Social Media Stockholm Syndrome

I logged off Facebook “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Most of the words above aren’t mine. They belong to Henry David Thoreau who from 1845 to 1847 experimented with living a fuller, more authentic life by living in a cabin beside Walden pond. Thoreau’s Walden is hardly a rustic, wilderness survival story. Thoreau didn’t live far from town. His mom did his laundry, and he often mooched off his neighbors. Thoreau’s experiment wasn’t about self-sufficiency or living off the land. Thoreau wondered if he could live in accordance with his own best principles.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thoreau’s experiment and wondering if I could do the same. I’m not thinking about building a cabin in the woods or cutting my own firewood or mending my clothes to suit the needs of my current enterprise. I’m contemplating a step away from social media.

Facebook has been a positive force in my life. Most of the people I love gather regularly there and share interesting bits of their daily lives. Photos of kids, dogs and weekend adventures keep us connected between visits. Facebook is how we connect and communicate. Facebook is how we stay in each other’s lives.

And yet, increasingly, for the past year Facebook has left me feeling empty, a bit sick. Since sometime last year, the persistent thought arrives while posting or scrolling down the endless feed: “We aren’t meant to live this way.” Sharing seems less an act of generosity than one of grandiose self-promotion. Liking has become a way to acknowledge someone’s thoughts or feelings without pausing for the hassle of truly taxing my own emotions or empathy. I don’t like the way I am using social media or the way social media is using me.

And so, I contemplate what it would be like to shut down my social media for a season, to retreat to my metaphorical cabin by the pond, to live by first principles with both intention and attention.

No easy feat this. Leaving Facebook, even for a season, means exporting a tremendous amount of personal data, contacts, birthdays, and emails. It means disconnecting apps and disrupting third-party services. Leaving Facebook, even for a season, means communicating with people by email or text or ***shudder*** in person. Even contemplating such an act feels like preparing to leave my country. Boarding up the windows. Turning off the plumbing. Checking, double-checking that I have the proper documents. Asking the neighbors to watch the place until I get back.

I am uncertain if this is a thing I can or will do. The irony bites me that I am even posting this to Facebook. Posting to Facebook about wanting to leave Facebook is the most Facebook thing you can do. 

Leaving Facebook would be an experiment in relationship building and maintenance. What is it like to speak to my friends in paragraphs rather than comments? What is it like to tell some specific someone something about my day rather than broadcast and wait to see who turns up in my feed? What is it like to not know so much about the smallest parts of everybody’s lives and not have them know the smallest parts of mine?

If I go, it will be so I can learn from the experience and write about it, and yet, if I go, no one will read what I have learned or written because Facebook is how readers find the blog. Hostage situation. Social media Stockholm Syndrome.

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