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How I learned to stop worrying and quit Facebook

The decision didn’t happen overnight.

For one thing, it took a few years before Facebook started to become creepy for me. When I first joined nearly eight years ago, Facebook occupied very little of my waking thought. But over time I began to visit the site more and more often. I enjoyed reading news from my “friends” (some of whom really were my friends). I enjoyed reading their comments on my own posts, which were mostly just articles or music I liked. As I started posting more often, I unwittingly began to engage in what’s become known as “creating one’s personal brand.”

The unfortunate notion of a personal brand is an essential problem with Facebook: it feeds on and magnifies people’s inherent narcissism. Just as babies are fascinated by mirrors, adults are fascinated by Facebook, the ultimate two-way mirror. It encourages users to check for comments they’ve inspired, to see who’s liked or shared them. It encourages the presentation of an artificial version of yourself, and the acceptance of others’ artificial versions. If you’ve ever bought into the notion that you were alone in a universe populated by people who were only figments of your imagination (but who had better vacation destinations than you), Facebook is the perfect vehicle to reinforce that line of self-focused, defeatist thinking.


Eventually I got to be a heavy Facebook user, and by that I mean I was spending at least an hour a day on the site, checking it 4-5 times a day. This, too, is an essential Facebook problem: the time suck. What’s so seductive is not only the illusion that you’re the center of the universe, but also the very casual, day-to-day contact with people you haven’t seen in years, if not decades—people with whom otherwise, you probably wouldn’t do more than trade holiday cards (if that).

For example, I reconnected with some of my old friends from summer camp. Reading their offhand posts, and seeing their pictures of sunsets and weddings and pets and children was deeply gratifying. I had shared some of the happiest times of my childhood with these women, and here we were, chatting about the weather in our respective cities, as if a day hadn’t passed since we’d seen each other, even though we had lost touch for decades in the interim. It was kind of magic.

As a new parent whose job mostly involved sitting alone at a desk, Facebook was a way to maintain a connection with other people, even though I was relatively isolated during the day. People who don’t get out much for whatever reason—they’re bedridden, they’re depressed, they’re misanthropic, they’re new mothers working in online media—can maintain a connection with the world through Facebook without actually having to share air space with other human beings. But at some point, you start missing seeing your friends in person. And a lot of these people aren’t your friends.

Facebook is a temporary salve for loneliness, but it’s not a cure. We’re human animals, programmed for thousands of millennia to interact with each other in person. That’s an itch that no website or app can truly scratch.

I can hear the arguments that our species is in the midst of an evolutionary revolution—that our McLuhan-cyborg future is at hand and we can forget having interpersonal relationships. And certainly, the way we’re glued to our smart phones in public would suggest that the minute someone figures out how to implant that technology into our brains, we’ll cease interacting in person altogether. But then again, maybe not. Maybe we’re just in a weird, very brief phase, when the device is held in the hand, but once it gets implanted, we’ll blink our eyes collectively and start looking around at the world again. Valuing in-person interaction isn’t just romantic nostalgia for the good old days—it’s our hardwired biology. And biology doesn’t turn on a dime, at least not in the timeframes we experience.



There’s a book about tidying up that’s huge on the bestseller lists right now. It’s by a hardcore Japanese lady and it’s full of tiger mom tough love telling people to get rid of their stuff. I read it, and got rid of about 2/3 of my wardrobe. I don’t miss the things I gave away. The lack of clutter makes my mind calmer.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of my beloved old friends from summer camp. I love these women in the way one loves a deeply cherished memory from childhood. But if it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t be in touch with most of them. And I wonder if letting that go isn’t such a bad thing—the 14-year-old me who ran wild in the countryside with my camp “sisters” isn’t the 42-year-old me with a family of my own and a publication to run.

Still, this is the hardest part about letting Facebook go—it feels like saying goodbye to a lot of people from my past, all over again.

The connection with other people is the biggest allure of Facebook. It’s why the site is so successful. But that success comes from something troublesome: the brass tacks, fundamentally transactional nature of Facebook. It’s the biggest drawback of the site: Facebook manipulates users’ emotions for profit. Jaron Lanier’s book “Who Owns the Future?” first made me consider how a tiny handful of people were capturing all the value of our online interactions. And by “value,” I mean “billions of dollars.”

When I was using Facebook heavily, I started to look for things to post. In the same way that a newspaper columnist must constantly be alert for subject matter, I began to note interesting articles, funny videos, and great songs that passed my way. I’d post them to Facebook and enjoy the ensuing conversation with friends. I was pretty good at it—as a publisher, I had years of practice in identifying stories that people might find interesting. But of course, what I was doing was spending my time to create content for someone else. For free.

Although creating that content was fun and the interactions with others it inspired felt good, I started to realize that my education, my years of working and reading and thinking, were all worth something. That I shouldn’t just give away the fruits of my labors to help line the pockets of Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie.

When you post on Facebook, whether it’s pictures of your pets or a movie you liked, you are giving yourself away. Your real self. And your real self has real value. That value can be expressed by your work, by your thoughts and feelings, by the way you affect other people… and it can also be expressed by dollars.

Why do you think certain people’s posts show up again and again in your Facebook feed? Do you ever wish it were more random? Facebook controls what information you see, whose posts are visible to you. They have complicated algorithms that are constantly changing, for one sole purpose: to turn you into money. As a capitalist, I can understand the argument that this is no different from any transactional purchase. You go into a grocery store and give up money in exchange for food; you go to Facebook and give up yourself in exchange for a virtual community (and crazy wealth for a handful of people). Perhaps it’s a fair trade. I’m not sure anymore.


There are good reasons for quitting Facebook, but doing so is hard. It’s about more than just overcoming one’s fear of missing out. It’s more than giving up what feels like a meaningful connection to other people. Quitting Facebook is ultimately about letting go of part of yourself. It’s about being willing to disappear.

One of the first people to friend me on Facebook was someone whom I hadn’t spoken to in nearly a decade. This person would die unexpectedly within the year—my first experience with the bizarre phenomenon of a person’s Facebook profile hanging around after they’re gone, their trivial likes and snapshots suddenly consequential.

And perhaps this is the essential attraction of Facebook, even more than connecting with other people: it offers the possibility of a kind of immortality. When I heard this week about the man who murdered a TV journalist and a cameraman, and then posted his video of the killings on Facebook, and then the video went viral, it was a grim confirmation. The murderer used Facebook to promote his snuff film because he wanted remembrance. We all do.

What price are we willing to pay?



also by Rainey Knudson
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20 Responses

  1. Tommy Gregory

    The great conundrum, but it is fun to deactivate and reactivate. I think you would dig my upcoming exhibit, it’s very heavily constructed around “The good book”.

    I agree with this quote “you are giving yourself away”.

    1. Ironic. Giving yourself away on artnet or facebook. . .social media, which includes email, as shallow to one is vital to another. . .as in everything it’s the perspective you bring to it. Thanks for the thought provoking article. . .

  2. Jim Pirtle

    I accept Facebook as this ongoing collage of my identity…. no one post is that important but in aggregate there is a picture

  3. Michael Peranteau

    wow, it sounds so familiar, I am completely addicted and I am so happy to be going away for 8 days to disconnect from everything, especially Facebook, sometimes it is so much fun but it is no substitute for the wonderful friends I had dinner with in person tonight. I run into people constantly at the grocery store or an opening and we don’t really talk anymore, we just say Facebook and sort of laugh and that interaction now substitutes for the meaningful conversations we used to have. I always raionalize and say it’s for work but in truth it feels like any other addiction at times, sad and lonely and empty. We can’t get internet very often at our house in the mountains so to do Facebook you have to drive into town. It’s like living in a dry county like the one where our other house in the mountains used to be, 12 miles to the liquor store. I cant wait!

  4. Good piece, Rainey. You are correct about the direction of revenue and about the algorithms created to maximize that revenue. While it’s true that we are giving ourselves away in a sense when we post stuff on Facebook, the site has become my way of staying in touch with people back in Texas. Although we are now dual nationals and are here in France to stay, FB has become my best method of staying connected to my American friends.

  5. Tom sale

    But interestingly you don’t discuss artists being able to easily share art and process (Nit to mention sales!) and the fact that it’s one of the platforms that galleries use to get away from 5000 printed invitations and some of us live in rural areas where meeting for coffee just can’t happen and some of us are totally needed on FB (I was narcissistic before FB)….where would all of Pinky’s lady fans be with out it? And are you serious? 4 or 5 times a day? How about40-75 times a day? I get material for my classes here, coordinate my volunteers for a homeless peoject, chat with a virtual intern, use it to write notes to myself,communicate w colleagues to keep private info off the school server. FB has changed my life for the better almost as much as the internet did a few decades ago. Give it up? Never!

    1. Barbara McMurray

      Haha, Tom – great comment. I have to agree. I would love to reduce my Facebook use to 4 to 5 times a day! But as a marketing and PR consultant for several nonprofits, I need to post on their behalf. I create and promote events, private-message board members, and on my own page, I love being able to see baby pictures and read about college and milestone updates from far-flung nieces and nephews with whom I would have largely lost touch by now. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Facebook may be many things, but it isn’t all evil, and of course, as Rainey thoughtfully points out, it isn’t all good. Few things are. If you like it. use it. If you don’t, don’t. It’s important to recognize why you use it, strike a balance, and be satisfied with how much you use this tool for the new millennium. I echo Tom’s remark: Give it up? Never!

      1. Rainey Knudson

        All true, but one of the things I didn’t even get into in the article is all the non-personal stuff in my FB feed anymore. I’ll have 45 notifications, none of which are actual interactions from actual friends.

  6. I think every social media platform has it’s pros and cons. Everything in life could be used for good (and evil) so it’s important for users to be aware of how social media can impact your life. More people should know how to use Facebook to their advantage and how to cut out aspects of it they don’t like. Use the unfollow feature, only share certain posts with your family or close friends, don’t friend people you wouldn’t hug in person, etc. These are just a few of the ways I cope with the invasive nature of Facebook, but keep it in my life for the positive features. Those are different for every person. Of course everyone online is a shadow of their true selves, but the sad reality is that if you’re not online is some way it’s like you don’t exist. It’s also interesting that you received more comments on your Facebook post of this article than on the actual article.

    1. Rainey Knudson

      But the comments here were generally much more thoughtful (yes, I looked).

      Also, “the sad reality is that if you’re not online is some way it’s like you don’t exist” was kind of my point about being willing to disappear. But I realized that I am good friends with many people who are either not on Facebook at all, or only very rarely. It’s a big world out there off the ‘book.

      1. That’s generally true, but there can be good conversations on Facebook comment feeds, though I rarely engage in them. There is something about how all your likes, comments, and actions are tracked that is disconcerting. I’ve often thought about disappearing (deactivating), but family and close friends keep me attached. I actually don’t think I know anyone who isn’t on Facebook, now that’s disconcerting!

  7. carolyn

    At the risk of pointing out what I expect you already know, facebook content isn’t used just to make money, but also to conduct psychological experiments on us and for “law enforcement” purposes, among other things; see, e.g., http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-facebook-research-20140629-story.html , http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/06/were-all-those-rainbow-profile-photos-another-facebook-experiment/397088/ , and https://www.facebook.com/records/x/login/ (note that, so long as a law enforcement employee can plausibly argue that a request relates to a law enforcement inquiry {justified or not}, facebook will cooperate).

    I.m.h.o., platforms like facebook are here to stay and could potentially be enormously helpful; but their beneficial potential will never be realized until they’re owned & controlled by users and designed for users’ benefit (cf. credit unions, which have so far avoided the corruption & ruination among S&L’s in the ’80’s & the big banks ca. 2008; or Spain’s Mondragon Corporation).

    How to counteract the negative effects on users of participation in our “attention economy” is another, very good question.

    Some good articles that explore the challenges:
    http://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/jul/22/feed-my-feed/?ref=journal_p2_post_readbtn .

    And there’s a lot more out there; I started out looking for something good that I read just recently, but can’t find it now.

    1. carolyn

      PS: I do think it’s best to limit one’s time on social networks, and worry about kids who are not encouraged to develop in-person social skills, which I find challenging enough even without having had such convenient virtual alternatives.

    2. Rainey Knudson

      A friend of mine with kids who are slightly older said he loves that they play baseball because it’s a sport with a lot of downtime (in the dugout; in the outfield) — and it’s the only time they are forced to make small talk with each other, without the intervention of a device.

  8. Jeff Bowen

    Great article, Rainey. I would love to quit Facebook as well, but I face the same situation as one of the commenters mentioned in that I post a lot of content for the non-profit I work for. I suppose I could create a “fake” profile to manage the sites, but I also like Facebook for connecting me to others in the area who have similar hobbies. I think my own solution, for now, is to unfollow as many people as possible so I don’t fall into the time-sucking trap of reading an endless feed. In the end what will probably make me quit is the sponsored (or “non-personal,” as you put in in one of your comments above) content filling my feed. That $@&# is getting out of hand. Oh, and is it ironic that I’m going to share this article on Facebook?

  9. June O'Neill

    Rainey, loved this article! I like all your articles, but this one really hit home. Also, loved your friend’s observation about baseball – so great.

  10. Zoe Q

    I quit Facebook about three months ago and I too feel a big sense of relief. Your post highlights so many issues I had when deciding whether to keep or delete my account.

    There only two things I miss about Facebook. One being the ease of discovering social events, so many events these days are no longer shared through traditional means. I’ve missed out on some gatherings but I was grateful when a friend (who noticed i was MIA) took the moment to call me and invite me to his going away party. The second thing I miss is being easily available for contact. If someone doesn’t know my phone number or email they would be hard pressed to get in touch with me. I’m still not sure of how to relieve this. Maybe I will create a personal site or portfolio with contact information. Either way, thank you for sharing.

  11. when i left facebook (working artist) i often found people getting defensive when they would ask why and i would answer with very similar thoughts you’ve expressed above. i don’t miss it, but the thoughts of “creating content” still are a part of my mind when someone else take photos of me (for example, at a gathering or event).
    great article.

  12. Rosanne Friedman

    I use Facebook as a collection of art and ideas. And those that “like” are in harmony with those images and ideas, or not. I see Facebook as a collection. When I go to the Menil Collection and see an artist finding a collection I see the difference not so much it’s a room — a digital column.

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