What It Means to Quit Facebook

Kevin Nguyen deactivates his Facebook profile, a decision both rational and selfish.

Illustration by Maré Odomo

Somewhere between the introduction of Google+ and a long-standing, curmudgeonly disaffection toward social networking is the reason I quit Facebook. The moment came after I had unintentionally opened Facebook in four different tabs over the course of several hours aimlessly browsing the web. I was wasting away in front of my news feed, and I felt more pathetic than I had in a long time. So it seemed only right to delete my profile.

The next day, I got a text from a coworker: “Did you cancel your Facebook or just unfriend me?” I explained that I had deleted my Facebook profile, or, to be precise, had it “deactivated” — a word I never thought I’d use outside of conversations about sororities or robots. It turns out a Facebook profile, once created, can never be deleted. It can only go into hibernation, waiting for you to wake it up again.

Another coworker asked me the same thing, concerned that a brief email argument we’d had at work had led me to unfriend her. I told her that I wished there was a way to tell everyone that I was no longer on Facebook. She pointed out that the easiest way to do that would’ve been on Facebook.

But after a couple weeks, quitting Facebook started to feel like a relief. Without the link in my bookmark bar, I lost the compulsion to check my notifications. There were no more invites to I-lost-my-cell-phone-what-is-your-number parties in my inbox. I now had an excuse for not remembering birthdays. And yet, I felt the need to justify quitting Facebook. Simply saying “I was sick of it” felt like saying “I was sick of people.”

There might have been some truth behind that. Facebook is a good way to keep tabs on friends, family, and acquaintances without putting in much effort. But after a while, it started to feel like Facebook discouraged me from actually calling or emailing my friends across the country. I mean, why put in the time to call if you can just check a profile and skim status updates? Without Facebook, I would be forced to keep in touch with friends in meaningful ways. I sincerely thought this to be true.

After a couple weeks of not having Facebook, I didn’t make any calls or write any long, thoughtful emails. I didn’t even write short, thoughtful emails. The energy I usually spent browsing Facebook were lost minutes — waiting for the bus, standing in line for coffee, while trying to sleep — that didn’t add up to the time I would’ve had a nice, long catch-up conversation with an old friend. And to my surprise, I didn’t really miss the people on Facebook, even the friends who live far away, who I could only get glimpses of from the occasional photo album or wall post. It actually just made it easier to forget them entirely.

Most people don’t have an antagonistic relationship with Facebook like I do. In fact, some people really adore the site. Many of them include my friends and family, and it’s the form they are most comfortable communicating with. Quitting Facebook was, in a way, an act of selfishness. I was denying a responsibility to some of the people I care about most, simply because I found the site irritating. I had an excuse to not remember birthdays, but in the end, I was still not remembering birthdays.

Sure, there are perhaps sinister, self-interested intentions behind Facebook’s decision to enforce deactivation over deletion, but there is a comfort in knowing that when I turn my profile back on I’ll still be connected to the same friends. I can catch up on the photos and status updates that I missed. Life will have moved on, and with little effort, I’m involved once again. And Facebook actually reflects human relationships accurately in that way. You can ignore your relationships, but they never quite disappear. They wait for you, hoping to one day be rekindled.

Illustration by Maré Odomo

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.