No kidding? New study says most Facebook users have taken multi-week breaks

Well, consider me surprised.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project just released its latest survey about user behavior on Facebook.

A key figure: 61 percent of Facebook users say they’ve taken a voluntary break from the site that’s lasted at least several weeks. They gave several reasons. The three most popular: “Was too busy / didn’t have time for it,” “Just wasn’t interested / just didn’t like it,” and “Waste of time / content wasn’t relevant.”

“Concerns about privacy / security / ads / spam” barely registered on the list of reasons, which is interesting.

But wait. Facebook users take breaks from Facebook for several weeks?

Most Facebook users?

Really?

Excuse me while I adjust my digital worldview.

For various reasons, including, yes, a stubborn hunch that everyone must struggle with what I’ve struggled with, I figured that Facebook had the majority of its users on a leash, if not, you know, plastered to its side. They’d manage to get away for a couple days here and there, a week, maybe, if they’re committed. But several weeks? Sixty-one percent of users?

I guess we’ve got more control over this beast than I thought.

Good.

I’ve written several times about the pull Facebook has on us. It’s a personal but also very shared thing, and it seems there’s always a new angle to explore. My very first column for GeekWire was about taking a break from my smartphone for a week’s vacation. Facebook was no small part of why that time away seemed beyond difficult. A lot of you understood why.

It’s an old song, but we keep singing it. Stripped of nuance and an appreciation of the ways in which our virtual lives are our real lives, it goes something like this: “Facebook! Our freedom! Give it back! Please?”

It’s inaccurate, in a way, to call the origin of this pull “Facebook.” What it really is is your friends and acquaintances on Facebook and everything they choose to share there. Facebook is nothing without its content. And with 67 percent of Americans and countless brands on the site (every Superbowl is a “social” Superbowl), anyone can easily drown in it.

Remember when you’d get to the bottom of your news feed and there’d be a link — “Load more posts” — and you could not click it, and not get pulled in further? Now the feed loads forever and ever. One minute you’re in there with a purpose. The next, you’re checking up on that girl in college who drove you nuts. Wait, did she get married?

If such a strong majority of Facebook users have taken a break of several weeks, we must be in good shape.

But what about the 39 percent of Facebook users did not take breaks from the site that lasted at least several weeks. Most of them didn’t see the need, I’m sure. But how many felt they just couldn’t?

We’d need another survey to find out. For now, I’m going to take as a good sign not just that 61 percent of Facebook users could take weeks-long breaks, but that the number one reason they did it — by far — was because they wanted to do something else with their time, and did. Just like that. Twenty-one percent of the Facebook users who took long breaks gave that reason — more than twice as many as gave any other reason.

People can stare a profoundly powerful timesuck in the face and turn away. That’s great. Not because Facebook isn’t often a valuable use of time — only 2 percent of people who took a hiatus from the site said it was because they preferred other ways to communicate — but because it’s easy when technology serves such delights to forget that we can easily find our own.

Facebook sells our attention.

It’s good to know it’s still ours to give.

Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist, freelance journalist and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.