40 Days in the Facebook Desert

I'm one of those people who like to give something up for Lent. I've given up the typical chocolate and junk food, and this year it really seemed like a lot of my friends were giving up Facebook. I was tempted to do that as well, but Facebook isn't my problem. My real addiction? Facebook on my iPhone.

The Backstory

I've had a Facebook account since early 2007. However, my "life" on Facebook began when I got my first Blackberry in 2008. Suddenly, I could post real-time, not just when I had my laptop handy. I could share pictures from my phone without bothering with the digital camera and the cable. Suddenly, I was telling everyone my business, and I was addicted to everyone else's business to.

From Blackberry to iPhone, my addiction only grew. The constant Facebook checking when I needed a distraction at work, when I was bored sitting at traffic lights (I know! Dangerous!), or while I was watching TV. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Like. Comment. I developed this compulsion to constantly check Facebook on my phone, like an itch I just couldn't scratch. It was annoying people around me, and it was even annoying me.

So, I challenged myself to delete it off my phone and just stop it already. And since it's pretty easy to delete an app, I honestly didn't have much temptation to break my no-Facebook-on-phone rule. I could still check it on my laptop, I could still collect Facebook emails, comment, share and like things, and I wouldn't miss a single baby photo or pet picture.

What I Learned

Deleting the app and only visiting Facebook a couple times a day via laptop actually made Facebook less attractive. In fact, I noticed a few particularly jarring things.

There were only a handful of original, interesting posts a day from people I care about. There were even fewer posts that I wanted to comment on or like.

I had an enormous amount of "junk mail" posts from liking brand fan pages that I really did't care about. Am I running the Pittsburgh Marathon? No. So why am I subscribed? Same with Crow Watches, a yoga studio I no longer go to, Chipotle, and all manner of talking house pets. Viewing brand posts en masse a couple times a day was overwhelming, and they completely obscured my real friends. But, when I was checking Facebook every hour on my phone? Brands made me feel like something was new, and that there was more to see than there really was. After I unsubscribed or hid the brands, it only showed the deficiency in my actual "friend" content even more.

Facebook was only about me. This is the hardest thing to admit. Turns out I'm human. I like to post and comment on Facebook because I like it when people "write me back." Getting responses to my posts or comments make it seem like I am less alone. Or that I am a cool person. Or that I'm uncool, in that cool way. Validation. This became even more clear when my account switched over to Timeline and I could see every insipid, boring post I'd ever made. Mortifying.

The physical sensation of pulling down the screen to refresh on an iPhone is actually addictive. I wish I was joking, but I'm not. For the first two weeks, I would continue to pick up my phone a million times a day to check Facebook. But there was no Facebook to refresh, so I'd have to refresh another app (New York Times, I'm looking at you), or I'd have to settle for swiping through my apps. After those first two weeks, my habit was broken, and I no longer had this crazy phone dependency. I became a normal gal whose phone lived in her purse, rather than attached to the palm of my hand.

What's Next for my Addiction

I still post to Facebook. And I still get validation from people responding to what I post. But, at least I'm somewhat aware of my motivations now. And I'm also less addicted to it. I check it less often, and sometimes don't bother to check it at all. This is healthier. The only thing I miss about Facebook on my phone is posting photos. Without the easy uploading features of the Facebook app, my photos rarely make it off my phone. My phone's pictures share the same fate as the pictures on my real camera---obscurity.

It's been rather nice without Facebook on my phone, so I just might keep it that way. And hey, the mobile site is there for any burning Facebook emergencies, right?