Going Cold Turkey: A Month Without Facebook

That’s right, I’ve been away from Facebook for a whole entire month. I know a lot of you didn’t think I could do it, and neither did I if I’m at all honest, but I did, and the more I did the less I actually cared. I’ve learnt some valuable lessons during this short time, and, I hope, learned to channel and refocus my energies, thereby regaining control of aspects of my life that I felt had been consumed by Facebook. After a period of abstinence, its always important to reflect – to think about what worked and what didn’t, how the good practice can be sustained, and how knowledge of the experience can be transferred to other aspects of one’s life. So I give you a reflective look back on my month without Facebook.

The first days of nothing

Those of you that know me (and even those of you that don’t!) know that I love Facebook. I overwhelm your feeds with critical musings, check-ins, photographs, music, the occasional article about Haiti, black culture across the Atlantic, or the innate evil of the Conservative Party. Over the past couple of years in particular, it has become my playground, and my workdesk, and the site of my inner-monologue. More than a few of you have borne witness to my outbursts about salmon (#salmongate), my beautifully-intagrammed pictures of London’s best burgers, and the things I get up to on ‘Ladies’ Night’. Leaving Facebook meant leaving this world, this hub, this nucleus, this omnipotent-all-I-am-and-know space behind. I did so ceremonially, of course, in my last blog entry (http://lifeonmyfeet.com/?p=202). Initially, when I signed my login details over to Julian, I imagined that my life in those first few days away from Facebook would be like the nothingness in the Book of Genesis before God invents light and night and animals and rest days (which we mostly spend taking Facebook selfies, right?) Anyway, the nothing was not the apocalyptic nothing I had anticipated, it was just a nothing that I found myself making productive use of doing other things. I didn’t take up any new hobbies like learning to knit (I did that years back when I finished my Master’s as I coursed my way through the entire seven seasons of Gilmore Girls) but I did learn to do other things I was already doing in my life better, for example, planning and enjoying the meals that I cooked, spending time (real, quality time) with people that I care about, and reminding myself of the many, various, and brilliant channels of communication out there that I have become less au fait with in recent years.

With abstinence comes withdrawal…

…or perhaps not, as I found the case to be. Although Facebook has invariably become such a huge part of my life, I never once felt the urge to ‘raid the cookie jar’, so to speak, in my month without it. My will was repeatedly tested, however, by the email bombardment that I got informing me of the 38 unchecked notifications I had received during my few days away. Luckily, Julian was able to preserve my peace of mind by logging into the account and unsubscribing me from all email correspondence from the demons of Facebook, resolving this problem. With few remaining traces of what I might be missing remaining, I was less inclined to miss it at all. In fact, I didn’t, and I felt much freer, happier, and less encumbered as a result. Perhaps it was only the placebo effect of change in routine, but I really felt like the quality of my life improved. I used my mindspace without having recourse to Facebook, and I realised that I didn’t actually need to expand its boundaries in a virtual arena.

What I noticed about other Facebookers

Coming away from Facebook was what you might call epiphanic. I was able to step outside of the matrix of ‘FB’ and see my former life through a new lens. Ultimately, this was magnified by the fact that most of the people around me still remained part of that matrix, and I was able to scrutinize my life – objectively – through theirs. One thing that I noticed about ‘other Facebookers’ – and when I say ‘other Facebookers’, I mainly mean Julian (sorry, Julian, I’m not being passive-aggressive, but you’re a convenient example given that I spend near on every day of my life with you) – was the way that they used Facebook as a surrogate. By that I mean that rather than just doing and living, Facebookers do and live and then duplicate that doing and living on Facebook. As in, the time spent doing and living is in fact halved by the intervention of an external device. The maths in that equation, in other words, is not conducive to living ‘life on one’s feet’. When I saw people on their smartphones, sitting in front of me and facebooking (yes, I know I used it as a verb but that’s just a reflection on how active it is in our lives) a combination of the following would often run through my head: ‘you are being antisocial’, ‘you are not spending time with me’, or ‘you care more about Facebook than you do about me’. None of these thoughts bore any resemblance to the truth of the situation, but having an outsider perspective made me aware of how ‘exclusive’ (and excluding) Facebookers can be, and reminded me that I rarely took stock of how other people might feel about me ‘doing’ my ‘facebooking’ in front of them. This is not in any way intended to spite or judge, but hopefully it will encourage us all to think about how we can be ‘social’ in the fullest and most human sense of the word.

What I missed

Okay, so in spite of everything, I do think that Facebook is a good thing, nay, a great thing. It has brought me into everyday contact with family and friends in far-flung corners of the world, it has enabled me to share in their happiest moments (my favourite being the wedding of my dear friend Jenny earlier this year that I was unable to attend in person), and likewise it has allowed me to share mine with them. Without Facebook in my life, I wouldn’t have been able to revel in these moments, and unintentionally create new ones. Last week I received an email from my friend Emily with a screenshot she had taken of her Facebook feed, informing me of the engagement of one of my dearest and oldest friends. I was so thankful to be otherwise connected at that moment, and was able to contact my friend directly and offer her my congratulations, but I was also sad that I wasn’t able to stumble on the information myself – to be surprised, and overwhelmed at the same time that everyone else had been.

In conclusion, I won’t be leaving Facebook any time soon, and I certainly won’t be leaving permanently, but I think I still need to adjust to new ways of managing and integrating my social media life. It might mean that I decide to vanish at an impromptu moment, but I’ll pop up and surprise you again when you least expect it. So stay tuned, and remember that I’m still out there. I’m just leaving footprints in other places.




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