D. Ryan Schurtz: Quitting Facebook: Isolating, yet ‘oddly’ freeing

November 22, 2018
D. Ryan Schurtz

I was a regular Facebook user for about 10 years, and I still keep an account open that I check from time to time.

But, shortly after my children were born, I decided that using Facebook was not helping me to live my life in a meaningful way and might have been adding to my re-emerging feelings of depression.

So, after a few false starts, I stopped using it. I found that after I quit, I really did not miss it very much. Sure, I lost touch with what was happening with some of my acquaintances and felt a little more isolated, but I also felt oddly freed.

As a social psychologist, the idea that having less social contact with people I considered “friends” might be make me feel better really surprised me.

However, a closer look at the science of Facebook suggests that I should not have been surprised at all. Several studies of users have indicated that “Facebook Depression” is a consequence for many users.

There are two possible reasons. First, the social connections it helps us to make are not always satisfying, and second, we may become infected with the negative emotions of others. This seems very counter-intuitive, given the mechanics of Facebook.

The friend requests, the pokes and the likes all suggest that Facebook is a nurturing and supportive environment.

In fact, one research study showed that the more college students used Facebook, the less lonely they felt.

Facebook is, in many ways, an excellent social platform. It helps us to reunite with old friends and to stay connected to new ones. It encourages us to share information and experiences that help us to feel connected with each other.

But consuming the experiences of others can be a dangerous game. We have a natural tendency to want to rank ourselves with others and a tendency to feel badly when we don’t measure up.

Of course, not all posts are brags about athletic prowess or carefully curated selfies. Some posts are downright depressing: People complaining about their coworkers, their finances or politicians. Some people, it seems, use Facebook as a cathartic outlet for their rage, disgust, pain and sadness.

For me, quitting Facebook was a little thing that I found made me a lot happier. My depression didn’t automatically dissipate overnight, but I felt like I wasn’t wasting time comparing myself to other people. I felt less inferior to people I hadn’t seen in years.

But, of course, I do feel a little lonelier.

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