30 Days without Friends or Followers
We are gathered here today on this Facebook fan page to mourn the untimely deactivation of Billal “@iambillal” Ali. Yes, Billal’s deactivation has left a hole in all our hard drives. However, we shall not Ctrl+Shift+Del and selectively erase his memory as though it were a spur of the moment kinky request. We must Ctrl+H and remind ourselves of what made our friend/follower the unique individual that he was: his custom display pictures, his love of memes, and the way he always clicked “like” or “re-tweet” on a post that you feared would go unnoticed. I realize that I lack the verbal eloquence to suitably encapsulate this epic loss, but I believe it was William Shakespeare— whom upon hearing word of the death of his best friend said, and I quote, “Omg. Wtf. That is soooooo random. lolz.” [17 People like this]
For 30 days I was forced to shun friends and followers alike as I committed social media suicide deactivating both my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I imagine some of you social media junkies would have preferred actual as opposed to digital castration. Although, to be fair, actual castration pretty much defeats the entire basis of the internet. The main question still stands however, considering all the positive potential benefits social media offers, why did I decide to leave?
Initially, I liked Facebook. I was a click away from family members, and I was reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in years. However, on the down side, I was a click away from family members, and I was reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in years. Similar to Twitter, my friends and I were able to share links, photos, messages, and of course memes. In many ways Facebook was the perfect device to not spy on my ex-girlfriend who isn’t going out with a guy who’s totally not wrong for her. You can sit there and judge me all you want, but that information was public—ish. Either way, I don’t let things get personal. Oh, and if you’re reading this, watch you’re back Tony! Things just got personal.
I liked Facbook, but then it started to get annoying; apparently that’s not uncommon in long term relationships. I knew I couldn’t change Facebook, so, and I’m not proud to admit this, I cheated. Twitter was younger, more relaxed, and made the relationship about my needs. Unlike Facebook, my Twitter feed was far more relevant because I chose who I followed— that includes individuals as well as news/entertainment companies. I wasn’t forced to decline Farmville requests or read “inspirational” misquotations from teenagers. I realize I’m getting a bit of topic, but people send me the most annoying messages on Facebook: “Stop texting me,” “It’s over between us,” and my personal favourite, “Are you the one who’s been threatening Tony?”
Where was I? Oh yes. On the whole I liked both Facebook and Twitter. While Facebook kept me tied to my friends and family, Twitter allowed me to connect with like minded people— many of whom became new friends. Again, that still begs the question: Why did I leave?
I should make it apparent my leaving had nothing at all to do with annoyances at how the sites were run. No one was agitating me, I certainly wasn’t trying to avoid anybody, and for reasons beyond my belief Tony had still not reported me for online harassment. I left because of a question I was forced to ask myself, “Is what you’re doing at this moment benefiting you?”
Other than the minor social reward I received when someone clicked “like” or “re-tweet,” I wasn’t gaining anything. I was just spending what I assumed were hours meaninglessly clicking on shit that frankly I shouldn’t give a shit about. However, before I continue, I should make it clear that I don’t think social networking is an unproductive use of time. When used correctly— and yes, there is a correct way— it can bring benefits that include but are not limited to: catharsis, greater intimacy, access to helpful information, and new connections. The reason I wasn’t feeling the benefits of social net-working is because I was misusing it. In particular, my misuse took the form of overuse.
I have a busy life. We all have busy lives. Sometimes I don’t have time to cook myself a healthy meal. So, do you know what I do instead? I walk on down to Greasy Joe’s Bargain Bucket Slop House and order a triple bypass burger. Of course having fast-food once in a while is perfectly fine. But, when you eat it constantly, you’re bound to have problems. Certainly for me, and possibly many of you, social networking is the equivalent of social fast-food. It’s convenient to the point of ridiculousness; I’m actually equipped with a button that does the complementing for me [“like” this article if you agree]. And so, over time, almost unconsciously, I weaned myself onto a social fast-food diet that aided in procrastination and caused my social skills to atrophy.
Even before I questioned myself on the benefits of my actions, I could sense the social networks losing their charm. Liking, clicking, posting, tweeting —whatever social components accompanied these actions in the past were now gone. It just felt artificial, and with time, for me, it became superficial.
Yes, I ditched the digital world and re-entered reality using my corporeal brown guy avatar. Although this may sound strange, everything, at least initially felt more “real.” I was precisely and perfectly in the present; my focus was on my immediate realities. Everything around me felt mildly louder, brighter and more intense. It was as though a thin veil had been lifted: a veil that was slightly and lightly obscuring my senses. A veil whose existence I previously had no knowledge of. I’m not for second saying things were better. Things were still things, now they were just more vivid.
Adjusting to life without Facebook and Twitter did come with its difficulties. For one thing, I now had to snail mail all my threats to Tony. More annoyingly, each time I opened my browser I found myself automatically typing “faceb—” or “twit—” That habit was eventually and unconsciously replaced by gmail, youtube, and you know, other “speciality” websites. I had a cyber itch that I couldn’t digitally scratch no matter how hard I clicked. However, after an appropriate recovery period (7 days), the symptoms of withdrawal withdrew.
Presumably to fill the void, I began to jump at the chance of any and all social events. I both wanted and needed to get out. Conventional conversations with friends now gleaned more interest. That finding of course made perfect sense. When we talk about not having seen someone in a while, we never mean online. The convenience of our social networks allows us to contact anyone— be it friends or Tony —anytime we like. It also gives us little updates on the lives of our chums. We already know, if only vaguely, what they’ve been up to. However, having been momentarily robbed of that amenity made my conversations more robust and intriguing.
Life without Facebook and Twitter was nice. I felt as though I had more time— mainly because I did. According to a free downloadable program called rescuetime, I spent hours and hours a week clicking, typing, and looking at pictures. I was dumbfounded by that personal statistic. There was no way I spent that much time on Facebook and Twitter! But, then I paused for a moment and reflected on my denial. I’m almost always logged on to either Twitter or Facebook. I may not be actively using them, but they’re definitely in the background. Furthermore, even when I was using them, I did so passively. I didn’t keep track of time, and I certainly didn’t think about the overall distractibility being caused.
Eventually I weighed up all the pros and cons and decided to leave social-networking for good. But, then I read a blog by a Ph.D student whose name I wish I could remember. She discussed the idea of giving up Facebook for Lent, and why she disagreed with the practise. Her argument basically stated that cutting out Facebook entirely deprived you of the benefits of social-networking, and secondly demonstrated— ironically —a lack of self-restraint. A more healthy approach would be to give up Facebook for certain hours of the day i.e. from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.
Social-networks weren’t the problem. My lack of self-realization and restraint were the problems. You wouldn’t blame McDonalds for making you fat because their food was too delicious, would you? I’m the chunky monkey tossing his wallet behind the counter inhaling as many Big Macs as I can— metaphorically speaking of course.
Social-networks, when used correctly, are more than potentially beneficial. Also, as much as I enjoyed my new found freedom, I did miss being online. That is why I will be returning to both Facebook and Twitter with a slightly improved, more purposeful and informed attitude. And, I will continue to ask myself the question, “Is what you’re doing at this moment benefiting you?” while occasionally answering back, “leave me alone you psycho, I’m just trying to relax.”