(If you’re here from Facebook, I won’t see your comments so please click over to the blog)
I worked for a crazy new start-up right out of college. Clients could call us up on the phone and ask us any question. This was the late 1990s; not many people had cell phones or fast internet access at home. Competing web search engines made browsing the internet anything but streamlined. I helped create a template for common search algorithms and before long, supervised a team of “virtual concierges.” My phone rang and my email pinged constantly. It felt like I was being harassed from all directions all day long.
At some point during my time in the job, I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the noise and demands. Even as I became known around the company as a master organizer, one morning I misplaced my backpack, and with it my planner, address book, T-Pass, ids, and credit cards.
“Why can’t I have one stupid little card I could stick in a computer, or carry around with me like a PalmPilot?” I said to a friend. “It’d be even better if it was a phone, too.”
Of course I could lose that, too, but I thought that if all the data was stored in a central server, you could have a little printer at home or in your office to print a replacement. How different my life would be if I hadn’t preferred the more theoretical and sci-fi side of computer science to the applicable and marketable side? But I’ve never really made the choices to be rich.
After quitting that job, I spent months on a kibbutz in Israel. The evening after I arrived, I went with a new friend to the parsley fields. Stretched out, looking at the open sky, Mount Tabor in the background, the view didn’t speak to me nearly as much as did the silence. My heart was racing — I was on edge; my senses cued up for some ringing noise to send me into action. It took weeks for that to stop.
I’ve realized of late that I feel that way almost all the time now. Even sitting here typing at this very moment, I’m waiting for my phone to buzz with a text message. I click over to Facebook, looking for the red number on the globe notification. I also have GroupMe for work, several Slack pages for political stuff, three Google drives, and of course, four email addresses to check at any time. All this communication and central data holding hasn’t been the stress reducer I expected and I don’t think it helps me do better work.
When my grad school friends began joining Friendster I wondered why I’d ever want to do such a thing. I figured I was already in touch with everyone I cared about. I still saw and talked to my closest friends from high school whenever I went to Illinois. I talked with my two best college friends at least monthly, and my best friend from childhood every couple of weeks if not more.
I don’t do that anymore, increasingly, since joining Facebook in 2007. I’ve valued finding out about the lives of other old friends, but I ultimately feel less connected than ever. I’ve moved too often — I have too many old friends in a sense.
I’m considering making my Facebook hiatus permanent, but I’ve started with a 99-day experiment. During these 99 days, instead of posting on Facebook, I’ll make one phone call or send one email to everyone I’ve missed.