Flourishing / Walking


. 2 min read . Written by Russell Smith

Deleting my Facebook account

The famous Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth wrote, “I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I'd used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.”

I felt similarly about Facebook. Sixteen years of the scroll, of distraction, of “connection,” of “friendship” were enough. Sixteen years of manipulation were enough.

Years ago, I deleted two Twitter accounts and two Instagram accounts, for similar reasons. They both felt like tractor beams, grappling me into their algorithmic Star Destroyers, filled with seemingly horrific but actually idiotic Stormtroopers.

I’m not a Luddite. I don’t hate technology. I don’t hate screens or devices. I have become wary of machines that invite me to do their bidding rather than enabling my own agency.

The more I used social media, the more I perceived its limitations. In a way, our humanity comes to the fore when all of our senses are engrossed in a moment or scene. The moment you proposed to your spouse – can’t you see the scene in vivid colors? Can’t you hear the voice, perhaps the whisper, saying, “Yes”? Can’t you feel the ring in your finger and the earth embracing your knee in this glint of hopeful unknowingness? Can’t you even taste and smell the moment really? The airy saline of the ocean, the dryness on your tongue as the vibrations of your voice rasp out of you…yes, even your senses of smell and taste come to you in that moment. And didn’t you behold that every sense of your beloved was engaged too?

Doesn’t the scroll of Facebook – the ever-growing, never-ending snake – seem a bit, well, reptilian and cold-blooded, when we feel into our humanness? The snake with the ever growing belly of posts and likes and comments and ads and other groups you’d really like to join. A snake in which you can momentarily see the head, but never the tail, so that it appears only as an engorging belly.

Last week, my wife and I went for a hike in Nantahala National Forest. The walk continuously engaged all of our senses. Sight, of course. Hearing the birds call out, and the verdant leaves sway in the high breeze. Touching the ligneous, rough bark of a downed tree as I climbed over it. Smelling the damp detritus, abounding with life – and recycling death. Taste – yes, I could even taste the forest on my tongue, the microscopic particles drawn into my mouth with each breath, some landing on my tongue so that I could in fact taste the forest.

And the forest knew me too. A squirrel saw me. The leafy branches felt my touch. The animate forces could smell, feel and hear me too. Maybe not in the same ways that humans sense. But they grasped my presence all the same. All the same.

After that delightful walk, I knew the time had come. Time to delete my Facebook account. Fare thee well, Facebook. Fare thee well.

Time for another beautiful walk.

Thanks to my Foster friends for editing this essay: Nick Drage and Shanece Grant.

Image created by Midjourney.