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