Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Facebook-free: Emily Meier


Last Friday night I had an awesome time reconnecting with Emily Meier, a friend from high school, and hanging out with Hannah, the friend I teach English with on Tuesdays. The three of us talked for hours, oblivious to how much time was passing. In conversation, it came out that Emily had also left Facebook—so of course I had to see if she was interested in being interviewed for this project. She was!

I'm thrilled to share her thoughts with you today. Emily's bio below will give you a taste of her world, and then we'll go straight into the questions.

Emily is a communicator, educator, and non-profit nerd who recently quit her job so she could do more: more designing, more creating, more diverse communications work, and more connecting with really interesting people and projects. To see some of her work, visit emmeier.com

The basics:

Age: 27

Location: Wisconsin, USA

Interests: Spending time outside, especially hiking; art and creating; graphic design and communications; perusing for useful old antiques; rural life and culture; gardening and native plants; visiting National Parks; community building and relationships.

Length of time with FB account: 2006-2016...I can't believe Facebook was such a big part of my life for nearly 10 years...

Date you left FB: I left in early September 2016, so I'm a Facebook-free newbie

Walk us through your decision to leave. Was it planned? Spur of the moment? 

As a communications professional, social media and Facebook was actually part of my job description. A lot of people would think they'd have it made to get paid to do social media work—but really it just drained me and took up time and energy that I would have otherwise spent doing much, much more fulfilling things, both professionally and personally! It's kind of funny to be participating in this interview, because writing a great Facebook post was a big part of my career for the past several years. In fact, I even presented on social media best-practices at a national convention for a world-renown conservation organization. Really, though, it was hard to draw the line between Facebook for work, and mindless Facebook use. When I decided to take a big leap and quit my job this fall, I knew I also wanted to quit Facebook personally. For those who are unfamiliar with managing a Facebook "page" (as opposed to a personal profile)—it requires you to have a personal account. I wish this wasn't the case, but I think it is something Facebook does intentionally. So, even though I had wanted to leave my Facebook profile behind for several years, I "needed" my account in order to do my job...so I stuck around and continued to post, peruse, and share. Ultimately, quitting my job made it easy to just pull the plug on Facebook entirely. Perhaps someday I'll have to jump back in to the Facebook world professionally, but personally, I feel like my tenure on the site is over.

Main reason for leaving (in one sentence): 

Being part of a thoughtful, authentic community shouldn't require a profile picture.

Tell us what it's been like since leaving.

It has been...well, not that different! I think that this fear exists that in leaving Facebook, you're leaving behind your "community" of friends—or at the very least, leaving behind a way of staying connected with that community. The wonderful thing is, I am I still am connected with people that really matter to me. The other day I had a five-hour long phone conversation with a friend who is a bit of a nomad right now—we haven't seen each other in person in a few years, but we keep in touch on the phone pretty regularly. I told another acquaintance about about this chat, and they were incredulous: "You spent five HOURS on the phone!?"—I guarantee you if most Facebook users added up the time they spend mindlessly scrolling their news feeds, it's more than five hours per week. I'm glad that I spent five hours deeply connecting with this friend on the phone, instead of five hours of thumbing across my iPhone screen to see what "everybody" is up to.

That said, perhaps the biggest difference I've noticed is how I go about getting news. On Facebook, I had followed many of my favorite news sites, and used my feed as my method for consuming news...now, I just have to be more deliberate about it.

What other social media do you still use, and what have you left? 

I will confess that I truly enjoy Instagram. I am very visually motivated—beautiful pictures, thoughtful imagery, etc. is really important to me. And, one of the strongest compass points in my life is a sense of place. I like that Instagram (as it stands) is more simple and straightforward than Facebook. I can follow an amateur photographer who loves to take pictures of Wyoming, and my soul can be fed by the images/their creativity, and by my desire to remain connected to that place. That said, I am wary that Instagram is owned by Facebook, and worry about what it will turn into (sponsored ads have already made an appearance since I started using Instagram, and if you pay attention, you can notice algorithm shifts determining what shows up in your feed...)

How do you socialize/keep in contact with people now? 

I've lived in both Wyoming and Wisconsin since graduating from college, so my friends are a bit scattered—some still live in Wyoming, but many of my friends from my time there have moved all over the western half of the country. I'm grateful that where I live now in Wisconsin, I have a fantastic network of friends to spend time with face-to-face. I thought that leaving Facebook would leave me less connected with my friends who live all around the western U.S., but in reality, it's given me more space to think of these friends and wonder, "Hey, what's going on in their life?"—and as a result, I'm more likely to send a quick text to check in, to schedule a FaceTime chat, or even to jot them a note on a postcard (the world needs more people writing postcards!)

What would you say to someone who's considering leaving FB? 

First, I want to be clear that I'm not entirely villainizing Facebook (or social media in general). I do think that Facebook can be a useful and valuable tool for our lives—I just don't want it to be a part of my personal life, because I think my relationship with it was unhealthy in myriad ways. I often wonder: was I "addicted" to Facebook in some way? Maybe! I think the danger in Facebook is using it mindlessly, and it seems that Facebook is engineered to be used mindlessly. If you are thinking of leaving Facebook, consider how you use it: are you scrolling constantly and not getting much in return? Are you feeling bad about yourself, or putting undue pressure on yourself because of what you see? Or are you really using it as a tool to connect and engage authentically with people and causes that matter to you? If the answer to the later question is yes, perhaps you shouldn't let me or anyone else talk you out of your presence in the Facebook world—because the Facebook world needs more people like you!

Facebook has changed a lot since it was first released. Do you have any predictions about what it'll become in the future?

I think the most fascinating and disturbing thing about Facebook is what we can't see—the algorithms behind our news feed that are determine what we ultimately see and read. Rebecca mentioned in one of her posts that Facebook has played with our emotions (literally) through experiments without user consent. I also fear that these same algorithms will continue to divide our society and culture because we're being fed only the news that aligns with our viewpoints. Facebook at least has become more transparent about how they determine what shows up in your news feed, but honestly, I have better things to do with my time than worry about the most recent Facebook algorithm updates. As a social media professional, I also know how Facebook is used as a tool by organizations and marketers to reach mass audiences—and while this can be used as a force for good (like raising money for a wonderful cause), I also know it isn't always so rosy—sometimes, it's just a company that wants you to buy a product so they can profit. It's advertising, but in a sneaky way.

Anything else you'd like to share?

One thing I'd be remiss in leaving out of this interview is the fact that for all of my talk about authenticity and self confidence, part of the reason I quit Facebook is because my own presence on the site felt inauthentic! I realized that what I was putting into the Facebook world was an unfair representation. My posts had as much to do with self-assurance about my life as they did with anything else. It felt pretty icky to realize that. If I grow a beautiful heirloom tomato in my garden, I should enjoy the process of that act because it is inherently joyful to me. I don't want to be distracted by feeling the need to photograph it, come up with some witty copy about it, and then judge myself and my abilities as a gardener based on how many "likes" I get on my tomato post. And I would really hate to know that others might feel badly about themselves because I posted all the awesome parts of my life, but neglected to showcase the other, less glamorous, but very real parts of mine.

Overall, I think my decision to leave Facebook was a good one. I'm more aware of how I'm spending my time online, and how the online world is influencing my thoughts, emotions, and mental health and well-being. I think online engagement can be an awesome tool—but, we should always be assessing whether or not it is technology that's serving us, or the other way around! A favorite author of mine, Gretchen Rubin, has a quote that sums it up perfectly: "Technology is a good servant but a bad master."

Those are great words to remember when dealing with technology—thanks Emily! I can really relate to all of your messages about being more authentic and thoughtful, too—both are directions I'm continuously trying to move towards. (And I totally agree that the world needs more postcard writers—hear hear!)

Thanks again for taking the time to share all of these thoughts with us, Emily!

Have you (or has someone you know) left Facebook? I'd love to feature you (or them) here! Please get in touch with me: @rebewithaclause or rebewithaclause [at] gmail [dot] com.
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