.

The other temptation came whenever I clicked on a local news article and found a yellowjacket nest of moronic comments buzzing at the bottom. Most newspaper commenting systems require a Facebook account, and there was my avatar, the ashen cross, a warning not to bother typing anything in the box.

The box was still there, though, and on more than one occasion I found myself impulsively firing back at whatever ranter had ticked me off. I’m a little proud that I caught myself each time, deleting the text and moving on.

In fact, I found myself more than relieved to give up the mere opportunity to sound off to ignorance online, and it occurred to me that what annoyed me the most about Facebook was the incessant stream of ill-thought nut jobs (fill in whatever political, religious, social world views you might of this person) and the ever-present comment box that invited you to contribute as well.

After a while, I started to think about Facebook like I think of a cocktail party. It’s wonderful to see your friends, and catch up, and share what’s been happening. There’s no greater feeling than walking into the embrace of old pals. You show each other photos. You share book recommendations. You ask if they’ve heard the latest album.

Inevitably, though, you run into the guy who can’t shut up. Or the person who can only talk about himself. Or Ms. Too Much Drama Everything All the Time. Or the couple¬†with the nauseating snobbishness, who hashtag their well-filtered photos with #yachtlife.

And who would go to a party where the first person you see is holding a giant poster board meme? Or a protest sign? And the worst: the person who comes up and simply tells you, without filter or organization, what everyone else is doing. When I logged onto Facebook on Easter morning, I nearly groaned at the number of notifications in the little red square up top. It felt like unfinished business looming over me, and none of it mattered.

The funny thing is that if Facebook was a cocktail party, all of the people who were there were people I’d invited. At some point over the years, I’d opened my door to all of those people who annoyed me. The good, the bad–more than a thousand people–I’d said yes to them all. The party started to feel like a rave, and I had a headache.

I was happy to give up Facebook for a while, and I was happy to log back in to see faces I’d missed. Truly. But what I really wished for was some way to find my real friends and gather us over in a corner somewhere, drinks in hand, for a long, quiet chat.

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