My Six Month Vacation from Facebook

In November of 2016, I decided to quit Facebook. About 6 months later, I got back on. I made this decision based on a few different reasons. One of the reasons was that I was hugely influenced by the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.

In this book, Newport encourages you to think about what social media does to your mind and how easily it interrupts your train of thought.  He asks, “Is it adding value to your life?”

I decided that it was subtracting more value than adding, and decided to quit.  At the time, I believed it would be for good.  Alas, I am back on, and part of the Facebook community once again.

This post will offer my experiences and observations before quitting, while I was away, and my return.

Before Quitting

Prior to quitting, I used Facebook incorrectly, ostracizing myself from many family and friends. Believing I was doing some sort of good by including fact checks in comments, sharing different memes, and having very partisan posts both religiously and politically,

I felt that I was enlightening people, and would bring them over to the good side (which is the incorrect way of saying “my side”).

How many times have you been around someone who is beyond frustrated with somebody on Facebook, rolling their eyes as they vent to you about how insanely stupid that somebody is?  They may go as far as telling you what their comment to them was, giving them the feeling as if they had “set them straight.”

Is this healthy? Is this a good use of your time? Do you suppose this person set the other person straight?

Or, is it more likely they have pushed them farther away and exacerbated the situation?

Recognizing my behavior and having a desire to put the concepts inside Deep Work to practice led me to finally make the decision to quit.

While I Was Away

Quitting Facebook was difficult. They warn you at several points how much stuff will be lost, and repeatedly ask you “Are you Suuuuuure???”  Facebook will hold on to your page for a specific time, and will warn you that it will all go away if you don’t come back after that certain time.

Like a band-aid, I tore it off.  Then, I stayed gone so that I lost everything.  In a way, I wanted to lose everything (read the previous section).

It was bliss.

During this time, I engaged in conversation more. I was much less distracted (as I also quit all other social media including Instagram, Twitter, and Untappd).  The amount of work I was able to accomplish increased. I read more.

One important book that I read during this time was Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a moral psychologist, and explains in his book 5-6 different “moral matrices” that each of us put different levels of weight in.  These different levels provide an answer to the subtitle.

It was a very enlightening read that I highly recommend to everyone.

The strawman fallacy was another important concept of which I became aware, and understood I was guilty of during my time on Facebook.  I feel this is the most common logical fallacy that people on Facebook commit. You can click the link to get a definition of strawman as well as other logical fallacies, but I will put it below for convenience.

By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone’s argument, it’s much easier to present your own position as being reasonable, but this kind of dishonesty serves to undermine honest rational debate.

Example: After Will said that we should put more money into health and education, Warren responded by saying that he was surprised that Will hates our country so much that he wants to leave it defenseless by cutting military spending.

Source: http://www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com

Just about every single political meme that is somehow in response to the other side’s actions is going to be guilty of this fallacy. Once you are aware of the strawman fallacy, you will begin to notice it everywhere!!

My Return

As a member of several organizations around town, and as someone who was blogging a little bit more, I began to get drawn back in to the usefulness of Facebook.

Using the group function of Facebook, you can organize and get messages out to a lot of people very easily.  Events can be created, and events around your community that you are interested can get on your radar much more easily (there are several events I have attended in the Topeka area and enjoyed that I would not have otherwise known about).

It is also nice to get my blog posts out to a wider audience.

Thus, I returned.  Besides one of my posts that came a little too close to political (which I have to thank my friend Gerrit for pointing out), I feel like I have done a decent job of staying away from ostracizing myself from friends and family who have differing views than me.

I’ve tried to stay positive.

It probably isn’t necessary to take as long a break as I did from Facebook, but I do encourage all of you to really think about how you’re using it.  Think twice about posting something that you don’t care how your so-and-so family member is going to interpret it.

What is the purpose?  Do you just want to get the likes and shares of the people you already agree with?  Do you honestly need that validation, at the expense of pushing others away?

Just think about it, please.  And keep me in check, as I don’t want to be a hypocrite.

Double Standard

This year in my basic statistics classes, after I give the announcements I begin class by giving them two pieces of information.

  • Something interesting about myself.
  • The number of the day.
The purpose of the first is so that the barrier between professor and student can be breached. Getting to know me as someone that has a life outside of work and does things that are fun and interesting can help build a connection with students that I never had.  Today, I went to the skeletons in the closet, and informed them of something I’m not proud of for the purpose of showing them I’m human and I can overcome difficult times. 
Today’s “Did You Know” segment of the two times in my life, one at age 18 and one at age 23, when I spent a night behind bars.  I didn’t go into specifics, but I could tell they did find this information very intriguing. 
The number of the day was 50, which is a percentage of Americans who answer NO when asked, “When people claim to be Muslim and commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, do you really believe they are Muslim, or not?”  This came from the Public Religion Research Institute and was included in their article, “Americans’ Double Standard on Religious Violence.” 
The double standard becomes apparent when you ask Americans the other question, switching Muslim/Islam with Christian/Christianity.  Then, 75% answer NO.  This is very interesting.  
When I present such data I need to be careful.  Instead of drawing any kind of conclusion, I remarked on how it made me think of how I would answer the question (using Christian/Christianity or Muslim/Islam) without having read about the study previously.  Would I answer yes to one and no to the other and have a double standard? Or would I be consistent in my answer and say either yes to both or no to both?  

Indeed, this is a difficult question to answer.  I can find in both the Bible and Quran passages that would condone and encourage acts of violence, so I could see somebody using those verses and thinking they are acting as a true Christian or Muslim.

However, I feel all of these verses are antiquated and do not deserve merit. The modern day and reasonable Christians and Muslims understand this, so to act out in violence in the name of either is an act of ignorance of what being a modern day and reasonable Christian and Muslim means.

It is complicated, but it deserves thought.

Consistent and Complete

Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem proved that the title of this post is impossible for any set of axioms that you adopt.

On one of my many walks between home and office, I thought about the significance of this and the human psyche.  I place myself, and the axioms and tenets that I adopt, into an incomplete category.  This is where I have found the most comfort. I am more comfortable in a framework that is consistent in my day-to-day learning and understanding of the world. Incompleteness isn’t comfortable by any means, but I’ve accepted the fact that there are things that are true within my system that cannot be proven within that system.  This means, confusingly, that I cannot accept some “truths” as true, since I do not have the capability of knowing them to be “true.”

Then I began to think of those who take more comfort and embrace a complete system of axioms and tenets. Within their system, these people have the ability to accept “truths” that I cannot accept, because they can be proven and are acceptable within their system.  However, this complete system of theirs is inconsistent, and hence has contradictions by Gödel’s theorem.

Nobody likes inconsistencies, either.  So, those that take more comfort in a complete system either go the Walt Whitman route: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes,” or they take the following stance.

Life is full of complete and consistent people. Whichever one you are, we need to remind ourselves that the other person could be inconsistent or incomplete, and that there’s no changing that.

There is at least one important thing I’ve learned as a consistent person who accepts his incompleteness, and that is there are a lot of complete people out there that do not want to hear about nor accept how inconsistent they are.

Which are you?

I’m reading Gödel, Escher, Back: An Eternal Golden Braid again this summer because I love this book, and it fosters thought experiments like these.