It’s Saturday morning, and I haven’t checked Facebook since Tuesday afternoon. That’s almost four days. Only four days. Four days doesn’t seem like a very long time, but it is in Facebooktime. How many of us start scrolling through a never-ending news feed first thing in the morning, last thing at night, any time we get an empty moment – while waiting in line, on the train, waiting for a friend, in the bathroom, when we’re feeling insecure and things get a little hard – or because it’s become such a habit that we’ve opened the app/website before we even realise it. We send messages on Facebook to make plans or just to catch up, get tagged and tag in memes and news articles, are invited to and find out about events. All. On. Facebook. So yes, four days is a long time in Facebookland.
I’m not entirely sure why I walked away from Facebook. It sort of just… happened? Whenever I hear about people who did, they seem to have had a clear reason and plan. They want to challenge themselves – can they do it? They have a project they desperately need to finish and Facebook is too much of a distraction. They’re going offline completely for a little while to reset. Usually people post a status update to announce their decision and to inform people of alternative contact details. Part of me thinks that’s the responsible and respectful thing to do. We spend a big part of our lives on Facebook, so if we decide to close the door on that part of our lives, it’s only fair to let people know we’re walking away so no one has to worry. I do wonder how many people would notice if we don’t check in anymore, and if perhaps informing others of our decision isn’t a little self-obsessed and narcissistic?
It also shows how many of our human interactions have been taken over by Facebook. It’s a little concerning that we have to post our other contact details on Facebook so people will be able to stay in touch with us. Shouldn’t the people that matter to us already have our contact details in the first place? And if they don’t have them, does that mean we can completely disappear from people’s lives, just like that, simply by not opening a particular website or app anymore? Does it mean that Facebook or a group of hackers can just wipe out the relationships we have with people if they decide to do so? People have a right to disappear if they want to, and Facebook itself probably won’t just be destroyed. The thing is, what does all of this say about how much power Facebook has? And, perhaps more interestingly, what does this mean for how we connect with people? Can people be replaced by others more easily? Do our relationships feel more temporary than they used to?
Back to the story of my accidental disappearance from Facebook. I didn’t have a plan. I’d thought about logging off in the past, as a challenge, mostly when I read about other people who had done it. But I never thought I’d actually do it – because it felt too scary, but also because I actually enjoy using Facebook.
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time lately. I thought I was on the way up, but I wasn’t. This week was even worse. Mood swings, high intensity feelings – both happy and sad – in quick succession. It’s all very annoying and I don’t know what to do with it/myself. I’m not looking for sympathy or concern here – we’re human beings which means we’re not made of plastic, so we’re going to feel things and what we feel will change over time. Anyway. On Tuesday morning, I got hurt by something that happened on Facebook. I’m sure it was all a huge misunderstanding, but it happened, and the stuff that happened afterwards wasn’t pretty. While I didn’t fully realise it at the time, on some level I think I knew that it hadn’t been the first time I got hurt on Facebook. That’s when somehow I stopped opening it. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just felt some sort of aversion to it. It felt a little like learnt behaviour: Facebook equals pain, and I couldn’t get myself to log on. This is big for me – I usually have to use focus-apps that block me from accessing certain websites, and even then it’s hard. You know how if you get the stomach flu after you’ve had a particular type of food that had nothing to do with that flu and you start to associate that food with being sick? That’s a little bit what it felt like.
I didn’t leave a message saying I’d be logging off for a while because I didn’t know how long I’d be away for. I didn’ even realise I was away until I was. There was no plan or goal. Part of me thinks I should have a quick look at what’s been happening since, but somehow I’m just not interested?
Some things I’ve realised/noticed since:
- I realised that I didn’t have other contact details for some of the people I’d been staying in touch with via Facebook Messenger. There was one friend for whom I had an email address and a phone number from years back, but I doubted that either were still current. That’s when I realised how easy it would be for people to just disappear without either party intending for it to happen.
- My email to this friend didn’t bounce. I realised how nice and how much fun it was to be emailing friends! I started to think that these days we mostly use text messages of some variety or other (iMessage, WhatsApp etc.) and Facebook to stay in touch with friends, whereas email is mostly for work and annoying ads and newsletters these days. To think that not so long ago, people were worried about how emails would replace letters… Now emailing friends feels nostalgic and special!
- A lot of the time, I register everything (well, a lot). What I realised is that when I go on Facebook, I don’t just absentmindedly scroll through my feed. No. As I’m doing that, I’ve seen every ad in the sidebar (they change quite quickly, too), I notice people’s activity in that right hand column, who’s been online when and how many times since I’ve logged on, etc. I don’t want to notice any of this! All this information all at once makes me feel anxious.
- Because Facebook tells me all of these things I don’t want to know, I also know when and how often people have ignored my messages and my comments. I don’t want to know when someone’s read my messages or how long it took them to reply after they read it. On some unconscious level, often just for a split second, it makes me feel ignored and rejected. I know that’s stupid and part of me is ashamed to admit it, but it is how I feel and I’ve heard from others that they feel the same way. This is something we need to talk about. That said, I don’t always instantly reply to comments and messages either – just like everyone else I don’t always have the time or energy to engage, sometimes I forget. But the consequences remain. And it’s telling that I’ve never felt this way when it comes to emails or other social media.
- Not scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed has made me much less patient with other types of social media scrolling. I’ve continued to check Instagram, but while I used to love looking at all those pictures, I found that I’m just not as interested anymore as I used to and give up after just a couple of pictures.
- I’m checking email a lot more often! The good thing is that I get surprisingly few emails, so it’s a matter of opening the app/website, and closing it again. It’s still a compulsive need to check something, but at least I’m not wasting a lot of time on it.
- I’ve watched a lot less TV this week. I don’t know if the two are related at all. They might not be, but maybe there is something going on where my brain stopped needing constant stimulation by a screen?
- Facebook seems terrified to lose me. Since Wednesday, it’s sent me three to five emails every day to inform me that so and so has posted a picture and that so and so has posted a status update. Of course it doesn’t show me these pictures or updates. No, I’d have to click on the link and go on Facebook. Clingy and desperate much? And I thought I had issues…
So on the whole, has my accidental walking away from Facebook made a difference in my life these past four days? It’s hard to tell. The annoying feelings-stuff is still happening, but I think I feel calmer and less anxious overall. Maybe I feel this way because I’ve heard that’s what walking away from social media does to you – then again, if I feel less anxious and calmer it doesn’t matter which of these two is the real reason.
The most significant change, though, has been how I feel about other people. I I feel more secure and more at ease/peace in my relationships with people. It’s funny, because I haven’t had much (if any) contact with most of the people that I’m close to. I have no idea what some of them have been up to (no status updates or photos) and we haven’t interacted (no tagging or wall posts). For a long time I’d been convinced that Facebook was a great way to stay in touch and up-to-date with people’s lives, and to show others that you cared and were thinking about them. I realise now that it’s had the exact opposite effect on me. It makes me feel deeply insecure about my friendships. I struggle with fear of rejection at the best of times, and Facebook just really screws with that.
Will this be everyone’s experience? No. Do I think Facebook is bad? No. Do I know how long I’ll stay away? No.
Is it possible I’ll have a quick look at some point this weekend to see if I’ve missed any messages or events? Yes. Am I scared to do that? Yes.
Now, how am I going to get any of my friends to read this? I usually share my blog posts on Facebook, but I don’t really want to log on because that means I will see stuff I have no interest in seeing. I’m interested in what my friends are doing, but I’m not interested in seeing EVERYTHING – when they’ve been online last, which meme their friend of a friend of a friend tagged them in, which ad Facebook thinks is relevant to me, etc. There might be a way to connect Facebook to WordPress that doesn’t involve me actually going on Facebook, so I’ll try to figure out how to do that. I wonder if it’ll let me add some text with the link, too, that doesn’t show up here so I can give the people I know my contact details in case they need them or want to stay in touch. If it works, and you’ve found your way here and wanted to comment something on what I’ve written, please do it in the comments section under this post. I won’t be checking Facebook, but I do want to hear your thoughts.
Ahh, what a simple and uncomplicated world we live in!