I decided to deactivate my Facebook account when I was leaving Israel two weeks ago. It was a precaution I took entering the country in light of the systematic profiling of Arab travelers like myself at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. I’d taken my cousin’s advice and shut it down. When I set foot again on U.S. territory (hooray!), I refrained from immediate reactivation of my account. It was in some lame way an act of defiance, but more seriously, it was an act of freedom rather than isolation as I imagine thousands of people might fear if they disappear for a while.
I did harbor some reservations: what was the point of selfies if I couldn’t post them? How many cool events would I be missing? At a recent wedding, I’d felt fabulous in my red, Marilyn Monroe halter dress, but who beyond the 100+ guests would see it? I vainly instructed my husband to post our handsome picture together. I told him, “Please post a pic of me so people don’t think I’m dead.” It was a half-hearted admission: oblivion can be terrifying. Yet, I also realized that if others were actually worried I died (please note I’d only been off of FB for 4 days), they would have reached out to me through other channels. I hadn’t heard a peep.
Over the last year or so, I’d developed strong feelings about shutting down FB, but I was far too afraid of losing my community of like-minded citizens, and dissolving my creative network of writers. The latter was my greater fear as FB had served as an incredibly easy, free, and immediate vehicle for promoting my work.
So why deactivate? It felt like I was quitting smoking all over again, except without the jonesing and agonizing withdrawal. Ultimately, I was quitting something that mostly felt good in the beginning but transformed into an obligation. Inevitably it lost its appeal. I’ve been pondering its value and impact on my life, my art, which soon turned into an existential probing: am I still a writer if I’m not posting my latest publication news? Is a social media presence absolutely paramount to writerly success?
In her examination of the MFA and power of Twitter, Morgan Jerkins, a writer of color, discovered, “This formidable segment of the wildly popular social media network has not only sparked international movements and powerful discussions from which mainstream media profits, but has also propelled the writing careers of many individuals, myself included.” As a Palestinian American writer, this was quite comforting as I’d “switched” to Twitter a few days after I quit FB. How’s Twitter any better than FB? Well, for me it streamlined individuals and news sources I’m particularly devoted to. It eliminated the clogs in my feed: excessive selfies and family pics (including my own), needy and whiny statuses of fellow writers and colleagues (including my own). It also taught me that having under 100 followers didn’t affect my creativity and productivty--it might have actually boosted it. I was relieved from the pressures of keeping up with other writers’ daily word counts and could do my own thing.
The Millions recently reviewed A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, a very private writer. When she was asked about readers Googling her, she told the interviewer, “I just don’t think more information makes a difference--or it shouldn’t, at any rate...for fiction, it’s irrelevant. Your book won’t be any better or worse than it already is if you’ve published in a particular magazine or not, and your reader won’t appreciate the book any more or less if you have or haven’t. I wouldn’tve had a biography at all, except my publisher said I had to.” This frank declaration dispels the rather exaggerated notion of publication history and de-values the peripheral attributes of a writer.
I might have traded one evil for another, but, like most folks, I don't want to disappear for good. And, on my last notification check, Bonnie Jo Campbell just followed me back.