An Argument for Quitting Facebook

Assalamu ‘Alaikum Warahmat Allah Wabarakatuh,

I came across the below article on facebook on the latest ”The Muslim Times” circular. The article is orginally from the ”Study Hacks” website which is run by someone who describes himself as:

I’m a 29-year-old computer scientist interested in why some people lead successful, enjoyable, meaningful lives, while so many others do not. Being a geek, I’m not satisfied with simplistic slogans (e.g., “follow your passion!”) or conventional wisdom (e.g., student success requires stress). Instead, I dive deeper, looking to decode underlyingpatterns of success, in all their nuanced glory.

Parents and students, please read it! (Also take a look at the countless comments on the blog – they are very telling)

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A Bold Decision

At the end of his first semester at Penn, a student whom I’ll call Daniel was disappointed to learn that his GPA was a lackluster 2.95. Following the Study Hacks orthodoxy that study habits should be based on evidence — not random decisions or peer pressure — Daniel asked himself a crucial question: What are the better students doing that I’m not?

When he surveyed his classmates, he noted something interesting: “the high-scoring kids weren’t on Facebook.”

Emboldened by this observation, Daniel decided to do the unthinkable: he deactivated his Facebook account.

His GPA jumped to an exceptional 3.95.

In this post, I want to share the details of Daniel’s story — revealing what actually happens when you quit one of the most ubiquitous technologies of your generation. I’ll then make the argument that although most students don’t need to leave Facebook, every student should at least give the idea serious consideration.

The Reality of a Post-Facebook Existence

Daniel’s decision to leave Facebook wasn’t easy.

“I was worried that I would be out of the loop,” he admits. “That I would miss event invitations, not know what was going on with my friends, or be able to effectively lead the organizations I run.”

What really happened?

“Well, as expected, I did miss some invitations to events,” Daniel recalls. “But my friends would forward me invites, and I never missed anything crucial.”

“I also didn’t lose any friends, or even really lose touch with anyone. I still had e-mail and a phone, and I see these people every day.”

Daniel’s mom, not surprisingly, was “ecstatic” about the decision, while many of his friends were shocked. “After my deactivation,” he recalls, “I started getting texts that demanded: WHY DID YOU DEFRIEND ME!? WHERE IS YOUR FACEBOOK!?”

But pretty soon people stopped caring. They had their own lives to lead.

The Monastic Pleasure of Post-Facebook Studying

In contrast to the mild negative effects to his social life, the benefits to Daniel’s academic life were significant.

He was initially worried about “symptom substitution” — the idea that with Facebook gone he would simply find another online distraction to fuel his procrastination.

But this didn’t happen.

“After clicking around the web for a bit, I would become incredibly bored,” Daniel recalls. There’s something about the “endless trickle of messages” served up by Facebook that proves especially addictive. Without that steady supply of attention crack, it became easy for Daniel to “swear off the Internet.”

Consider, for example, a calculus final he faced during his first Facebook-free semester.

“With the time and concentration I regained, I was able to hunt down and complete problems from 20 different practice final exams, and then get tutoring on any issues that remained.”

The average grade on the exam was a 34. Daniel scored an 80.

He has since persuaded several friends to follow his lead in deactivating their accounts, and they’re enjoying similar boosts to their performance.

A Different Way to Think About the Technology in Your Life

I recently received an e-mail from a high school student who estimated that her Internet-obsession was slowing down her work by “a factor of 5.” When I suggested that she ask her parents to unplug the modem until her homework was done, she balked.

“I can’t do that,” she exclaimed. “I have to hand in assignments for one of my classes online, and there are really good web-based dictionaries I use for my Spanish homework.”

Take a moment to ponder this reaction.

This student was experiencing extreme suffering and poor performance because of the Internet. Yet, she judged the trivial inconvenience of plugging in a modem before submitting a completed assignment, or using a slightly less effective paper dictionary for her Spanish homework, as outweighing the exceptional benefits that would be yielded by going offline.

To me, this reaction captures the problem with ubiquitous technologies, like Facebook, that make claims on your attention. To many people, the burden of proof falls on the Luddite — you better have a pretty damn good reason for eschewing this technology! Like the girl from above, or Daniel’s shocked classmates, any inconvenience generated by opting out of a popular technology can be a sufficient argument for maintaining the status quo.

I argue the you should reverse this logic: before adopting a technology that can make a regular claim on your attention,  insist that its benefits unambiguously outweigh its negatives.

It’s important that I’m clear: for many students, this assessment would lead them to keep Facebook in their lives — they get social and entertainment benefits from the service, and because they have no problem turning it off while working, they suffer few negative consequences.

For students like Daniel, however, who discover that the technology is wreaking serious havoc, there should be no hesitation to quit.

This same philosophy led many professional thinkers and writers, including Alan LightmanDonald Knuth,  Neal Stephenson, and Leo Babauta to quit e-mail. In their line of work, the benefits of e-mail were swamped by the negative effects. Their criteria was not, “is thereanything bad that would happen if I quit e-mail?”, it was, instead, “do the benefits outweigh the negatives?”

My bottom line here is simple: Technologies are great, but if you want to keep control of your time and attention have the self-confidence to insist that they earn their keep before you make them a regular part of your life.

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2 thoughts on “An Argument for Quitting Facebook

  1. [The Art of Misinformation: Mr. X, thank you for your comment. Although you have not written anything abusive I deleted your first para as you mentioned the name of someone which could in turn lead people to seek out that information and perhaps use it to make a crude statement, though I know this was not your good intention. May Almighty Allah bless you. Please forgive me if this upsets you at all. The second part of your comment is published below and makes a great point. Regarding facebook, may Almighty Allah bless you for your obedience to the Institution of Khilafat. I completely agree with your observations about facebook]

    The point I am trying to make is that these guys live to refute Ahmadiyyat and wish for Ahmadis to leave the jamaat for a better version of Islam. How can they possibly be practising a better version of Islam if they do not even practise the basic concept of purdah in their Islam? They are quick to post threads about the “style” of purdah in the Ahmadiyya jamaat, but at least acknowledge the fact that purdah exists in our jamaat?!! Hypocrites.

    I can say that I have now deactivated my facebook account after listening to our beloved Khalifa’s warnings about the impact of sharing information online. There isn’t much of a concept of purdah on facebook, anyone can go browsing and view any random page. I also heard that once you post a picture on facebook, it becomes the property of facebook and not yours. Not sure if this is correct?!

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