This email was written to Justin Benton in December 2009 in response to his essay “How to Disappear Completely.”

 

Dear Justin,

Again, thanks for your essay.  I’d been toying with the idea of deactivating my account, and your essay was the tipping point.  Since deactivating, I’ve gone through all sorts of emotions and experienced various things.  I figured I’d give myself permission to email you.

FB is not healthy for people like me.  I joined for the wrong reason–purely self-promotional.  To sell my book.  And I went at it aggressively.  (I had something like 620 friends at the time of my deactivation.)  The more desperate I felt about my book sales and thus my prospects for selling my novel, the more actively I campaigned for friends.  Then I felt bad because people were posting about their lives–genuine, heartfelt–and all I posted were articles I’d written and good reviews, etc.  So I tried to throw in a few pithy and/or heartfelt posts now and then, or comment on other people’s posts–to disguise my blatant self-promotion.  And I just found myself thinking way too much about what to post or what to comment–instead of what story I might write.

I found that FB was a black hole of massive time suckage.  The voyeuristic writer could spend hours poking around on FB.  I knew too much about people–all of this useless information rattling around.  And some of it was very personal information–but I knew it in an impersonal and artificial way: a fellow writer’s mother committed suicide; the “friends” who went into labor and gave birth; mothers in distress with toddlers and newborns, lonely and seeking empathetic listeners, or complaining about the monotonous parenting drill; a “friend’s” relationship drama, which kept me guessing as to his latest love triangles; a “friend’s” struggle to stay off booze; another “friend’s” attempt to appear sexy and hip, posting sad, provocative photos of herself.

FB enhanced my misanthropic tendencies.  The “friend” getting her MFA at a well known college, trying to sound wise and hip and cool, posting photos of fat people at Wal Mart, all to further enhance her hip persona. The “friend” who referred to her children as “kidlets” in every one of her super upbeat and therefore tremendously sad postings.  “They’re people,” I wanted to tell her.  “Don’t demean them with that awful term that’s meant to be cute, but in the end reveals your own desperation.”  It seemed as if everyone was shouting, “Look at me!  Look at me!  I’m important!  I’m somebody!”  And it just got so noisy.  And it made me sad.  And then I was doing it as well.

The only temptation to go back on FB has come when I’ve received good news about my book.  I want to post it, in a gloat post, so that others can comment, and slap my back. But when I think about the glut of other writers self-promoting on FB, I realize that it probably doesn’t help that much with book sales.  In fact, with some of the more well-known writers I’ve friended on FB, by reading their daily postings and twitterings, I’ve found myself less likely to want to read their work.  I won’t name any names–but there’s something off-putting about needing constant attention, and the mystery of a writer is killed.

I did have two people contact me in a where are you email, why’d you quit FB because I enjoyed reading links to your articles, etc., and I directed them to you essay and my comments as an explanation–but so far, that’s it.

With two young children and a busy schedule, I have minimal time to read and write–and quitting FB has been liberating, allowing me to refocus.  I’m relieved.  I feel tugs of FB withdrawal, but I remind myself that just because I don’t post about my book receiving an accolade, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count or didn’t happen.  The tree did fall in the forest, and I don’t have to direct every one’s attention to it.

I hope I have the capacity to stay off FB.

Thanks.

Best,

Victoria Patterson

 

 

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Victoria Patterson is the author of the novel This Vacant Paradise, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Drift, her collection of interlinked short stories, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the 2009 Story Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle selected Drift as one of the best books of 2009. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside.

43 responses to “How Justin Benton Helped Me Quit Facebook”

  1. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Having joined only this weekend, I am now terrified….

  2. In all honesty, much of the problem was me. I just don’t do well with fb.

    • Katie Arnoldi says:

      No, I don’t think it’s just you. With a new book out and my life being all about self-promotion at the moment, this essay really struck a nerve. I hate Facebook. Thanks for writing this. You helped put things into perspective for me.

  3. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I’m one of these people who actually has positive things to say about facebook, though of course I see your points about the time suckage and the strange desperation and the narcissism on display. The principal reason I find value in it is because I live overseas and the vast majority of people I’m connected to on facebook I haven’t seen in person in years. (I often wonder what do people who comment back and forth online say to each other when they meet in person. Do you recap what was discussed earlier on one another’s wall?) I also have a growing number of “friends” I only know through their writing (many from this site for instance) so I have at least the possibility for interesting exchanges with interesting people I would never have come in contact with otherwise.

    All that being said, I can imagine you’re much more productive now, having kicked the habit.

    • I do think fb is a worthy deal for people to stay in touch. Part of the problem for me was that I joined for the wrong reason. I did end up reconnecting with some childhood friends. And that was an unexpected benefit.

      There are so many potential diversions on the Internet. But my productivity level has increased, I think. I know that I’m reading more. There are just certain things that I have to quit entirely–I remember when I had to take the card game Solitaire off my computer because, for some reason, I’d just be there, hours later, playing it. It was CRAZY. So I had to delete it off the computer. I couldn’t moderate. FB was similar, and it really did make me sad. I didn’t know many of the people and I found myself assuming things about their lives, poking through their vacation photos. I don’t want to be that kind of person.

  4. Don Mitchell says:

    I think you did the right thing, Victoria.

    I haven’t turned into a reflexive FB-hater (but man, that CEO is a twit) but I’m glad I deactivated. I had the wrong mix of friends, shades of Seinfeld’s “colliding worlds.” One block was 50th HS reunion, and the other was TNB. Each group had markedly different FB interests. Not to diss my HS friends, but they were all about those damn games. Boring!

    On the other hand, just as in HS, now I feel less cool then everyone else. Damn. Can’t win.

  5. Becky says:

    Like so many things, I think facebook is what you make of it.

    And I think we older folk (like, people over 25) are more sensitive to issues of appropriate sharing and knowing and what is or isn’t superficial/meaningful interaction when it comes to the internet.

    Does that make any sense? I mean, of course, a time suck is a time suck if you really should be doing something else, but you almost never hear younger people lamenting in any very grave way that facebook interaction is somehow empty or inferior or disturbing. I mean, maybe it’s just because they’re younger and less mature or less contemplative–but I tend to think, too, that the internet is part of their paradigm in a way that it can’t be for us.

    Like, did our grandparents consider the telephone an invasion of privacy? Were there telephone hold outs? Eschewers? I wonder.

    • Matt says:

      Using my own grandparents as an example, I can answer that last one: yes. My paternal grandmother hated the telephone. Considered it a deeply obnoxious invention.

    • I agree! My 12 year old son has a FB account and he doesn’t abuse it the way I would. He’s on there 20 minutes tops, maybe 30 if he chats with someone. And it doesn’t bring him down, the way it made me sad. He uses all those shortcut ways of writing/texting, which I can’t seem to do. Using numbers, etc. Example: I’m here 4 u. I hate that stuff. I think it’s because I’m old. I just turned 40. So I agree that it’s me more than it’s FB.

  6. Matt says:

    I have a lot of long distance relationships, mostly college/grad school friends who’ve spread out like something of a diaspora after we all graduated. For me Facebook is a very handy tool for managing those relationships and staying in touch, which is the principle reason I keep it active. However, I refuse to “friend” anyone who lives locally; they can have my phone number, sure, or my email, and a standing invitation to drop by whenever–even a link to my Twitter feed–but they don’t get to be my online friend.

    • That’s smart. I just went at it for purely selfish means. It didn’t work. If I were to ever go back, I’d need to do something like that. But I don’t think I’m capable! Besides, I’d be poking around somehow, going on to stranger’s pages, looking at their photos. It’s ME. I am completely sure of it. I just have the wrong personality for it. I’m too extreme.

  7. I am completely on-board with this personal boycott idea, Victoria. At least as far as using FB as a marketing tool instead of just for keeping in touch with the guys from the softball team and your cousin in Burma. I wish I had the stones to wean myself entirely from the FB sauce since I agree that it probably doesn’t help sell a single book and wastes enough time to keep you from writing several new ones. It’s an exercise in illogic: How often do you open and read someone’s link to their latest review? So why do you expect them to open yours? But, yeah, I’m probably going to keep doing it, if only out of fear and weakness.

    • If I weren’t such a crazy person on there, I’d be back. I sort of justified my FB habit at one point that I had all these windows into people’s lives, so that it would be a boost to my writing. And maybe… But nah. I need to be reading BOOKS to improve my writing, not reading status updates.

      It’s been 6 months and I don’t miss it at all. I’m still relieved. But I do think it was me, more than FB, that was the problem.

      Using FB as self-promotion was where I went wrong in the first place. I went off in December, after reading Justin’s essay–but another thing happened as well. I sold my novel. So, I felt like I had permission somehow. I was still only on there, thinking I had to be. I told my new editor that I was thinking of quitting FB and he said that they encourage their writers to do everything they can, including FB, so to maybe take a BREAK but not quit. So, mine is on pause–not completely deactivated.

      But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that it doesn’t sell books. So I need to just jump on there and deactivate entirely! I haven’t done it yet! Fear and weakness!

    • One of the things I appreciate about TNB, having been on here for 7 months or so, is that writers come on here to self promote–but it’s more complicated. (I’m thinking of the Steve Almond deal as well as others.) There’s something very cool about that. It’s like the community here is too savvy to just run and jump through the hoops of promotion stuff. It’s more based on what you write–month after month–how you contribute, how you respond.

      For me, as a writer, this is the ideal alternative. I can read other’s work–and contribute. I don’t feel like such a suck up or a sell out. I have room.

  8. I came this close to deleting Facebook for good this Saturday. That was the death date. I was determined to rid myself of it. On Friday, I got cold feet and decided I would keep it. I’ve always looked at Facebook (which I’ve had since ’04) as similar to smoking cigarettes. If they are around, I’m probably going to cave in. I was going to delete Facebook to help me better concentrate on writing. Reduce wasted time. Be more productive on a daily basis. However, instead of deleting FB, I’ve decided I’ll do what I’ve been doing for the past month and a half. Just not log-in for a solid week every other week. Kudos to you for deletion. You are a bigger (wo)man than I.

    • I’m the same. With cigarettes, I don’t smoke anymore, but I’ll stand very close to someone who is smoking and inhale that lovely second-hand smoke.

      Disclaimer: my account is on pause.

      I’m hoping, by the end of this week, to stand behind my convictions and delete my account entirely. I think I’m holding on to it because I have a novel coming in February and my editor encouraged my not to go off fb completely.

      But from everything I’ve written and all the comments, the one thing I’m sure of is that FB is not good as a self-promotion tool. It just isn’t.

      • I hear ya. I sort of have a like/hate relationship with social networking. When I first got FB in ’04, I deactivated it within a week. I didn’t see the point. In 2007 I had MySpace very briefly. I got tired of getting friend requests from aspiring rappers and wanna-be porn stars and just plain weirdos. But in the year’s time I had MySpace, Brad Listi friended me (like I’m sure he did many of those now on TNB). I had no idea who he was. I saw he was a writer but assumed, at first, he was another oddball stranger on the internet I’d never met in my life. Before I accepted his friend request, I read some of his blogs . . . which were friggin’ hilarious and also thought-provoking. A few months after reading his regular blogs on MySpace, I decided to read his book A.D.D.

        So, in a sense, had I not “met” Listi via social networking, I’d probably have no idea what The Nervous Breakdown was or is. I never would have read Listi’s book, Olear’s, Evison’s, Haney’s, Elliot’s, etc. And I have all of their books sitting on my bookshelf. So while I agree with you that Facebook is probably not the greatest self-promotion tool for a writer, I can’t say social networking can’t be a good promotion tool for a writer. I believe I read in an interview with Listi once that his publisher had him jump on the MySpace bandwagon to get the word out about his book. I could be wrong about that. But for Listi, I think it worked out pretty well. He’s created a literary empire in TNB and I think a number of us came by way of reading his MySpace blogs.

        But I do understand where you are coming from. I have ground rules I’ve made for myself in concern to Facebook: no wall-to-wall conversations with my family (if I want to talk to my family, I pick up the phone or take a weekend trip to visit [one of the main reasons I’ve grown to loathe FB so much is because of seeing how some of my family members who literally live right down the road from one another communicate now. It’s ridiculous) and no telling everyone everything I’m doing every two seconds. I like to be productive and I think FB can’t be very detrimental to production. That’s why I don’t log-in for a week at a time every few weeks and I don’t check it, except on rare occasions, past a certain time at night. I treat it like a bad rash that I don’t want to irritate.

        • You’ve got a point about social networking leading to TNB. And it sounds like you’ve got that FB rash under control. It looks like TNB is going to be the extent of my social networking. I can’t stand the thought of twittering. FB makes me crazy. But TNB works well for me. Maybe because it’s not purely about ME. I like that I go on here to read–that it’s more about the community than about self-aggrandizement. I know TNB is expanding and changing. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. But I appreciate this site.

  9. You can put it on pause. When you go to deactivate it, they give you that option. Mine’s actually on pause. It’s been on pause for six months. But I think I need to go on there and deactivate completely. Not give myself that option!

  10. Mel says:

    I think writer’s will find other things to use as time suckage. I think one thing that holds us back is fear,
    or maybe that’s just speaking for myself. But I waste time on Facebook or other things because Im afraid to just go ahead and plunge into writing. Even if you have a book written, *congratulations* finding time to write on a daily basis is something Ive found important. Ive deactivated my facebook three times, but since some writer’s often tend to isolate themselves anyway, my advice to you is to keep it~Melanie

    • Thanks for the comment, Melanie.

      Writing every day–that’s the thing. If I’m working, I’m less likely to need crazy diversions. I work at this friend’s house, and the other day I was there and her Internet was off. I thought, Oh man, what am I going to do. I ended up WRITING, getting back to the work. Transitional times–when I’m not involved with a novel or story–are spooky, and I’m more prone to needing diversions. And yes, isolating is a problem! But that’ll probably be a whole other post. I don’t think I’ll go back to FB though. I don’t think of FB as connecting with people–or as a remedy for my isolation. It feels too artificial. I need to actually be in the same room with the person to have made genuine contact. That’s the best remedy for isolation.

  11. angela says:

    i don’t mind Facebook so much. it’s a convenient, though rather lazy, way of connecting with people, and like you said, good for self-promotion, though it can get out of hand. and you’re so right that there’s that feeling of wanting some sort of response when you post something about your writing. and then you – or i at least – sometimes feel crummy when i don’t get the kind of response i’ve been imagining. but that’s my own craziness. 🙂

    also, whenever i’m in “marketing” mode – whether via promotion, writing query letters, etc. – i have less energy for my actual writing. i can rarely do both at the same time.

    what i don’t like about FB is TMI. not so much the oversharing but maybe i don’t want to know a friend is in town and has decided not to see me. that feels crummy too, to see the pictures and posts about, “having a great time where you live!” and knowing that friend hasn’t contacted me directly. finding out after the fact doesn’t seem as bad.

  12. It’s difficult for me to promote/”market” at the same time as I write as well. I much prefer the writing! So that’s good.

  13. Megan says:

    “in the end reveals your own desperation”

    Exactly.

  14. Tip Robin says:

    I can imagine it’s quite difficult to NOT use it when you have a book out and are self-promoting, especially given that everyone seems obligated to use this media in order to self-promote, and even more especially when this media is drowning out other ways to communicate.

    I FB suicided on Jan 1st, and have yet to look back in a fit of shilly-shally, but there have been brief moments of where I wanted to go back, usually just to communicate with someone whom I had only communicated via FB. That link is dead, in many instances now. But that’s it. I feel freer, less entangled, less distracted, more focused in what I want to do. Like you, it was a vortex sucking me in.

    So good job, nay, great job, on giving it up. I wish you continued success in staying FB-free.

  15. Marni Grossman says:

    Oh, goodness. “Kidlets”! The only word for that is ‘cringe-worthy.’

  16. Just for the record, you and Justin are my new heroes in the digital age. I deleted (not deactivated, but deleted) my Facebook account this past Monday. I also deleted Twitter (which I never quite understood anyway). It felt very reinvigorating.

  17. Mark Sutz says:

    Serendipity is delicious. One of my little niggling resolutions for 2011 was to excise FB and in reading through your essay and the comments I think it is probably a healthy decision. But still I hesitate.

    I suspect much of my trepidation has to do with the ubiquitous insistence on ‘connection’ in every aspect of our lives. Apparently, when we’re not on FB, we’re largely invisible. As a struggling writer, this smells like suicide. I’m agnostic about FB – it doesn’t feel necessary to my personhood but I must admit I do get a little freaky instasweat and flush when I think about deleting the account. There are so many good things about the site (and the way I gauge good things is if I have been connected to other writers or litmags) but most of the other stuff is masturbatory or meaningless. It is so fucked up that the thought of deleting FB could possibly be a decision that would be viewed by people as a bad career move when my daily life revolves around writing fiction and trying to make a go at taking my stories seriously. I wince at my own idiocy and virtual fear.

    As I write this comment, I feel a swell of confidence that the right thing to do is dump FB. Perhaps the most convincing argument for leaving is when I looked up a friend on FB to say hello, a friend in real life too, and she was gone. A student at Harvard in her second year, I was fairly flummoxed that she’d decided to leave the FB atmosphere. But then I thought, shit, there is a reason she’s at Harvard – she’s much smarter than I am.

    Dumping FB might just mean I post up more essays here at TNB. I think a test year away might prove that it is a way to bump my productivity and refeel how lovely life was before it. The thought fills me with little orange bubbles of delight.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I don’t miss it! I’m still off–so it’s been a year. I’ve found that I’m more appreciative of people in general because if I have interactions with them, they’re actual interactions–not based on wall posts, etc. It doesn’t take much to turn me into an asocial misanthrope–FB just tipped me over. Maybe I miss out on knowing what people are doing–but I’m ok with it. I don’t really need to know. If it’s something I need to know, I trust that I’ll find out. I get my fill of online participation here on TNB. That’s it for me.

      I saw the FB movie, and it just made me even more glad to be off. Also the way FB wants to be ubiquitous in people’s lives, as if I have to know what my network of friends are doing in making my own decisions–no thanks. Something about that part of it really bothers me.

      As far as the writing goes, I’m better off. I could get lost in the FB swamp of photos and info. I’m reading more, writing more. I’d rather focus on my work–get consumed by that.

      A writer friend told me something like, “The less people know about me, the better.” I lost respect for a few writers when I was friends with them on FB. Their constant need for attention was really off-putting. Maybe people like that–and that’s the way you drum up readers–but I doubt it. Not for me, at least.

      I have a book coming in March, and I’m dreading the idea of having to go on FB again. I’ll do it if I have to–but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it might even be better to stay off. I’d rather have my name associated with a story I wrote–then to have it be on FB.

  18. […] because she isn’t bombarding your Facebook feeds with constant book updates.  That’s because she took a page from the Justin Benton handbook and removed herself from that tool of data mining and sh… Her reasons for doing so are well thought out; so well, in fact, that they covered two separate […]

  19. […] VICTORIA PATTERSON follows his lead. […]

  20. […] the backdrop for her two books, Drift and This Vacant Paradise.  And she has lots to say on her self-imposed exile from Facebook (starting with, “Everything good that’s happened to me as a writer happened after I […]

  21. James D. Irwin says:

    Hello… I’m two years late to the party, but not really because I’m here because I remember reading this piece.

    I’ve deleted facebook twice in the last two years. I got sucked back in last summer, but so far I’ve gone nearly 2 weeks without it, only once instinctively loaded up the page out of habit (and the fact that it was habit I find a little scary) and I haven’t missed it at all.

    It is in fact a strange and wonderful feeling to know that no-one knows what you’re up to, what you’re thinking, no-one can bother you and you’re not subjected the largely petty and insignificant drama of everyone else’s lives. No shameless advertising…

    I’m trying to start a writing project without directly using facebook, to see if it can be done these days…

    Did you manage to stay off FB when your book came out?

  22. Victoria Patterson says:

    Yes–all your reasons are why I’m still so glad not to be on FB. Haven’t been back since. Haven’t desired it. Didn’t got back when my book came out.

    Thanks for your comment.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I’m glad to hear it… it’s a genuine accomplishment these days, and I find people tend to make assumptions about you when you’re not on FB.

      ‘You don’t know what your missing’ people say… but I know exactly what I’m missing, and now I know exactly what they are missing.

      Completely unrelated: absolutely love your gravatar.

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