Despite my trepidation, refraining from Facebook for Passover proved to be a revealing exercise in awareness, therefore an excellent decision. During the first few days, I reflexively clicked on the Facebook URL in my browser history as if I were a caged rat conditioned to press a lever. Having logged out of Facebook the evening of April 3, I couldn’t see anything other than the password prompt. Since I knew I’d be thoroughly disappointed, if not disgusted, with myself if I succumbed, I resisted the temptation while trying to find compassion for my auto-pilot rat-brain, abruptly cut off from its supposed reward. Having declared my Facebook-free status at a Seder on the first night of Passover (ironically enough, held at the home of someone I had “met” through Facebook but, until that evening, had not met in person), I felt less self conscious sending my host a handwritten thank you for the evening, something so rare these days as to potentially raise eyebrows. I enjoyed choosing a card, composing my thoughts, licking the envelope, affixing a stamp and putting it in the mail, reviving my letter writing habit. There was a time when I processed my life and thoughts at the pace of pen on paper and corresponded with dozens of people. It’s a form of communication that, sadly, seems headed for extinction in our accelerated world. Normally, I probably would have just sent the host a private message, the pixels dissolving into the fast moving stream of data. I’m glad I had an excuse not to do that.
By Tuesday, my rat brain had calmed down enough, perhaps curling up in the back of its cage, so that the compulsive urge to check Facebook dwindled. That offered some valuable insight about the trajectory of eliminating habits, especially addictive ones. While I may not be able to modify some of my behaviors on command, it also might not take as long as I imagine if I’m committed to redirecting my attention. Around that same time, the middle of the holiday, I noticed that I could sit and read a book for several hours, without having the inexplicable urge to periodically check what was happening in various virtual communities. To read for an uninterrupted stretch was something I once did routinely and without worrying I was “missing out”; to reestablish contact with that experience felt like coming home.
Still, I experienced some Facebook longing. Normally I post my blog articles on Facebook, the source of the bulk of my readers, and last week I noticed with chagrin that traffic and comments had tapered off…a lot. I knew I could share that same post later on, once I’m back in Facebook-land, but it’s not quite the same as sharing in real time. I also wondered what was happening with a friend and writer who regularly posts to a private Facebook group about her valiant struggle with invasive breast cancer. If there is anyone who has elevated Facebook for a higher purpose, it’s her. She has created a loving, supportive community and deeply touched hundreds.
Without the Facebook oracle to consult, I made progress sorting and culling sundry items and weeding my wardrobe. While digging around, I found some old photographs from my Budapest days that it would have been fun to post for “Throwback Thursday” (when people share images from the usually distant past). That this idea occurred to me on the sixth day of my “Facebreak”, is evidence of how Facebook culture has shaped my thinking and behavior, a thought that gave me pause. What if I never shared those photos online, or at all? Would it matter? Was my surprise in coming across them enough, or did I have to publicize it, too? If I did choose to share them, what would be my intention in revealing a moment from decades past that even I hadn’t remembered? I’m still pondering that.
I’m drafting this post on Saturday afternoon, a few hours before Passover ends, and will probably publish it early in the week; typically, I let my posts simmer before I send them into the world. I’m both curious and apprehensive about what awaits when I return to Facebook. Will there be many notifications (Facebook’s way of telling a person which conversations or ‘threads’ have new comments since one’s last visit), friend requests and messages? As much as it would be gratifying to see larger vs. smaller numbers, I’m concerned I’ll be sucked into following too many conversations, believing I need to stay abreast of them in real time to participate. That’s a belief I will question rigorously once I return to the virtual world. Perhaps I can choose to visit Facebook a lot less than I used to, at shorter intervals and not every day, and still reap the benefits of connection and conversation. I also hope that these eight days away from Facebook will remind me that, as much as it’s fun and even valuable to spend time there, it’s possible to take a break from social media. The next time I do, it probably won’t be a big deal. Which means that for Passovers to come, I’ll have to refrain from something else. The Internet? We shall see.