COLUMBIA — In December, just before parting with her friends at MU for the month-long winter break, Samantha Johnson did the unthinkable.
She quit Facebook.
The "deactivation" was meant to be temporary, a timeout from the Internet that would strengthen family bonds during the holiday season.
Once home in Yellville, Ark., Johnson cut down a Christmas tree with her father, took coffee regularly with her mother and paid visits to her grandmother, with whom she reminisced about their pasts.
Johnson found that she enjoyed her newfound leisure time, previously occupied by the social media website. (She is not on Twitter, either, but she does have an Instagram account.)
So, back at school, Johnson resisted urges to rekindle her uneasy relationship with the most popular social media service on Earth.
After signing up for Facebook in high school, Johnson began to concoct an online persona.
"If I was at home, I didn't want people to know," she said. "I'd write a status that said I was going some extravagant place."
"Nobody can know that because you're on the Internet."
Johnson's Facebook friends piled up after she came to MU to attend the Missouri School of Journalism. (She has since become an art major.)
After class Johnson would log on to Facebook, agog for hours. If she went to an event, a new status and photos would reflect that.
"That's how people know how glorious your life is," she said of her mindset at the time.
Now off the website for four months, Johnson said her life feels more "physical": she invests more in face-to-face time with a smaller number of people.
With Facebook poised to become a publicly-traded company in May, reports have raised questions about the website's slowing financial growth. Also worrisome, though, is a March report from eMarketer, a website that publishes data and analysis on the media, which indicates that Facebook's growth in U.S. users has drastically declined in the past two years.
Still, Facebook says it has 901 million monthly active users, with about 180 million of those in the United States and Canada. And a 2010 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project said 86 percent of undergrads use social networking sites.
According to Facebook's estimated reach for advertisers, more than 17,000 of the website's users self-identify as an MU or Stephens College student, and it's likely there are many more student users at those schools who do not. But there is dissent even among that tech-savvy demographic.
Interviews with a dozen students indicate it is not uncommon to have a friend or two who, for one reason or another, just won't participate.
A 2009 study by Homero Gil de Zúñiga, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Journalism, found a direct link between extroversion and increased social media use by people age 18 to 29. But de Zúñiga conceded in an interview that little research has been done on the reasons some young people abstain from social media.
Peter Anderson, like Johnson, began a Facebook account in high school. But he said he realized right away it wasn't made for him.
"It didn't really cater to the way that I socialize with people," said Anderson, a junior at MU studying mechanical engineering.
When his friends gathered, Anderson said, no one had a camera. "So I never had that thing where after the event you go on Facebook and look at the pictures from it."
With a barren "wall" and few photos, Anderson said there was little reason to keep his account. "It made me feel pitiful," he said.
Anderson opted out of Facebook during his second semester of college after friends highlighted the hypocrisy of publicly disparaging the site while maintaining an account.
Looking back, he said privacy concerns also motivated him to quit. Anderson saw posts about Facebook's tendency to accumulate information from its users on another website, reddit.
"That helped me get over Facebook quicker," Anderson said. "They didn't care about the people that used it that much."
Now Facebook-free for several years, Anderson said he has learned to live in the present, unburdened by old online photo albums.
"People love dwelling on the past," he said. "I don't care to."
Kari Paul, the projects editor at The Maneater, MU's student newspaper, used Facebook to look for sources when she was arts editor last year. But she said it felt unprofessional, and, in an effort to carve out more time for schoolwork, she deactivated her account four months ago.
Now that it's gone and she's had time to reflect, Paul said she sees Mark Zuckerberg's creation as something more sinister than a time-waster.
"It's socially toxic," she said while seated on a bench in Peace Park. "How many times have you gotten on your Facebook and seen social interactions that make you jealous or insecure?
"Or you see a photo of a party you weren't invited to and you feel shitty about that?"
In order to keep up with friends from high school, Paul used to peruse their Facebook pages. An out-of-town friend, for example, was tagged in some weekend photos at a bar.
"And I didn't interact with her at all to find that out," Paul said. "That's kind of messed up to me."
In another instance, the act of posting a status or photos became filled with anxiety.
If people do not immediately "like" your content, Paul said, it can affect you negatively, even if it's subconscious.
The societal implications of Facebook seemed to weigh on Paul more than anything else.
"It's weird how you can make this construct of what you want people to see you as," Paul said. "It's Orwellian to me. Except instead of the government encroaching on your life and monitoring you, you're voluntarily giving your information up."
For MU junior Taylor Shortal, the decision to sidestep Facebook is less philosophical.
Shortal sat in the back of a 50-person history class during his first year at Moberly Area Community College. Half the students' laptops, he noticed, glowed green with Farmville, a Facebook-based game that challenges players to start and maintain a cyberspace farm.
"I'm really glad I'm not doing this," Shortal said to himself.
In ninth grade, Shortal was obsessed with Xanga, a website that hosts social networking profiles. It went out of vogue in about a year, leaving Shortal without a social media presence.
A friend, Marianna Vasquez, created a Facebook profile for him last year. He got rid of it right away.
"It was a time commitment thing," Shortal said. "I obsessed over Xanga, and I didn't want to do the same thing with Facebook."
Won't he miss out on social gatherings, like an impromptu barbecue or a friend's birthday party?
"If they really want to do something, they can just text, or, God forbid, call me."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.