Things happened while I was off: A Yale grad shook Bill Clinton’s hand. A high school friend decided to pursue his Ph.D. at Texas A&M (“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m taking my talents to College Station”). People traveled. My former roommate posed as a ring bearer in Las Vegas and ate clam chowder in San Francisco. Others went to Spain, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Sixty-seven of them changed their profile pictures. They were tanner.
About 480 million people log on to Facebook daily. Take all humans living between Canada’s slice of the polar cap and Mexico’s border with Guatemala, then add them to the population of Sri Lanka — that’s about 480 million people. Another 365 million (Nigeria and Pakistan put together, plus Burundi and Burkina Faso) visit the website every month. Add those figures and you arrive at the number of people who currently use Facebook: 845 million.
For two weeks, I wasn’t one of them. Sitting at home in Texas during spring break, Facebook became my main pastime. Minutes turned into hours as I clicked through loops of friends’ profiles and tagged photos. After a week, I began to wonder how many times I could cycle through pictures of sunnier, beach-ier breaks before curiosity turned into pathology. I decided to go off the grid.
Facebook tried to guilt me into changing my mind. “Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?” the confirmation page asked. It displayed pictures of acquaintances and said they’d miss me, which was a lie. Like the broken-hearted party at the end of a messy relationship, it asked why. Did I not feel safe? Was Facebook too nagging? Was there another account?
Few things happen suddenly in life, but Facebook deactivation is a sudden thing. With a click of the mouse, I became an outsider to a community of 845 million people.
In the two weeks that followed, muscle memory occasionally dragged my cursor to the Facebook bookmark on my browser. The link led me to the login page. “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life,” it taunted. Who, I wondered, were these people? On Facebook, I had 700 friends; were they still in my life?
Facebook functions as a catalogue of people I know or once knew. Without it, I’d be hard-pressed to name all of my close friends, let alone remember the 700 acquaintances that make up my Facebook friends. They include a writer whose hand I once shook, a man whose last name suggests we’re related, and a girl who became a lingerie model since we last spoke.
Deactivating Facebook is like dropping your phone into a toilet and losing the numbers stored in the address book. You worry about how you’ll reach people. Even people who no longer matter — former TAs, coaches, co-workers — suddenly become important. Not that I’d ever find occasion to talk to the guy who taught me how to fold polo shirts when I worked at Hollister — but I liked knowing that I could.
For those two weeks, I felt that I was out of the loop. I had deactivated my account, but 480 million people still logged on to the website every day. They shared memes, New York Times articles and YouTube videos of sloths. I felt like the 9-year-old who sits alone on the seesaw while the cool kids push each other on the swing.
I reactivated my account after two weeks. In a sense, I really was missing out: within 10 minutes, I received four invitations to events that I wouldn’t attend. But I was surprised to learn that not much had changed during my absence: high school friends were still engaged, pre-med students were still sleep-deprived, a cappella concerts were still a thing. As it turns out, life had remained remarkably constant.
That’s not to say that Facebook is useless. It reminds me of friends’ birthdays. It allows me to log into Glassdoor.com and learn how much money I won’t earn at Morgan Stanley or UBS. It tells me that Jimmy McMillan came to campus.
But, in perspective, the things that appear on my newsfeed seem inconsequential. For two weeks, I lived off the grid like a modern-day hermit. I was like Thoreau at Walden Pond, Syd Berrett in Cambridge, or David Chapelle in 2005. When I reactivated my account, I expected Facebook to connect me to the world. Instead, it told me that my ex-girlfriend had bought a cast-iron skillet.
Teo Soares is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.