The world’s most popular website started in a college dorm room, and for some users it stops there, too.
Though Facebook currently claims a tenth of the world’s population in monthly users, many in its original demographic — young adults — have attempted, sometimes successfully, to go against the grain. Call it Facebook fatigue, social network sickness, sensory overload: It’s not unusual for college-age users to call it quits.
At least for a little while.
Colleen Andrews, 24, a graphic designer from Far Hills, N.J., was spurred by a breakup: “I didn’t want to be tempted to look at his profile,” she said. She dumped her own Facebook profile in September.
Laura Amatulli, a senior at the College of New Jersey, has given up the site for Lent four times.
Dan Granados, 17, of Levittown, Pa., stopped using his account a few weeks ago. For him, it’s a personal challenge.
“I just decided to deactivate it, see how long I could go,” he said.
The social network, along with competitors like Twitter and the recently launched Google-plus, is ingrained in the everyday lives of students and young professionals who came of age as social networking was on the rise. But Facebook, with a huge initial public offering expected this spring, looms largest.
Those who quit Facebook give a variety of reasons: superficial connections, inappropriate posts, distraction from work or other activities. Stepping away from the constant data feed can be a relief, they say.
According to Zizi Papacharissi, head of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the reason people leave Facebook is tied to the reason they start using it in the first place. They are “balancing social opportunity with risk,” she said. Those who give it up are the ones who decide that the costs outweigh the benefits.
“Maybe it’s taking up too much time, maybe it’s taking up too much effort,” Papacharissi said. Another complaint is over-sharing. The average number of Facebook friends per user is 245, according to a Pew Research Center sample. But these connections don’t always amount to information that users actually want to pay attention to.
“I’d say there was a good 200 people that I either didn’t know very well or didn’t know at all,” Granados said.
Derek Snyder, 20, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said he was unhappy with the amount of drinking photos and other posts he deemed inappropriate.
He prefers Twitter: “No pictures, easier to use, nobody talking drama on you or anybody else.”
The pull of Facebook, however, is not always easy to escape. So prevalent is the site among young people, some ex-users face personal temptation and even complaints from their friends.
“People get angry at you,” said Cara O’Keeney, 22, a College of New Jersey senior. She deactivated her account in September and said her friends are still sending her text messages about it.
Papacharissi stressed that Facebook is a real domain for friendship.
“You want to think of Facebook as just a different place where people interact,” she said. “Just like you go with your friends to the bar or to the movies … Facebook is just another place.”
This is O’Keeney’s second hiatus from Facebook, and she plans to reactivate her account in March, around the time of spring break. She recalls the inconveniences from the first time around.
If she wanted to send a friend a quick message, she used e-mail.
“I felt sort of in the Dark Ages when I had to do that,” she said.
Admitting the possibility that they might go back, former Facebook users cited the desire to keep in touch with graduating friends, meet new roommates, and maintain a social connection that they started to take for granted.
“When I got rid of Facebook, I found myself wanting to reactivate almost immediately after I got rid of it … I found myself really needing a social outlet,” O’Keeney said.
Andrews said Twitter, her current outlet of choice, had started to take up her time in ways Facebook used to.
“It became second nature to click the Facebook thing on my phone,” she said, attesting to the automatic behavior that several ex-users described.
Not every young person frequents bars, and not everyone will stay glued to Facebook. Some might even ditch it all together.
But the social media giant is undoubtedly here to stay, Papacharissi said. Colleges and universities themselves are on Facebook these days.
“It is more and more difficult for people to leave Facebook because it’s become very much a social institution,” she said. “A service like Facebook will continue to the point of ubiquity. It will be like social wallpaper.”
©2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.