A year and a half ago I made a life-changing decision. As I sat in my closet-sized dorm room on Vanderbilt’s campus late one night, I committed what many perceived to be an unthinkable act. I deactivated my Facebook account.
It started as a simple habit-breaking exercise: I was unhappy with the amount of time I was wasting creeping on people I wasn’t even friends with in high school and decided that a three-week hiatus from the site would do me some good. I made a mental note of the three-week benchmark and went to bed feeling liberated.
Three weeks came and went, and I noticed some changes in my day-to-day habits. Instead of spending excessive amounts of time on Facebook, I was finding new, more interesting blogs to read and frequenting the NPR Music homepage. I was also going to bed an hour and a half earlier every night. As someone who has always valued few things more than sleep, this improvement alone was enough for me to swear off social networking for good. Further reinforcing the positive nature of this life change, barely anyone had even noticed my absence from the site.
Little by little, word got out that I was living life off the grid. No one quite understood why I would ever do something as stupid as remove myself from the center of every college students’ sole existence, but I was confident in my choice. I enjoyed actually meeting people in real life instead of getting to know them without their consent through their profiles. My friends even softened to the idea and enjoyed tagging me in pictures as “Sarah ‘No Facebook’ Byerley.”
Six months after my initial disappearance from cyberspace, my decision was put to the test. As a single girl with zero prospects, I put my faith in a good friend to find me a respectable date for my sorority formal, expecting an awkward-night-turned-great-story-a-year-from-now and the opportunity to maybe make a new friend.
The chosen boy and I were set up on a truly blind date: A kind that has become rather endangered with the advent of social media and the complete disappearance of privacy. He knew only one thing about me (that I like baseball) and had never seen a picture of me. The poor boy had no idea what he was getting into.
Since both of us would categorize ourselves as extremely shy, it was shock to everyone how well we instantly clicked. All it took to fully break the ice was for me to casually drop into the conversation my recent spring break trip to Spring Training where, in a crazy twist of fate, I had been to two games played by his favorite team.
After the party, a group of us somehow found ourselves on the roof of a campus building and the bonding continued. What was supposed to be an awkward night to laugh about later somehow turned into the best 10-hour conversation of my life with someone that I actually knew nothing about until he told me himself. By the end of the night we felt like we had known each other for years.
The chance to get to know someone through conversation and not just through their movie tastes on Facebook was exciting. It soon became clear, though, that no one was more excited than his fraternity brothers. Apparently this boy never left the windowless basement study room in his dorm and the fact that he was finally emerging into the spring sunlight, let alone for a girl, sent the boys into a tizzy.
Even more frustrating was that none of them knew who I was. And they couldn’t find me on Facebook.
They would seek me out in the dining hall and sit nearby to listen to my conversations. They would excitedly point out that I am, in fact, a real person when they finally met me. And, of course, they would ask me why on Earth I didn’t have Facebook. It was obviously cramping their style.
There’s a lot to be said for getting to know someone the old fashioned way. The relationship might not have lasted in the end, but those first few weeks were an experience unlike any other. I got to know someone based purely on real life interactions. I didn’t go through all of his embarrassing high school pictures, and he didn’t get to go through mine. We got to ask each other questions without already creepily knowing the answers.
As it turned out, when I would resurrect my Facebook for 24 hours later that spring (a link to which was promptly e-mailed to the entire fraternity), he admitted that had he seen my profile he would have been much more nervous about meeting me that fateful night.
Instead, the two of us went blindly into a night that will be forever unmatched. For one night we were both blank pages and could pace ourselves instead of falling prey to the over-sharing so characteristic of these times.