The Forgoing Facebook Experiment

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Confession: I have 738 Facebook friends.

In reality, I would only actually call up a handful of them to go to lunch with or to talk to while I’m making a long drive. I only talk to a couple dozen of them in person on a regular basis. And I sure as heck do not care that that one girl I met in college who friend requested me 5 minutes after we introduced ourselves is "going to work…then having a grilled chicken salad for lunch YUM! xoxo". Maybe this seems rude, but I don’t expect them to care about what I’m doing every second of the day either!

This is why I’ve been looking forward to doing what I call The Official and Exhaustive Facebook Purge of 2011. I’m going to "unfriend" (sorry guys!) everyone who I haven’t talked to in the past few months, all those people I’m FB friends with even though I’ve only spoken to them once in my life, anyone I can’t remember who they are just by reading their names, and all the folks whose status updates are so annoying and excessively frequent that I’ve already blocked them from my news feed anyway.

According to company stats, Facebook users spend 700 billion, yes BILLION, minutes per month on the website. Facebook claims it has 500 million active users (at least that’s what the site says at this moment, even though it’s been common knowledge that they hit 600 million a while ago), so that means each user spends about 23 hours and 20 minutes per month on Facebook. Ummmm, WOW. I’ve been a Facebook member since 2007 so I don’t even want to think about how much time I’ve wasted on this site.

Ok, ok, it’s not all time wasted. As a daily Facebook user, I totally get that Facebook is a great tool for keeping up with old friends and new friends (because phone calls are so 2003), it’s awesome for creating event invitations (because who uses snail mail anymore?!), and it’s perfect for leaving a little love for someone when you find out they’re now Facebook-officially "In a Relationship" with someone (because everyone NEEDED to know about the intimate details of his or her dating life). The advantages of being a Facebook account holder can be numerous, especially if you use it to help with non-personal ventures like a business or a cause you’re promoting.

But is it really necessary to be a Facebook whore? Excuse the crude term, but c’mon. Hundreds of "friends". Thousands of tagged photos. Dozens of apps you rarely use more than once. Do you really need to post all that stuff for the world to see? Do you really need to stalk all those profiles to feel fulfilled?

To transition my Facebook purge into a full-fledged detox, I propose (and by no means is this an original or shocking declaration) a Facebook vacation. Spring is here. Heck, summer is practically here. College grads are beginning to cause a spike in Monster.com accounts, school-aged children are frolicking in the parks when they’re normally at recess, moms are busy preparing for vacationing family members to visit, and the sun is shining down on you (hopefully!) yearning to bestow that lovely gift of sunshine we haven’t seen or felt in full force since last summer.

You heard me, take a little break from Facebook or your preferred social networking site. Make a resolution not to log on for a certain period of time–a week, let’s say. If that seems like too much, try skipping the Facebook ritual for just a day to see how it feels. I guarantee you that the profile stalking, picture perusing, and status updating can WAIT until tomorrow. In fact, you probably won’t even miss these behaviors that once seemed so necessary.

According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, surfing a site like Facebook is self-reinforcing. Logging on frequently makes us feel disconnected, which in turn leads us to browse even more in order to overcome this feeling. Quippy CNN authors Andrea Bartz and Crenna Ehrilch labeled this phenomenon as one of the many "ways FB is like money and sex". How laughably true that is…

Just like a diet, a Facebook detox doesn’t have to last forever. It should be a lifestyle change–not a sick way to deprive yourself of something you enjoy on an occasional basis. Consider making Facebook something you indulge in every once in a while instead of an activity you routinely participate in every time you open an Internet browser. Checking your page just once a day will satisfy your curiosity about what’s happening in your Facebook bubble and will also prevent you from becoming "that girl"–the one who only talks about Facebook-related things like that status Penny posted about 28 minutes ago or how Jim and Tanya are "complicated" now, OMG.

What you might find–and this is the point of a Facebook detoxification–is that the less often you pop in to check things out on the site, the less you’ll miss it while you’re gone. It’s a lovely feeling, and the process of getting to this point may help you change your usage habits in the long run. There is huge potential here: you can go from the quintessential FB stalker of your friend circle to a casual user who only logs in to check a couple specific things. And it won’t be difficult.

In fact, there may be some sweet benefits to limiting yourself to a few purpose-driven peeks a week. A University of Missouri study revealed that people are happier when they use Facebook in this way. Those who log on to check up with FB friends tend to be more content than those who aimlessly click around without a purpose.

Don’t think I don’t know what you’re thinking right now. You’re wondering how you’ll ever find out about stuff if you’re not connected to the rest of your pals through FB?!? Don’t fret, the user-centered website allows people to disseminate info about events, photos, links, and the like with nonusers simply by typing their email addresses into the box after you click "Share". Information access problem: solved.

Now, if you knew me personally, you’d know that I would be one of the last proponents of suggesting to take a holiday from Facebook. In fact, my friends probably wonder what authority I have to write an article encouraging people to step away from that small, shiny screen and take a breather from the world of interwebz stalking.

But I have every confidence that if I can do this, YOU can surely do this. Whether you take a full-on leave of absence or start limiting the time you spend on Facebook, I promise that even if you miss all the fun and exciting (or "fun" and "exciting") refreshes of your news feed, the nostalgic feeling won’t last long. If you’re prevented from seeing the photos of your friend’s wedding approximately 38 minutes after the first person has left the reception, the bride won’t mind if you call her up on a telephone (how old-fashioned!) and ask to see the shots her photographer got in person. And if you’re bummed you missed the invite to "Sorry to do this but…I lost all my phone numbers!!1! Again.", well, that’s another problem entirely.

Good luck forging a path into the Facebook-less (or at least Facebook-less-frequently) frontier, my friends. I know you’ll have success.

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