I really need to quit Facebook.
It’s Saturday afternoon. I have things I could be doing. I could be watching television. I could be playing a video game. I could be volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old folks home — Christ I don’t know. I could be exercising, or cooking, or going for a walk with my kids.
I could be interacting with them. Sitting with my family and friends who are happily playing a board game in the next room. But nah…I’m moping on the couch refreshing Facebook. Over and over again. Endlessly. Compulsively. I’ve decided that’s way more interesting. That is the life experience I’ve chosen.
A weird paralysis. I run through my options, the possibilities. Maybe I’ll do this thing, or that thing instead. Nope. Nothing feels inspiring. Nothing convinces me to drag my arse off the couch into action.
But I’m not happy either. Not content. Far from it. I’m not indulging in scintillating discourse online. I’m not laughing with friends. I’m not developing new relationships. On the contrary I’m miserable, frustrated. I’m waiting for people to ‘like’ my thing. Because that feels nice. Because that makes me feel good about myself.
It make zero fucking sense. I don’t need affirmation. I don’t need this. I am a content person. I consider myself ‘happy’. I don’t suffer from anxiety. I’m not depressed. Yet in this moment I feel completely lost. Tired, wasted and broken.
I’m still on my phone. I’m still on Facebook.
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
On some fundamental, sub-conscious level we all understand that social media – in particular Facebook – is an unnatural method of communicating with other human beings. Another way of putting it: Facebook is fucked.
I signed up for this. I understand the benefits. I’m Scottish. I live on the opposite side of the world to my parents, my brother, my friends. Facebook has made keeping in touch with those people exponentially easier. That’s great.
But Facebook is also a tightly woven Skinner box that encourages narcissism, anxiety and refresh refresh refresh. An echo chamber. A perpetual noise box. Padded walls, fake news, baby photos, selfies, racist grandparents, fucking-all-the-time cats, idealised selves slithering between the bandwidth cracks of reality.
It’s fucked. Completely fucked. My Facebook in particular.
My wife. Very serious: “you spend too much time on Facebook.”
Me, throwing my head back, eye-roll: “naaaaaah.”
“Facebook is making our relationship worse and you’re setting a bad example for our children.”
“Naaaaaaaah.” Textbook denial.
Because I work in media (and therefore a tremendous wanker): “I need to use Facebook for my job.” Worse: “I am a digital native.”
Jesus H. Christ. I say these things?
I use the words that addicts use. “I can stop any time.”
So why didn’t I?
It’s hard to be completely honest about the reasons why I use Facebook. It requires taking a long hard look at myself and accepting hard truths that reflect poorly upon me. That I’m selfish and narcissistic. That sometimes the opinions of strangers matter more to me than those I take for granted. My family, my closest friends. My wife.
That I find it comforting to dictate conversations. Facebook allows us to determine when we communicate, what we communicate and what we have to listen to. It’s the reason, I suspect, why so many people disappear into their phones during actual social situations. In comparison to Facebook real life is a chaotic mess of misread visual cues and tonal subtleties.
And crucially, one must abandon a certain level of control in order to participate.
In Facebook you are the master of your own social universe. You construct that universe meticulously.
I have no issue with that. For some that’s empowering. Some need that – myself included – but my own personal endgame was a problem. I was ignoring people. Friends would visit. I’d be on Facebook. My wife and I would spend time together. I’d be on Facebook.
I’d take my son to the park. I’m on Facebook.
It makes me desperately unhappy to write and read those words.
So one Sunday morning I decided to quit.
More precisely I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. For a month. Just to see what that felt like. For the longest time I’d been extremely defensive about my use of Facebook, but I’d made a personal realisation. Two actually.
The first: Facebook was making me unhappy and my behaviour was compulsive. It was a bizarre habit and it was making me anxious.
The second: Facebook was stopping me from doing other things. Most importantly it was literally stealing time from my family.
Deactivating Facebook was actually incredibly difficult. It was actually literally difficult.
First of all, de-activation. It’s buried in the settings. Right here…