I deactivated my Facebook account during my hermit experiment. I thought I would miss Facebook, because my Facebook friends suggested lots of good reading material and because it enabled me to keep in touch with people I don’t see anymore. After a week without Facebook, I realized that neither of these reasons was good. First, on reading material: I have a lot of reading material from my RSS feed; these blogs recommend more articles and books than I can ever read, and I think that ignoring Facebook’s recommendations improved the quality of what I read. Here are the blogs I subscribe to via RSS:
- Slate Star Codex: Psychiatry and everything else.
- Unequally Yoked: Leah Libresco on Catholicism, ethics, and everything else.
- Marginal Revolution: Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok on economics and everything else.
- : Tal Yarkoni on psychology and methodology.
- Noahpinion: Noah Smith on finance, macroeconomics, and assorted topics.
- Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science: Andrew Gelman, self-descriptive.
- A Fine Theorem: microeconomic theory.
- The Fly Bottle: Will Wilkinson on political philosophy and writing, defunct.
- Alas, a Blog: feminism.
- Crooked Timber: A bunch of academics in the humanities and social sciences on everything.
- The Browser: Reading recommendations.
- Chris Blattman: Development economics and more.
And I’ve read or started some great books (not all before leaving Facebook):
- Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh. A sociologist spends a decade in Chicago’s housing projects and reports back on the lives of some of Chicago’s poorest people and the organizational structure of a gang. I’m about halfway through and find this book entertaining but too full of personal anecdotes and too light on results; I should have just read Venkatesh’s academic work.
- Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz. This book gives an overview of the history of marriage that gradually narrows its scope from the entire ancient world to today’s middle class white Americans. Coontz shows that marriage’s history is more nonlinear than often thought. For example, “In England between 1500 and 1700 the median age of first marriage for women was twenty-six, which is higher than the median age of marriage for American women at any point during the twentieth century.” Our perceptions of this era may be skewed because “The age of marriage was sometimes much lower for the very wealthy, especially for aristocrats.” She also shows that marriage for love is a truly modern luxury that creates a new set of problems.
- Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, by Charles Murray. Murray argues that America’s founding virtues of religiosity, family, industriousness, and honesty are much less common than they once were in poor areas, that the loss of these virtues matters, and that income inequality and residential segregation have greatly exacerbated these trends, which have scarcely touched the upper-middle-class.
- Paying for the Party, Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton. Two sociologists (more sociologists?!) move into a freshman dorm in a large state university and track the women of the floor for five years. They find that a Greek-dominated social scene and poor advising mean that the university serves wealthy out-of-state students far better than more disadvantaged but harder-working in-state students, leading to decreased mobility.
- On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, Alice Goffman. Another sociologist moves into a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, where many of the men are constantly evading the police.
As for the second reason I left Facebook, I’m not sure how much it actually helped me stay in touch with people. There are some old friends I interact with on Facebook that I don’t see in person, e-mail, or text, but when I’ve run into an old friend that I’ve “kept in touch” with through Facebook, it isn’t clear that Facebook helped. We have to catch up on everything and straighten out the details (“Did you get a new job or something like that?”). I walked past at least one frequent Facebook contact without recognizing her until too late, then was suddenly unsure whether she’d be interested in talking to me. I like to find out when someone moves or gets married, but these things are rare and I’ll surely find out these things whenever they become relevant to me. It’s also important to have some way of contacting people, but by this point in my life I have a phone number or email address for anyone I might conceivably want to contact.
There is one reason I regret leaving Facebook, which is that without it no one except my mom will read my blog. You can subscribe via email (with the Follow button) or RSS, though!