Glance around you wherever you are, on the street, the bus, at dinner, in the office, and chances are most people will have their heads buried in their phones mindlessly trawling Facebook.
I was one of those people who kept getting suckered into the blue screen and I started to hate myself for it. So, when considering the usual suspects of what to give up for Lent this year (I’m a flexible Jew – Chrismukkah anyone?!) I threw myself a curve ball and decided to give up Facebook.
Facebook and I had going steady for nine years. That’s almost a decade of news feed checking, stalking “friends’” profiles and impulsively glancing at my screen even when half asleep. This compulsive social tick had become normalized by the fact that everyone around me was doing the same. Even my Grandma. But it was when writing an article on mindfulness that I realised how poisonous this addiction had become. I was so caught up in a virtual world that I was failing to appreciate the real life that was right there in front of me. And I was fed up of being mid-dinner with someone who would pause conversation in order to update Facebook. So, I took an initial step back and stripped my friend list down to those I really cared about and not distant acquaintances. But somehow Facebook took over again, until now.
Come the first day of Lent, the app was removed from my phone, auto-login disabled on my computer and my cover picture unsubtly changed to broadcast my absence. In honesty, the first two weeks were tough. Instinctively I would find myself stuck in traffic in a taxi gazing at my phone willing it to amuse me. The FOMO kicked in; not a social form but worry that people were writing on my wall and I couldn’t see. Or that something hilarious or momentous was posted by someone else and I missed it. I was very much out of the Facebook loop, failing to understand certain conversations centering around a recent post or viral sensation.
I did however start to realise, once the compulsiveness subsided, that it wasn’t this inane banter and chit-chat that made me miss the site. It was the fact that people chose to mark important moments via Facebook and that by not being online I was failing to find out key news, especially whilst living abroad as an expat, away from friends and family. But I have to say, somewhat proudly, in all other respects I embraced being Facebook free. I found myself fully engaging in social interactions – actually asking people how they are rather than having a pre-informed knowledge. I ended up procrastinating far less during my work day and paying attention in movies or even cab journeys to what was going on around me. I’m also pretty sure I was far less annoying to walk behind on the pavement!
Throughout my period of abstinence I was able to analyse what role Facebook actually plays in our iPhone obsessed lives. For me personally, its main benefit was as a means for me to keep friends and family back home updated on my life and for me to learn about happy moments in theirs. And this same core benefit is true for everyone else, thus revealing that the “purpose” of Facebook, pointless procrastination inducing clutter aside, is rooted in experientialism. We use it as a tool to either document our own experiences or seek inspiration from others.
Daily inspiration via tweets, statuses and inspiring images about where friends have travelled, what they have seen and eaten and books they have read has meant that our generation has learnt to assess our success in life by the experiences we expose ourselves to. Shunning the superficial approach of previous generations whose value of life was judged by what material goods they owned, we favour hands on living. Thus creating a culture that values what we do with our lives rather than what we buy.
This in itself is no bad thing as the ultimate outcome is that we seek to fill our lives with more exciting experiences. But an issue has arisen as we have become so caught up in documenting our experiences or stalking other people’s that we forget to actually enjoy the experience itself. Our desperation to capture the moment often leads us to miss it.
My experience affected me greatly and had me resolving to venture back into the online social world but with a more mindful approach. That meant no Facebook iPhone app, no interrupting an experience to document it and never valuing it over the experience itself. In truth, with almost a year having passed since I wrote this piece initially, I do find myself straying onto Facebook far too often (but have proudly kept it off my iPhone) and I notice how many people don’t think it’s socially unacceptable to post a photo on Facebook or “check in” in the middle of a conversation. Whilst I’m as guilty as everyone else for letting it seep back into my life too much, I remain aloof from the world of Twitter and Instagram as I don’t need another social addiction. I’m also extremely critical of myself when I find myself creeping on to check my news feed more than once a day – as a rule of thumb I try and stay offline on weekends now, “try” being the operative word – this is still very much a work in progress!