It has shaped a generation. It has changed the way we live our lives and how we carry out our social relationships. It is now the universal language of communication. It has defined a generation and with more than 800 million users worldwide it looks set to stay.
I am a (recovering) addict. I am currently working my way through the (self imposed) seven steps process of recovery. As an experiment earlier this month I banned myself from using the social networking site, as I was spending my Sunday afternoons sitting watching the page refresh. I was sick of my neighbour’s mate commenting on my photos and friends of friends at school who felt the need to reduce every update to a ‘like’, which equated to a moderately enthusiastic thumbs up. I took a hard look in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. Things had to change. I needed to go cold turkey. And so for six long, lonely weeks that is exactly what I did, and this is what I found:
Day 1: Have a mild nauseous feeling as I keep checking my phone, but then I realise there is nothing to check. There are only so many times I can check for new emails and frankly it’s not as fun as stalking your ex or sneaking a peek at my colleague’s photos. I shudder to myself as I think: this must have been what the ‘90s was like. People must have actually had to talk to each other and forge real relationships instead of just watching the ticker.
Day 2: The feeling remains. I feel a bit empty, lost, and sad. I am regretting my decision to go cold turkey, because I realize I don’t have anybody’s email addresses (apart from an aunty and my parents). Plus, I am not in the UK at the moment so people will either think I’m dead or worse, that I’ve deleted them as friends. This is probably the worst decision I could have made. I think about reactivating my account to put a message on to explain I am not dead, have not been abducted, do still like you etc. But, I realise this is a smoke screen, and I just want to peep at my nearest and dearest. So, I switch of the screen and go read a book (people used to read these in the olden times before kindles).
Day 6: You have one new email. ‘Emma, where are you? Have you died? You forgot my birthday.’ Crap. I forgot I use it as a diary to keep me abreast of the birth dates of people I love to hate. I don’t need this, I think. I was just starting to make real progress. I was actually doing stuff with my days again; I had started to see the light and now this. I think about sending postcards explaining my strange actions, but I don’t have anybody’s address.
Day 8: I really hadn’t thought this through, but I’ve gone too far now. I have to bite the bullet. It’s definitely getting a bit easier, but I do have my moments. It’s the evenings that get me. I am feeling less horrified at the thought of not being able to stalk people though, which I think… counts as progress.
Day 15: Never thought I’d get this far. I’ve actually read a whole book. I don’t miss anybody. I’ve even stopped myself checking emails as much. When I feel edgy or scared, I just go and have a conversation with a real person.
Day 16: Thought yesterday’s high couldn’t have lasted. I’ve crashed down to social media reality with a loud, harsh bang. I am sitting in a dark room sweating. I may have to reactivate today. Just once. I JUST NEED ONE FIX!!!!
In the end I settle for a fix of Twitter which helps a bit but doesn’t quite fill that void.
Day 24: I’ve started a new job, and they need my Facebook address. Ahhhhhh! I think… Finally an excuse to get back on there. But, I’ve come so far… More emails from a couple of people who are utterly bemused at my actions to self-regulate my own social contact. I reckon I’ve saved about 1-2 hours a day which is pretty frightening. I no longer drown in status updates. It is liberating to be free of my FB demons.
Day 42: I’ve done it: I’m there!!! Well done me. I feel like I could write a self-help book now, but first I will log on. Let me make it clear: I don’t NEED to log on anymore. I am in control now. I have seen the light: I have started living my life again, and I know I need to limit my Facebook use for the better. It’s a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. ‘I’m back!!’ I shout to the world of cyberspace. I long for that glorious red icon confirming my popularity. I get a response in about four hours – not that I’m counting, I hasten to add. Hmmm, I think I was expecting trumpets,confetti, and cake. AND BANNERS WELCOMING ME BACK. No such luck.
So what wisdom can I impart? Well, I do need Facebook purely just to stay in touch with the people I like who live hours away. It can be a great way to stay in touch and share ideas. Paradoxically though, the amount of time I was spending on there was stopping me communicating. FB can be a fantastic way of reaching out to people or just a big empty vessel of time waste where nothing really ever gets done, just a great exercise in self-publicity. You just have to decide which camp you fall in to.