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What I learned when I quit the Internet for 4 years

In the blink of an eye, a digital lifetime had passed.


Cece Lederer

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 8, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 7:52 pm CDT

Four years ago, I quit the Internet. Tumblr, Facebook, all of it. Lord help me, I just couldn’t read another invitation to an improv show. 

I didn’t like how I was representing myself, or what trying to live up to my online persona was turning me into. I’d hoped that leaving the cyberworld would reconnect me to what really matters in life.

I’d hoped that leaving the cyberworld would reconnect me to what really matters in life. 

“I don’t Internet” became my explanation for why I was the only person not livetweeting the party. I spent a lot of time at the beach; there isn’t great service there. 

But loneliness and dwindling funds caught up with me. If I wanted to succeed in the human race, I was going to have to become a cyborg: part avatar, part slowly dying fleshsack. I just hope this one runs better than the last. 

Here’s what I’ve learned since crawling out from under my rock.

Facebook chat doesn’t work like email

When I was last on Facebook, messages worked like email. Inbox and everything. I returned with the assumption that messaging and chatting were separate. That naïveté wouldn’t last. 

I saw on my timeline that a producer I’d worked for had just gotten a new show picked up. It was the first time Facebook had shown me anything useful. I was looking for a job, and here was an awesome job lead. I congratulated the guy in the comments section of the relevant Deadline article, but I felt that a job-query wall post took things too far. 

A message was the answer. To my horror, it functioned like Gchat. The “enter” key doesn’t give you a new line; it throws you to the wolves. 

All I had sent was “Hi.” I hadn’t thought it through. My small talk. My strategy. Usually I write and delete a few paragraphs before settling. A good casual email takes hours to compose. When I saw his green dot and response—another “Hi”—I feared I would throw up. I launched into an awkward and unnecessary explanation of my mistake. My rambling continued until I got his email address. I still haven’t heard back. I’ll never send another message I haven’t proofed in Microsoft Word. 

I no longer speak English

I know it’s spelled “meme,” but I’d prefer not to pronounce it in public. Pretty sure it has to do with cats and Photoshop. I understand the concept but can’t comprehend the content. Language has evolved into pictographs requiring knowledge of pop culture. There’s a whole section of the population I can’t talk to because I don’t watch anime.

There’s a whole section of the population I can’t talk to because I don’t watch anime.

The Internet accelerated faster than my life. I joined the program already in progress and I found myself hopelessly behind. I was sent into a future where people exist only as sitcom screengrabs who communicate through a complex system of glyphs and codes. 

You’re stuck with yourself

Hating your name is a valuable procrastination tool. Name-shame justifies never trying to make my stack of scripts into movies. I’ll get famous when I have the perfect nom de plume. My grandmother’s maiden name was Nives, and “CC Nives” has a nice “Spike Jonze” ring to it, but when I tried it on Twitter, a real-life friend mistook me for “some weird dude.”

Cece Lederer’s schtick had become relentless promotion of comedy shows she didn’t believe in and pointless attacks on people she had no reason to dislike. There was also a mean-spirited Tumblr. When you search for it now, you get a site that doesn’t want you to go through life bald.

I wasn’t happy with my brand. I was disgusted that I had a brand and idealistically angry that branding is a thing. I wanted to kill Cece, go into a cocoon and emerge a butterfly with an shiny new IMDbPro page. For a time I had high hopes of going off the grid, Thomas Pynchon–style. I called myself C.F. Lederer so that I could hide from my gender, but it’s hard to erase college Halloween party pictures. Pirates of the Caribbean was huge. 

So much for Mission: Reinvent Your Horrible Self. 

Plan B: figure out how to sugarcoat your attributes so no one realizes what a fraud you are. Or, at least, not at first.

Everybody just wants to get laid

I could tell you I rejoined Facebook because I believed you when you told me you had to be on it. Like it was a compulsory chip planted in the base of the skull by the elders in the autumn of your 13th year. I could pretend I’m using Facebook as a networking platform, but my chat blunder proved me incapable of that. Being genderless sounds great, but at the end of the day we love to bang. 

I joined for a cute boy. A boy who didn’t have enough pictures on his OkCupid profile. For all my posturing and holier-than-thou bullshit about not buying in to social media, I was done in by a picture of a silver fox with a cigarette. 

For all my holier-than-thou bullshit about not buying into social media, I was done in by a picture of a silver fox with a cigarette. 

If you think Facebook is about lofty goals, you’re my mom and can’t figure out how to use it anyway.  

Facebook is a tool for connecting people who hate Facebook

When I told people I wasn’t on Facebook, they were uniformly impressed. My stark unpopularity had morphed into coolness. My unwillingness to define myself defined me, and everyone was jealous. They all said they had to be on for work or some such, as if the site exists independent of users. It’s a shared hallucination of people who claim to hate tripping. 

It’s also a self-validation machine. That’s why there’s no “dislike” button. Achievements are highlighted and failures buried. Life is editable (provided everyone agrees to believe what they read). Words like “funny” and “hero” are devalued. As with oral sex, we give praise expecting to get some. We look the other way on bragging so that we can post flattering pictures of our success with the paleo diet. Maybe if we all say we were there and had fun, no one has to sit through another musical version of an ’80s movie. 

Existence is not binary

In the 21st-century edition of the social contract, we give up privacy. I’ll tell you my secrets if you tell yours. If a relationship isn’t advertised, it isn’t real. The two most romantic words in the English language are: “Facebook official.”

I was disgusted that I had a brand and idealistically angry that branding is a thing.

Friends say this article will boost my presence. I always thought presence was binary. Either the 1 or the 0. Present or absent. Alive or dead. Nope! My mother always told me that no matter how smart, pretty, talented or rich I was there would always be someone smarter, prettier, more talented and wealthier. It turns out people can exist more than me, too. 

I post, therefore I am. Who we are isn’t what we do or even what we display, but rather how many people buy tickets to the exhibition. When a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to blog, is it still content? 

The more it pretends to want to know about you, the less it represents you

I was one of the first Facebook users. I logged on with an elite .edu address, just as the Winklevoss twins intended. The glory days, when you could set your relationship status as “married to the sea.” I filtered through my tiny Berkshire campus to find out who else liked Pavement and The Kids in the Hall, then tried to sleep with them. That function doesn’t exist anymore. Now when you sign up you are subjected to a gauntlet of meaningless lists that would take forever if taken seriously. What books have you read? What difference does it make? I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Are you happy now, Facebook? Does that satisfy your aimless curiosity?

Dumb question: It also wants to know if I’ve seen the movie. 

You can’t choose your friends

Leaving Facebook was as much about the bookers as the book itself. Last time around, I unfriended a lot of people because I didn’t want to hear any more about experiential theater. I fooled myself into thinking that I could choose more wisely. 

As with oral sex, we give praise expecting to get some.

My first hours back were spent scrolling in judgment. I could request the genuine friend who’s probably going to pressure me into seeing her terrible band, or the loathsome coworker who is going to post a hilarious Simpsons GIF every morning. I could even do both. 

And what about these unfamiliar creeps who want to friend me? What are they after? And the people with the audacity to still not have accounts? Who they hell do they think they are! I know they think they’re better than me. They’re right—especially if they’re celebrities. 

Working in comedy, I got chummy with household names. Or thought so. Many of them, I found, had maxed out their friend count. Sure, I’ve shared a stage with Bobby Moynihan, but he’s on TV now, and I should’ve gotten in on the ground floor. Even bigger names, like Stephen Colbert, don’t have friends at all—they have fan pages. I’m free to like them, but surely they want nothing to do with me. I’ve only been on TV a couple of times. 

You can (and should) choose your family

My husband and I are in an open relationship. And yes, it’s awesome. But is it something I want on Facebook? On the one hand, I don’t want to cock-block myself; on the other, what if the wrong person sees it? I’m no heteronormative square who sits at home and cooks roasts. 

I decided not to put it on Facebook, but on the anonymous Twitter account I’d set up a few months before I accepted Mark Zuckerberg as my personal lord and savior. My baby steps back into society. A picture of my dogs here, a joke about my perfect life there. If other people can talk about their dates, why can’t I? I have nothing to be ashamed of. And everyone who knew of my online identity was a friend. Right? 

I forgot about family.

The people you can’t choose are those you shouldn’t. I love my parents, but I blocked them immediately.

I love my parents, but I blocked them immediately. 

Last time I was on Facebook, though, I didn’t have a second family. My husband’s cousin thought it would be a good idea to tell her mother (my husband’s mother’s sister) about our unique and wildly fulfilling alternative lifestyle. The fallout could have been worse, but it could also have been nonexistent. Your friends don’t think it’s their business, obligation or right to completely disrupt your life. Friends care about you. Family is a nightmare. 

Clickbait is the new oil derrick

I used to get my news as God intended: by waking up early and stealing the New York Times from my elderly neighbors. I was accustomed to article titles that contained information like “Protests Flare After Ferguson Police Officer Is Not Indicted,” not “6 Weird Facts About Michael Brown.” 

But information is not the true currency of the internet. Barely perceptible pressure applied by one or more fingers (i.e., “clicks”) are. Whether or not someone is able to implement the easy trick to losing belly fat is not readable data. Only the calculations that allow a link to link are measurable or worthwhile to those describing our world. In the universe of 1’s and 0’s, curiosity is a natural resource, and we’re mining the shit out of it. 

Photo via Nick Taylor/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Jan 8, 2015, 10:00 am CST