I Like You. But, I Unfollowed You.

 

I like you but I unfollowed you on Facebook. It’s not personal. Really, it’s about me, not you.

Facebook frankly doesn’t make me feel great, and I know the first step to breaking an addiction is reducing the urge or access. Years ago when I learned I was deeply allergic to gluten I said yes fully to my new gluten-free lifestyle until the holidays when I traveled to be with my family. Countless sugar cookies later, my face looked like a teenage mogal hill of acne. But I wasn’t a teenager. By the end of the holiday week I was acutely tired, bloated and unhappy. I returned to Chicago (my then home) and got back on the wagon which within a week left me feeling great and with a glowing complexion. The elimination and reintroduction taught me what I needed to know: while n = only 1, I got the lesson.

The symptoms related to how Facebook makes me feel are considerably harder to read. Facebook in the moment feels like catching up with people - like butter on bread. An easy, delicious delivery system. It gives me gold stars and flashbacks and three floating dots that tell someone is writing something I surely can’t wait to read! When I tried giving it up I felt like I was missing out. I installed the Moment app to help me monitor my time (you pay attention to what you measure, as they say) but I would cave when on the bus or after a long day. Facebook kept winning on drawing me in because, unlike gluten which reliably makes me feel terrible, Facebook has teams of people attempting to design both my user experience and my beliefs about said experience. Because they need me to be addicted.

I’ve been a fan of Candace Pert, PhD for many years and it’s her work as a scientist on the whole body (whole person) response that can be produced via the opiate receptor that is the basis for my concern regarding how Facebook wants me to feel or believe. As a grad student (grad student!) Pert first revealed the elusive opiate receptor as a very real structure. Before her work the opiate receptor was only believed to exist. Those receptors, when met with the right size molecule (ligand) “that are members of the opiate group like endorphins, morphine, or heroin” (1) elicit not only pain relief but otherworldly experience such as change in behavior, emotions, and attachment to current circumstance — in short, they change the nature of consciousness, if temporarily. (2) Her work would open many doors to what would become applied neuropharmacology and neuroimmuniology.

Obviously Facebook doesn’t give us hits of morphine or heroin, but with the many rewards they’ve built into the system they have dialed into exactly what’s needed to produce an endorphin hit that we want to feel over and over. With that they are stepping into a dangerous arena of behavior control. While I have privacy concerns, the potential of controlling my experience and beliefs about my experience are far far more concerning. It’s as if I’ve taken off my headset in Ready Player One and realized I’m home alone, hungry and cold… That’s not a world or life I want to cultivate. Spain would teach me the true counter remedy.

In preparation for a walk across Spain in 2016 I deleted the Facebook app. I could still get to Facebook and social via Safari but I hardly touched it while on pilgrimage because the countryside, managing my disastrously injured feet, drinking wine and searching for flan were totally engrossing. It turns out the remedy wasn't app or no app. The counter was saying yes to something specific and with full engagement. Not surprisingly, after I finished my walk, I could easily get lost in it once again. A year post-walk I took another step, more like cleaning all of the gluten out of my house, and I unfollowed everyone. (Well, almost everyone... my mom and a few others made the cut.) I wasn’t systematic about it, I just unfollowed as people posted. It took me several weeks of about an hour per day for three-ish weeks; ironically the most I’ve spent on Facebook in years. In the great unfollowing, I SAW SO MUCH. And another and another and another crop of people's posts I hadn’t seen or heard from in years. The second wave was a lot of new news, babies! graduations! Who knew? And finally, I got to a third major wave and I hardly knew them; in several cases I’d never even heard OF them (except I guess when I accepted their invitation?) I really had no idea who they were. Since this great unfollowing was happening in December I got the inside track on their lives: presents, Christmas trees, family pictures, heartbreaking news, and everything in between. I felt like a voyeur. That round was not just unfollowed but unfriended. And I’m sure they never noticed because they’ve probably never heard of me, either!

And just like that the urge was eliminated. That nagging draw, that wicked sense of trying to keep up with one more “inbox” which was supposed to be fun (?) was now no longer weighing on me. In my new life of following roughly 10 people my Facebook experience is neat and tidy. With two swipes up I can finish the job and “catch up” on everything, with the page telling me there are no more new posts. How satisfying to have a job well-done.

So why stay on at all? Facebook is the ultimate CRM - and the Events and Messenger features are useful to me and groups of intersecting friends. I was infinitely grateful I connected via Facebook with a fellow Pilgrim while walking in Spain so that, as it happened, later that afternoon when I got lost on an old road and found myself walking alone for hours, partially in a swamp, I could send him a note to ask that he call the police if I didn’t show up in a few hours. And there’s the rub: Facebook is a platform that benefits humanity when it creates real connection that feeds us rather than the torpor of social isolation. It’s a tool I am committed to using for real communication.

So please forgive me when I don’t like, <3, laugh and comment on your post or wish you a happy, virtual, birthday. Hopefully, it’s because I’m chatting with leaders while walking, practicing the mandolin, facilitating learning and development, reading a book, collaborating or doing something that feeds my heart and curiosity. I don’t mind if you don’t like my posts either. Let’s ignore each other online and do something real together.

 

References: 

(1) Pert, C. B. (1997) Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. New York, New York: Schribner.
(1) Pert, C. B. (1997) Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. New York, New York: Schribner.