A few days ago, I took a deep breath, felt my addicted heart palpitate, and ‘Deactivated’ my Facebook account.
They say the only way to deal with an addiction is total abstinence, right? Thus, I had to say goodbye to that virtual highway of insecurity, banality, and vanity.
Don’t get me wrong – I am guilty of everything I hate about Facebook. I’m not criticising anyone or judging, but I certainly am over it. I know this to be true by the immediate sense of elation I felt upon closing my account. Freedom! As soon as I opted to press the ‘Deactivate’ button, my shoulders relaxed and and I breathed deeply with relief. No more tying myself in knots with the social pressure, mental noise and the dubious invasion of privacy that is Facebook.
The following morning, the first without the familiar thumb-swipe across my iphone screen, saw me tetchy, even irritable, at first. But then I texted a new friend who has never had a Facebook account and arranged to meet for coffee. I vacuumed throughout the house and washed the kitchen floor. I made pancakes and phoned another friend just to see how they were and would they like to come over for dinner one evening. Then, and this is my favourite, I played lego with the kids on the floor for ages. In other words, on my first morning without Facebook, I got a real life.
Since coming off, about four of my close ‘real’ friends have too; not because of me, but because they’re just sick of it. And, like me, they were heavy users guilty of everything they had grown to hate about Facebook: the over-shares about their children, their ailments, what they’re having for dinner. As one new friend I’ve made in real life, who had a Facebook account for all of two weeks, said: ‘I mean, who really gives a fuck?’ That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? – Who actually cares?
For example, I found myself writing a status about having insomnia and at the same time I thought – who really cares about this? It got a couple of ‘likes’ and a comment, but they were from my mates, so they ‘like’ and comment on most of my posts on Facebook anyway, and I do the same to theirs. Well, I did, before we all came off and actually started texting, phoning and skyping each other instead. That is, we started having real, meaningful and, most importantly, private conversations.
And we’re not alone. In the media we are told that millions are signing off Facebook. There’s currently oodles of articles, blogs and cafe discussion on this subject and the teens and twenties are coming off as fast as the middle-aged. I suddenly find myself on-trend and ‘cool’, perhaps for the first time since I was 16 (I’ve been a bit a bit chilly now and then, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing).
There are a number of reasons why I came off Facebook. Firstly, it’s how sad it makes me, and that’s a reflection of the personal effect of Facebook. I am an introvert anyway and find a lot of social interact uncomfortable – Facebook is therefore one more social pressure, and that I just don’t need. I’m also fairly insecure, and as a single parent, I can get very lonely. I often found that the status updates that I’d post were the sort of snippets of my day and my thoughts that I would share with a partner should he be standing next to me, or the picture I’d post of a meal or a funny thing in the street, I would text to him if he existed. Instead, it went into a public domain and that is embarrassing actually. As I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, I found I could identify the single people, those people who avoided their real loneliness with a fake, virtual intimacy. Maybe I was mentally aiming a post at a particular person, so why didn’t I just text or email it to them instead, have that interaction privately, and value it? Nurture a relationship instead of cheapening it by acting it out publicly.
And, by the way, do I really need to know about the fantastic night out someone else is having when I’m lying on the sofa in my dressing gown and bed-socks eating cheesecake? No, I bloody don’t; I’m feeling shitty enough as it is, thanks.
That brings me nicely on to ‘Selfies’, recognised by the Oxford English Dictionaries editors as ‘Word of the Year’ due to the rapid growth of its usage. I’d never thought of taking my own picture before a few months ago. When selfies appeared on my Facebook feeds, they were the domain of young teenage girls getting ready to go out, but now it seems everyone’s at it. On my birthday this year, a friend invited me to her place for a meal. It was her birthday the same week. I made an extra effort in getting ready and felt pretty good about my appearance, so I had a selfie frenzy.
The picture on my Gravatar is the result of this ‘Selfie Session’. As I scrolled through the ridiculous narcissistic snaps that I’d taken of myself, I thought: how horribly vain. Please, someone shoot me before I ever take another selfie. (Actually, it’s a good way of getting a picture of me with my children, so I’ll keep it up in that context.) The narcissism behind a selfie can only be encouraged by Facebook, as people congratulate each other on their selfies with floods of likes and comments.
But what if you don’t get many likes for a selfie, a comment, or a picture of your dinner on Facebook? Is there a social agony worse than this? Not for the lonely or the insecure there isn’t. Surely we post these things for affirmation: ‘this is what I look like, don’t you like me? This is what I think right now, don’t you like me? This is what I’m doing right now – like me, like me, please, please, like me.’
This is where my thoughts about Facebook take a more serious turn. It can really mess with your mood if you’re already vulnerable, and could be downright dangerous to some. According to the statistic that often gets pulled out at a time like this, 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives, whether it be depression, bipolar disorder and so on. What are the effects of the overuse of Facebook on people like this? It can’t be healthy. (Actually, having been one of the 1 in 4s myself, I know it isn’t healthy.)
Also, the bullying that goes on in social media is astonishing, and very damaging. Even fatal. Shouldn’t we be protecting our vulnerable young people better than this? From others and from themselves.
There is a much bandied about phrase: Facebook is Evil. Yeah, maybe it is.
I’m a big fan of TED talks, and I even have the smart phone app. When I was perusing it recently, I came across the last, and arguably most important reason to get off Facebook: Privacy. Check out this fascinating talk by Alessandro Acquisti, a professor who studies the impact of social media on civil liberty: http://on.ted.com/privacy . His talk urges us to consider the technology of facial recognition. From a photograph, a name can be found in just three seconds, then a Facebook account, then all sorts of private information. Not only is Facebook a stalker’s paradise, but is also making the government’s and other organisations’ job of invading our privacy insanely easy. There are people on Facebook who I barely know in person, but I know what they eat, what their children’s names are, when their birthday is, where they were born, and who they are friends with. It’s only a short leap to find IRD or social security numbers, even probable passwords. There are already applications that can ascertain all of this, and that technology is getting stronger as we are getting more and more reckless with our personal information.
On the 27th July across New Zealand, thousands of people marched in protest against the GCSB Bill, which legalised spying upon any free citizen in New Zealand by the government agency. This sort of ‘spying’ is a current global concern, but by allowing ourselves to be seduced by the ego-massaging and the false intimacy of Facebook and its like, aren’t we playing right into Big Brother’s hands? On that July Saturday, I wonder how many protesters posted pictures on Facebook of a protest aimed at preserving privacy? Am I the only one seeing the irony here?
The rebel in me (and she’s a feisty one) refuses to buy into this. However, I have only ‘deactivated’ my account and not deleted it, which means that all my personal information would still be available to any agency Facebook gives access to, either now or in the future. It also means that I can dip into Facebook whenever I want, feeding my dormant addiction by finding out what that person is having for dinner and what someone else’s kids did today – information that I just don’t need nor want.
Sadly then, despite coming to the conclusion that I want no part of it, that Facebook may indeed be evil, dangerous and infringe my civil liberty, it holds me still. For now anyway. I hope that eventually I’ll be able to hold my breath, feel my addicted heart palpitate, and press ‘Delete Account’.
But, in the meantime, I absolutely refuse to EVER ‘like’ a selfie!