#this: For many, a vacation from Facebook is not a vacation from themselves

In #this, Columns, Columns, Opinion


The reasons by which people cut certain bad habits out of their lives are hundredfold.

Cutting out social media is no exception; unsavory reasons why users step away from their online personas pervade the digital landscape. For the most part, however, you might not think that most people take a break from these sites because of some perceived obstacle it places in the way of living their life.

You might also be wrong.

A recent Pew study, “Internet and American Life,” revealed that a solid majority of Facebook users have taken an extended hiatus of at least several weeks from the social networking site. Of the 61 percent of those who have been on hiatus out of a total 1,006 subjects used in the study, 20 percent noted their main reason for their absence as being simply too busy with their own lives.

This makes sense to anybody who has frequented the time-eradicating wormhole that is Facebook—67 percent of all Americans who use the Internet according to Pew—but it also brings up an interesting conundrum. Those 20 percent or people “too busy” with their “lives” (the most popular answer among the 61 percent of “Facebook Vacation” takers) are seemingly admitting that Facebook or social media is a wholly separate entity from their everyday life.

In several installments of this column, I’ve often attempted to normalize the frequent use of social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and, of course, Facebook.

Pew’s statistics might suggest, with majority numbers pervading every category that implies usage, that this behavior is already “normalized.”

I, however, would suggest usage does not mean something is normalized or even accepted. To use Facebook in today’s society is looked upon as relatively normal (the numbers say as much), but these statistics also suggest that to stop using it all together is also looked upon as normal. The most popular reason given was that the site actually opposes people living their lives rather than enhancing said lives.

And this is where a distinction needs to be made.

I will freely admit that “Facebook addiction” is a real thing; there have been enough studies and looks into how humans react to stimuli that I won’t bother to delve too far into it here. If Facebook truly does detract from a person’s life, then a hiatus is definitely needed.

There’s also the need to acknowledge that in reality, this is what Facebook wants. For whatever unifying sources it provides, Facebook is only successful if it keeps you, the user, with eyes on your timeline. This is how it garners support from advertisers and keeps the site and its investors happy and healthy. Steve Coll in his 2012 New Yorker article “Leaving Facebookistan” sums up this relationship.

“Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation,” his article reads. “Yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information.”

And again, if you share Coll’s concern, then it’s difficult to fault jumping ship. Still I’d argue that these two factors don’t, well, factor into the decision of most to step away from social media. Pew’s study shows that only 8 percent of those who took a break did so because “they were spending too much time using it” and the study doesn’t even reveal those who no longer “trust the man” so to speak.

So while 61 percent of people have at one point or another stepped away from their social networking selves, many claiming to do so for their own betterment, it’s almost impossible to find context for those departures. Did these people have a strong social media presence in the first place and, most importantly, would they consider that presence a part of their own identities?

The answer seems to be an obvious “no.”

Ultimately, Pew’s research is helpful, but it hardly examines the most important part of why people do or don’t use sites like Facebook: That would be context. It’s one thing to suggest that a majority of people take a hiatus from Facebook, it would be much more useful to find out the machinations of those people’s habits and what role the site had in their life in the first place.

After all, you can’t take a vacation from something you don’t even frequent.

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