Leaving Facebook: Why Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Hi, my name is Shannon and I don’t have a Facebook profile. I’ve been Facebook free for two weeks.

Two weeks into this Facebook-free experiment, I don’t know how many of my friends got engaged last weekend, and I’m not sure which childhood friend of mine celebrated their quarter-centennial birthday yesterday. But so far, it seems that I actually don’t give a shit.

If you asked me last year – or even last month – if I could ever live without my Facebook profile, the answer would’ve been a resounding NO. Facebook has been my primary social network for almost six years: my most cherished photo album; a complete journal of my whereabouts, travels, and trips; a record of the evolution of many of my most important friendships; my primary news source.

But recently, Facebook and I have developed a dangerous and codependent relationship… I’d open a web browser and my fingers, with a mind of their own, would begin typing F-A-C-E. Before I knew it I’d get sucked down a Facebook wormhole that had me reading the innermost thoughts of people I can’t even imagine sending a Christmas card.

The hasty deletion came after a particularly disconcerting session on the site,  when I found that the most interesting post on my Newsfeed concerned the excretion habits of my mother’s best friend’s daughter’s son. I finally realized that Facebook and I had been growing in different directions for a long time.

You see, when I first got a Facebook in 2006, the social network was in its early stages of evolution. It existed mostly as a portal to facilitate offline communication – during the early weeks of college, you’d friend everyone you met at a party so you could learn their relationship status, see if you had other friends in common, and decide whether to pursue a friendship (or something more) IRL. On a bad day, you could post “Shannon is… stressed from a night of studying for calculus!!!” and Roy from your calculus class would come up to you after class and say “Oh yeah, me too.” And then you’d go get coffee, and he’d invite you to a Facebook event for the rager he was throwing on Saturday night.

There were no comments, there were no likes. Heck, you couldn’t even join “The” Facebook if you didn’t have a .edu address. Now, my grandmother likes-my-status regularly, and Diet Coke tells me “good morning” each day.

Don’t get me wrong, the evolution of Facebook as a tool to facilitate offline relationships into a powerful marketing and personal communication mechanism is impressive, important, and mostly positive. Facebook drives my company’s social media directive, Facebook kept my dad and I in constant contact when he transferred to Canada three years ago, Facebook does a bang up job of organizing my personal photo collection.

The problem, though, is that my social network is out of control. I haven’t seen Roy since he vomited in the bushes at that rager he invited me to, but I know he got married in Seattle last year and has a daughter on the way. This announcement was wedged between a rant from a childhood friend about Chick-Fil-a’s corporate policies and a Virgin Mobile post inquiring about my favorite color. (“Liking” Virgin Mobile was a requirement to enter a contest to win free tickets to a music festival I wanted to attend.)

My biggest concern about deleting my Facebook was that it would affect my friendships with those friends that I still keep in touch with. But I’ve noticed that Gchat (fine, “Google Talk”), text messaging, phone calls, and brunch are an excellent replacement for a Facebook like. It’s actually my online life that stands to suffer.

For one, I’ve had to change the way I interact with many of the other websites I use on a daily basis, Hulu, The Daily Look, Buzzfeed, and TechCrunch among them. According to Facebook over 400,000 websites have installed the Facebook Comments plug-in, over 400,000 websites have installed the Facebook Comments plug-in and use it as either their primary or supplementary commenting system. And according to Mashable, more than 250 million people use Facebook Connect each day… and that’s a statistic from back in 2010. It’s simply more difficult to get around on the Web when you aren’t a member of The Social Network.

A new study even suggests that abstaining from Facebook threatens to label you as “more suspicious,” in light of recent mass murders in Norway and the United States in which the perpetrators were woefully disconnected. (Who but mass murderers and sociopaths can resist a constant inundation of marketing messages and meme-based status updates, right?)

Not having a Facebook profile even threatens to affect my performance at work negatively. While I’m no longer browsing my Newsfeed on company time, it’s impossible for me to update our corporate Facebook page either. If I don’t want to deactivate my Facebook to post (“reactivation” simply means breaking your willpower and logging in again),­ I’ll need to create a separate profile and be granted administrator access on the dummy profile. And a dummy profile practically seems like a gateway drug back to my old Facebook’n ways.

So while I currently have no personal drive to reconnect with Facebook, the network’s continuing value proposition is its inextricable integration to so many other aspects of my personal and professional identity.   And unlike breaking up with a person – when deleting him, his phone number, and his entire social network is a proven way to get over it and move on to someone better – breaking up with The Social Network itself proves to be a constant reminder of how disconnected you are without it.

A Cynics Review of Online Dating Websites

As a part of our “New Year’s Resolution” push at work, I was tasked with reviewing a bunch of different online dating websites.  The first draft was pretty cynical, and we did not publish it. You can read the final, PG version here,  but the first draft – which I’ve posted below – may help you in your online dating journey as well. If you’ve ever used an online dating site, perhaps you can relate. If you never have, perhaps this will convince you to stay away.

Best Online Dating Websites of 2013 — Rough Draft

If you’re heading into 2013 afraid of being alone forever, nothing can cure your fear faster than joining an online dating site. One look at the eligible bachelors in your city and you’ll start feeling like spending the night with your three fictional cats and a very real bottle of wine isn’t the worst way to spend a Wednesday. Check out some of my (least) favorites below:

OkCupid

Like me, you might be wary of “free” online dating, but – just like chronic psoriasis isn’t as bad as, say, debilitating gangrene – OkCupid actually isn’t the worst thing ever.  While I never found anyone worth keeping around for long, I introduced three of my friends to the site and they all found relationships pretty quickly. Two couples are still together, the other friend is dead. KIDDING.

One of the most daunting parts of online dating is figuring out what to write in your profile, and OkCupid helps you out with simple prompts like “I spend a lot of time thinking about…” and “Six things I could never do without…” It is no fault of OkCupid’s that far too many men answer “Nickelback” to either of those questions.

And yeah, it’s pretty creepy that the powers that be at OkCupid read every message you send or receive to scrape information for their OkTrends blog but 1) you’re already pretty shameless if you’re sending anything too personal over OkCupidChat and 2) it’s like, scientific, okay? Tell me this isn’t the best thing to happen to the internet since like, ever.

My score: 4/5 stars

PlentyOfFish

Now known as just “POF,” PlentyOfFish is also colloquially known as “the way creepier and crappier okCupid.” Can it be that bad, you ask? Um… yeah. On the POF homepage, owner Markus tells us that he’s created “the world’s most advanced matching system.” What he’s not telling us is that POF is essentially an affiliate marketing website, designed to scrape commissions from broken-souled daters. That means the site was in-fact designed so that your top 10 is full of semi-bald, sex obsessed man boys who can’t spell their own name. As soon as POF totally breaks your spirit, they show you an ad that says something like “Want a Sexy Cowboy?” or “Need a Sugar Daddy?” And when you enter your credit card information at sexicowboys.com thinking “Yes dear LORD give me anyone but these POF dudes,” Markus lines his pockets with another $50 in affiliate commissions. Isn’t that romantic?

Maybe you’re thinking “Hey! I’ve used POF and it worked out fine.” But did it? Did it really work out fine? Because everyone I’ve met on POF has turned into someone listed in my phone as “Crazy – Do Not Answer.”

But that Markus sounds like a catch – very entrepreneurial. Where’s his POF profile?

My score: 1/5 stars

Match.com

Match.com is probably one of the most popular online dating options, and I can’t figure out why. In my experience, the active members on Match.com overlap with OkCupid a lot, so I was basically paying $80 for three months to get told “hey gurl ur beutifull[sic]” on a different forum. Sometimes they were even more direct and just went for the gold: “Wanna fuk?” Maybe it’s because  most 22-32 year old men without girlfriends can’t spell or date anymore? No, no. That’s just too depressing to think about.

On the bright side, in my time on Match.com, I got messages from not one but two men who own mini-horse ranches. I really almost went out with one of them, until he sent me an unsolicited dickpic before we even met. True. Fracking. Story.

On the bright side, my friend’s sister met her husband on Match.com. He’s a doctor (or at least has a job, I think) and he can spell quite well. Sadly, he doesn’t own any mini horses.

My score: 2/5 stars

eHarmony.com

eHarmony means business. According to the commercials, over 5% of marriages in the U.S. start on eHarmony. And eHarmony may, in fact, be the best online dating website ever created. But I’ll never know because I can’t ever bring myself to finish their frustratingly-overly-long-million-and-one-question Relationship Questionnaire.

If meaningful introspection is your thing, completing the eHarmony Relationship Questionnaire – which makes you analyze every small failure and dwindling dream you’ve ever had in this life –  results in a wonderful reward: a list of cute, interesting singles like “Jon,” “Shaun,” and “Antony.” But you can’t talk to them until you pay money, and even after you do pay they may not want to talk to you. They may not even be real people, for all I know.

eHarmony allegedly matches singles based on 29 dimensions, but who really knows, right? Most of my past relationships have started with just one dimension – alcohol. And some of those nights haven’t turned out as badly as certain POF dates I’ve been on, to be quite honest.

It’s a risky endeavor, that Relationship Questionnaire, but a risk that may be rewarded with marriage. “Worth it,” says only my mother.

My score: 1/5 stars

How About We

All cynicism aside, HowAboutWe is a genius idea for a dating website. The whole point of such sites is to get your scared ass out from behind the computer and out on an actual date, and that’s what HowAboutWe does.

Here’s how it works: Sign in, post a picture, then post some fun stuff you’d like to do around town. When others are interested, they’ll message you and then you go out and do it. This eliminates the all-too-common online dating folly of eliminating perfectly normal seeming people just because they happen to like Nickelback or because they legitimately believe Twilight to be literature. When you date with HowAboutWe, you get to spend some time kayaking, playing Settlers of Catan, or kissing before those dirty little secrets come to light.

The problem? You have to pay to read messages on HowAboutWe, and almost no one does that. They’ll let you send messages for free, but you can’t read unless you pay. Which means that cute guy who sent you a message about your carefully crafted date may not even pay to read your response. Such a gamble!

My score: 5/5 stars for the idea, 0/5 for execution.

A little cynical, even for me. But hey, it was a Monday. And online dating sucks.

Lenny Kravitz Falafel – L’as Du Fallafel

This weekend, like about 75% of the world’s population, I went to go see The Hunger Games movie. And, while the movie was great, I left the theatre with another realization – Lenny Kravitz is my spirit animal. Not only do we share an ill-conceived interest in poorly applied gold eyeliner (it looks better on him than me), but Lenny also introduced me to the best meal I’ve. Ever. Eaten.

Lenny Kravitz, Spirit Animal

While in Paris, we were always on the lookout for a good, cheap meal. One night, while we perusing someone’s random guidebook, we came across an interesting little piece of information – Lenny Kravitz named L’As Du Falafel in the Marais the “best falafel in the world.” So, of course, we had to go. I mean, who better than Lenny Kravitz, a somewhat random and obscure American popstar (in 2008, the time of our trip, he hadn’t really done anything of note since winning a Grammy for a cover of the Canadian song “American Woman” in 2000) to provide his expert opinion on Mediterranean street food?

While we visited L’As Du Fallafel as a sort of joke, it was obvious that the operation at this hole-in-the-wall joint was anything but – the line, which extended at least  20 feet down Rue du Rosiers, is deftly handled by an employee or two with an order pad taking orders and collecting cash.

L'As Du Fallafel

This kept the queue moving really quickly, so in less than 10 minutes I had a steaming hot pita, bursting at the seams, in my hands.

Photo credit David Lebovitz

From the first bite, it was obvious that this falafel was something special. The pita was sturdy enough to hold all its contents, which included a large helping of creamy hummus, pickled red and white cabbage, and a large slice of buttery eggplant, not to mention four or five balls of the best falafel in the world. And the whole thing’s topped off with a drizzle of delicate tahziki sauce and an optional “piquante” sauce (they’ll ask you at the window if you want your falafel “piquante” and the answer is YES. A thousand times, yes).

And L’As Du Fallafel is incredibly proud of Lenny Kravitz’s good word – they’ve got about six pictures and articles about Lenny posted on their walls, alongside a bunch of other reviews and awards. Turns out, France is a big fan of Lenny Kravitz in general; in 2011, he was received as an Officer into the French government’s prestigious Ordre des Artes et des Lettres.

I’m not sure if L’As Du Fallafel is the “best in the world,” because I’ve only had a chance to eat at a handful of places. But, it certainly outshines the other falafel places in the Marais (I’ll admit cheated on L’As Du Fallafel on occasion when their line was just too long) and it’s certainly the best I’ve eaten (many places serve a falafel that’s too dry, accompanied by uninspired garnishes like lettuce and tomato). But if Lenny Kravitz says it’s true, I’ll take his word for it for now. And you should, too… next time you make it to Paris grab your own falafel at 34 Rue du Rosiers (Metro: St. Paul).

What’s In a Picture?

My dad was teaching me how to load my 35mm point-and-shoot with film. “So you pop it in like this. And make sure that you pull the film just enough to fit right in over here. But don’t pull too  much. Make sure it’s snug, then close the camera and the film will advance. Get it?”

“Got it!” Or, at least I thought I did. Before my parents drove me to the airport, we packed my back with 12 rolls of film. During my 10 day trip to France and Italy, I loaded each of the remaining rolls myself and, when they picked me up from the airport, we made a detour on the way home to get my filmed developed.

Two days later, my mom and I stood in front of the photo processing counter at CVS looking at 24 photos of me and my classmates at the Houston airport and 264 shiny, black 4x6s of nothing. I’d loaded every roll of film incorrectly. Continue reading

Irreverent Perspectives on Beloved Monuments: The Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

I guess I was never the biggest fan of The Diary of Anne Frank, probably because it was required reading in 8th grade and I’m never too crazy about anything I’m forced to do. I remember thinking, “Wow, Otto, you just broke parenting rule numero uno – you not only read your daughter’s private journal, but then you published it posthumously for all the world to read.” Talk about mortifying! I really don’t think that Anne intended for millions of children to read her private thoughts for decades to come; she’s definitely pretty frank (har-de-har-har) about her thoughts and feelings while holed up in the Annex for two years. Remember when she talks about her latent bi-curious tendencies? Or goes on and on and on about her puppy love for not one, but two, boys named Peter (like, really editors? You couldn’t have just changed one boys name to Paul or Mike or Sam or something?) All I’m saying is – I used to steal my sister’s journal and read it and, based on her incredibly negative reaction when she found out I’d invaded her privacy, I can’t even imagine what she would do to me if I’d published her thoughts for public consumption. But I digress…

We’re talking about the Anne Frank Huis, the Frank’s Amsterdam hideout where the family, and four others, spent over two years in hiding amidst the German occupation of Amsterdam during World War II. The Secret Annex was saved from demolition in 1957 and opened to the public as a museum in 1960. I stopped by on my most recent (okay, only) visit to Amsterdam and this is my review:

Continue reading

Four tips for finding affordable flights

This is a blog about travel so this is, of course, the obligatory post about finding great deals on flights. This mostly applies to flights within the US, or from the US to an international destination. Tips on saving money while traveling within other continents to come soon…

Ticket retailers play a lot of tricks on consumers in order to maximize the amount of money they can make on each ticket. Websites like Expedia and Travelocity change their prices not only from day to day, but from one hour to the next. This can make shopping for tickets insanely frustrating, or like a fun little game… depending on whether or not you’ve educated yourself on the rules. Continue reading

Oh, The Places We’ll Go

They say if you think about something every day, that’s probably what you should be doing with your life. I’m not sure who this “they” guy is, but I’m guessing he might be the President of the Stalkers Guild of America. Regardless, I think he’s on to something.

Since my trip to Europe in the summer of 2009, I’ve seldom gone more than a day or two without thinking of that seven country adventure. I don’t think so much about any particular thing I saw (though the Reichstag was incredible), or the trouble we got ourselves in to (okay, it probably wasn’t the wisest idea to get in the car with strangers in Paris the summer after that movie Taken came out). I think more about the people that I met and the conversations I had, learning about perspectives I’d never before considered and, more importantly, learning that 20-somethings are pretty much 20-somethings no matter where in the world you go. And thinking about the trip also reminds me of my best friends and travel partners – Nessie, Sarah, and Matthew – who now live spread across the country and the world. Sometimes I still miss the sibling-like closeness we enjoyed that summer, sharing beds and couches and lots and lots of laughs.

But most often, I think more about the way that traveling made me feel. I could be exhilarated, scared, intrigued, blissfully happy and insanely frustrated all at once… and that was just while trying to have a conversation with a cashier at the train station.

These daydreams are often prompted by the most random of events – recently, the smell of a friend’s kitchen in Houston reminded Sarah and me of the smell of a house we couchsurfed at one weekend in London. That weekend was our first in Europe, with days full of museums and monuments we’d never seen before, and nights full of people we’d never see again.

We came home with stories, tips, and some mistakes to share, as well as an insatiable desire to keep traveling. Matthew now works as a teacher in Prague, while Sarah uses the frequent flyer miles she racks up traveling between Texas and her swanky East Coast law school to pay for quick trips to fun destinations. Nessie’s a geologist with frequent opportunities to travel, and I’m working in Austin, acquiring time off and a savings account for my next trip.  We’re growing up, moving around, and moving forward and none of us are quite sure the places we’ll go.

Though I think of travelling every day, I’ve also got responsibilities here in Austin (a steady writing gig, a 12-month lease, and a 2 year old puppy), so actually taking off isn’t always an option. But, I can continue to keep my passion for travel alive through writing.  So that’s what this blog is for: stories, tips, and warnings about the places I’ve gone and the places I’m  going. My stories and yours, ideally.  I’d  like to create a community where readers who’ve traveled – whether to Beijing, Cancun, or Mount Rushmore –  can share their own crazy stories, offer advice on how to save money (or spend lots of it), and in a small, healthy way continue to experience something we love every day.

Please enjoy!

Shannon