I finally took the plunge to leave Facebook in July of 2017, and for 9 months I have been living a wonderful Facebook free existence*. On occasion I find out some bits of news a bit slower than others in my friend circle, but for the most part I don’t really know what I’m missing out on, since I don’t see what I’m missing out on. Instead I’ve freed up a bit more of my time since I no longer spend 30+ minutes a day scrolling, and I’ve saved myself a lot of frustration by not having to read the political rants of 500 of my closest friends.
One of the benefits I was worried most about losing when I deactivated my account though, was broad & speedy access to the minds of those 500 friends, and the referrals they provided me. Needed a local carpet cleaner? Ask Facebook! Needed advice on traveling back east? Ask Facebook! Needed a date night restaurant suggestion? Ask Facebook, then follow that up with a 30 minute search on Yelp to help me weed through the 20 suggestions I received from Facebook.
It turns out that this type of referral seeking and researching is called “maximizing,” a term coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox Of Choice. Maximizing can not only be overwhelming and exhausting, weeding through mountains of information from sometimes untrustworthy sources, as Catherine Price claims in her book How To Break Up With Your Phone, it can also eliminate serendipity.
“When you have the internet in your pocket, there is no room for serendipity. Instead, there are correct answers-answers that can be found only via the cross-analyses of hundreds of reviews on multiple websites. It doesn’t matter that these reviews were written by strangers with whom you might have nothing in common. The fact that they are on the internet gives them more weight than the suggestions of real-life people around you. Not only is “maximizing” exhausting, it can also steal the wonderful feeling of discovery that comes from stumbling across things by accident.”
When I read this passage, I immediately thought of my relationship with Facebook, and how worried I was to navigate through life, no longer having access to the experiences, opinions and advice of over 500 people in my friends network.** How truly would I survive?
Turns out I survived by doing the old fashioned thing and just started asking around. Specifically though, I began asking those in my network who I trusted and knew wouldn’t steer me wrong. For restaurant recs, my friend Mary is my go-to. She loves food just as much, if not more than I do, and spends a great deal of time familiarizing herself on all the hip & unique spots from Orange County to LA. For general life stuff, like carpet cleaner recs, I always seek out the references from my friend Paurvi. She is discerning in quality & service, so I know if she trusts them enough to refer, I won’t be disappointed. As the mother of 1 son, she even came through for me when I needed a place to get Taylor’s ears pierced. She truly is amazing. For design help, I text pics to my friend and design guru Kendall, and ask for a yay or nay. When I need parenting advice or book recommendations, I text or call my friend Jules. When I needed help with a private matter, I reached out to my friend Miranda, who I knew would handle the topic discretely and with care. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
The point being that by limiting access to my grand Facebook network, it forced me to tap into the network of close friends and family whose opinions I trust the most. Not only has this way proven to be more efficient, I’d like to think it’s helped build the bonds of trust in these relationships even more. I hope my friends see my probing questions not as annoying interruptions to their day, but as me saying, “Hey, I trust and value your opinion, can you help me out?”
It’s been wonderful to see that not only could I survive without the advice and recommendations of everyone from old elementary school friends to a person I once met at a blogging conference, but to see that it can be a lot easier, not having to weed through all that advice. Plus, by limiting choices, it has forced me to trust more and control less, and allow serendipity and chance to play a bigger role in my life. I also tend to feel a bit more content with decisions, since I don’t ever have that feeling of regret or “what if” that comes along with forsaking one option for another. When you’ve only got one option, you really don’t know what else you may be missing out on.
Of course, there are some decisions where “maximizing” can be beneficial to an extent; like when you’re dropping a boat load of money to take a dream vacation to a unique and never before traveled destination. But deciding on a carpet cleaner need not require an exhaustive 2 day internet search.
One day I may return to Facebook, as I never did say a permanent goodbye, just bye for now. But if and when I do return, I’m pretty sure that I’ll treat and use the medium in a different way, starting with not asking my 500 friends what brand of coffee maker I should buy next.
*In full disclosure, I do have an active FB account in order to run the various business groups I am an administrator for. I essentially created a separate account where I do not accept friend requests and just post as needed in my groups. This has been the perfect solution because it keeps my feed very tight and strictly business related.
**When I say I was “worried”, I wasn’t worried at all, but when I did tally the pros and cons of leaving versus staying, no longer having access to referrals & references of over 500 people was counted in the cons column. Now I count it in the pros column.