Take a Facebook break

Could a social media sabbatical be good for your health?

Last month, I wrote a piece for the Akron Beacon Journal on my decision to delete my Facebook account, unpacking my theory that social media in general, Facebook in particular, is creating a worsening of civility and society.

It concluded, “…I bet you’d be hard pressed to find a single user that doesn’t have at least one colleague, friend or family member they like a little less because of something they said on Facebook.” Judging from the calls and emails I received (I didn’t see the comments on Facebook), that statement resonated with a lot of people. Indeed, it seems like our ability to immediately share the mundane to the malignant has negatively impacted our relationships.

Arguing with strangers

Most of our social media platforms are engineered to give us unlimited access to others and to give them unlimited access to us. Your Facebook “friends” (family, co-workers, boss, donors, friends from college, acquaintances from high school, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and that nice person you shared that flight with a few years ago) can see every like, every comment, and every group you’re a part of. Same with Twitter and Instagram.

When you get into an argument with a stranger online, it’s out there for the world to see. Your friends are getting notifications about your activity behind the scenes. When you offer your opinion on a thread full of supposed strangers, your friends can read every word. Who knows, maybe your boss, friends from college, and mom might even comment on that same thread. Does the thought of that stress you out? It should. Many studies have shown that simply getting a notification on our phones can raise our cortisol levels. That has real implications for the health of our relationships, bodies and minds.

Old brains, digital world

We process life with 50,000-year-old brains and our old hardware can’t keep up with our modern operating systems. These are the same brains that spent winters laying around a damp cave, tanning mammoth hides and canoeing down ancient rivers. As early as 150 years ago, we’d miss a stagecoach and wait two weeks in some random town for the next one to come through.

Picture yourself, sitting outside the saloon back in those days, staring down at your parchment, writing dozens of mean sentences and sending them via U.S. mail to people all over the world. A preposterous foreshadowing of what was to come.

Somehow, technology has made it possible for us to spend our idle time seeking things to be scared of, finding folks that need a good shaming, or soothing ourselves with a slideshow of 20 celebrities that haven’t aged. Like sugar, our old caveman brains can’t get enough of it. And like sugar, it’s making us sick.

Try taking a social media break for a day, a week or a month and see how it goes. The more difficult it is, the worse you’re hooked — even more reason for a timeout. Maybe you’ll find, as I have, that life is better without Facebook.

Under the leadership of Daniel Flowers, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank received Feeding America’s 2012 Food Bank of the Year award, the highest recognition achievable by food banks.