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Sam Cook column: The wisdom of knowing when to let go

Sam Cook

I ran into a friend of mine at the dentist office the other day. We hadn't seen each other for a while.

More typically, we come across each other on Duluth's semi-wild trails, hiking or biking. Day or night, we always stop and catch up on each other's lives. The topics range from kids to dogs to hunting to wilderness travel. Though we're probably 20 years apart in age and our families are not close, we have many common interests.

We are Facebook friends as well, though neither of us posts often. Still, it's a way to keep track of each other indirectly. I was aware that I hadn't seen anything of my friend on Facebook for some time, and I mentioned it at the dental office. He told me had let go of Facebook, that it had become too much. He just needed to simplify his life a bit, lower his stress level, and that was one way he chose to do that.

He isn't the first person I know who has chosen to abandon Facebook. Certainly, given the way Facebook has been used — and abused — recently, I would imagine that many Facebook users have chosen to step away from it.

But I know it wasn't necessarily Facebook issues that drove my friends to leave. It was life issues. They didn't want that additional stimulus and clatter in their lives. I think their decisions were healthy choices. I have other good friends who chose not to jump on the Facebook train in the first place for the same reasons.

We are, pretty clearly, an overstimulated society. The computers in our pockets beep, buzz, vibrate or sing, demanding our urgent attention. Little red squares appear on our screens saying, "Read me! Read me! Read me!"

It is not just Facebook. It's email, texts, Twitter, Instagram, newsfeeds, blogs, weather alerts and more. The cumulative effect of those constant interruptions takes a toll on us. We have become conditioned to react to these insistent cues. This might be Him. Or Her. Or your supervisor. Or your child who just left for college. Or a cat video. Or your political party, urgently needing a donation.

I like many things about Facebook. I like sharing photos from wilderness trips. I like keeping track of my daughter's study-abroad family in France. I like getting updates and pictures from my friend who's biking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I would miss all of that, and more, if I were to give up Facebook.

But the sheer volume of a Facebook feed can seem too much. And Facebook riles us when posts become argumentative or political. Sometimes the discourse among respondents devolves into vitriolic name-calling.

The conversation with my friend at the dental office reminded me that we all have choices, that we can walk away from much of the stimulus — positive, negative or neutral — that we have invited into our lives. We might miss something. But when we give up something, we are likely gaining something else.

We might be gaining time to spend in more rewarding ways. Like actually talking to friends. Or walking in the woods. Or reading. Or simply living more fully in the moment.

The key is remembering that we have a choice.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find him on Facebook at facebook.com/SamCook.

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