Today I have made a decision that I am no longer going to consider myself as an active participant or user of Facebook. Ironically, perhaps, I feel the need to share this on the internet but hope that the thinking I have done around this may be of some value to others.
I spend a great deal of my day, as an academic, at my desk, online. I have for the past five years considered browsing Facebook as a part of this process. It has been a habit. It’s a destination for procrastination. It has made me feel connected, and it has been an escape from the sometimes isolating nature of a PhD. However, I have come to realise over the past few months that, for me, it is a bad habit, a boring source of procrastination, and a useless way of staying in touch with my dearest friends across the world. Instead of feeling connected to people, I believe that Facebook has made me feel increasingly lonely.
The thing is, I am not lonely. I am content with my life outside of the internet. But this continual network of abstracted friends has a strange effect on my brain. The continual baggage of a thousand other people’s lives is a strain on me. It’s my fault: I am an overthinker. I imagine you can tell… Perhaps for some people the use of Social Media is fun, but I worry, I compare, I am frustrated, I judge myself. This is not a healthy or happy thing to do.
But, giving up a habit is hard. Especially when nearly everyone you know is also involved in the habit you want to lose. As an academic- I began this process with a research question – how does one go about giving up a ubiquitous social media site? There are a few options.
How to Quit
1) Cold Turkey – deactivate / just stop
2) Limit your time on Facebook – start at a few times a day, then once, then less and less time (I am down to five minutes a day on my computer, but browse like a brainless idiot on my phone for hours)
3) Limit the ways you access Facebook – i.e no more emails and no more phone notifications (This I have done – to little effect)
Like most people trying to quit a habit, I have several recurrent excuses to stop quitting entirely. These (in the order they frequently occur to me) are as follows:
How to Talk yourself out of Quitting
1) I might miss out on invitations to parties
2) I will lose friendships that I don’t want to lose
3) I will miss out on important things / salacious gossip
4) It’s weird not to have Facebook, I don’t want to be weird
5) I don’t know what else to do when I am bored
These are valid concerns but one’s that I am assured by my non-Facebook friends that I will get over / survive. Some of my closest friends do not use Facebook and so that gives me hope that there is life beyond the like…
I’ve decided to make an opposite list, of the excuses / benefits for quitting instead. This is something that I haven’t done before, as I have always seen Facebook as the default option. So here goes:
Reasons I am going to stop using Facebook:
1) It is a royal waste of time
50% of Facebook’s users log on everyday. On average people spend 20 minutes of day on Facebook. If I am honest about it, I nearly always spend more time than that, due to my mobile devices.
2) It does not make me happy
Check out this research by Italian scholars Fabio Sabatini and Francesco Sarracino for detailed research about ‘Online networks and subjective well being’ click here for academic article
3) I feel a pressure to share information about my successes, but it paints a half-picture of my life
It is all very well putting on a public performance, as culture insists, but how far are we taking tese ideas with social media? See Aaron Balick’s blog here for his interesting analysis of ‘false self’ in the tradition of D. W Winnicott and Jung’s ‘persona’. Getting good feelings from ‘likes’ is a weird kind of Pavlovian model of valuation.
4) Who cares about anyone else’s parties?
If I wasn’t invited or couldn’t be there – why do I need to see the pictures?
5) I do not need to use social media to connect with my friends
I have email, I have a phone, texting, Skype, I even have paper! I have air and space and time. I have coffee bars, I have pubs. Communication will still occur. I currently keep in touch with friends in the US just fine despite not being on Facebook. Facebook makes ‘staying in touch’ seem easier, but how connected are you when you are simply liking a status? You cannot carry everyone with you always. It is exhausting. The people who matter will continue to be my friend regardless of continual updates.
6) I am drawn into conversations that I am not a part of, nor do I want to be
Facebook algorithms are complicated, but draw on the idea that the flashy and shoutier the message, the more attention it will get. See Elan Morgan (here) on the ‘Like’ algorithm. I find myself reading posts of people I don’t like because they are ranty, have a comment war, or are irritating. That is just bizarre.
7) I spend time thinking about people I would not even talk to in real life
There are people I ‘stalk’ who I never really knew. You know, leftovers from a part-time job, school, a crazy gig. Why is this a good use of time? What kind of compulsion is that? If you translate the process to real life, its plain creepy.
8) It interrupts my creativity and academic thinking and creates a web of endless distraction
When you see something online it leaves a trace, it lingers, you do not read and move on. Some days I feel my mind full of useless things. I am distracted from real-life, from the people that I love. This idea is seen mostly in parenting columns and books. The distracted generation is here – screen-led and absent. There have been some powerful comebacks to this problem – Gary Turk’s video: see ‘Look Up’ video here is one among many. Time Magazine offers a chilling read in ‘Wired for Distraction: Kids and Social Media’ of a continuous distractedness.
9) I cannot communicate effectively on Facebook
I wouldn’t dream of sharing pain, worries or drama on Facebook. There are jokes that don’t come off right online. Nothing is private. You can’t see if someone is really happy or just pretending to be fine. Facebook is not who I am. See Forbes on Communication: here
10) I want to be happy in myself, and this does not come from comparison to others
This is a problem offline as well as online, but is accentuated by Facebook. But seeing friends on beautiful beaches whilst you are struggling to write and are bored and stressed is not conducive to happy feelings. People only share their best selves online, and therefore it is easy to create unrealistic images of other people’s lives. We all feel sad and frustrated sometimes, but social media offers no place for such behaviour. I want to be happy, and don’t need an unrealistic standard to match up to.
I would love to hear about other people’s views and opinions – comment below or via the ‘get in touch’ button!