On Booking Faces

facebook-dislike

On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, as results were pouring in and peoples’ moods were becoming more and more agitated, I decided I’d finally had enough. I went to my computer, wrote a quick status update, and logged out. Then I logged out on my phone, and on my work computer. I use a long randomly generated password which is written down somewhere, so temptation couldn’t easily break my resolve. I quit Facebook.

Ok, not really. I quit for about 10 days1.

But in that mere 10 days I learned a lot about myself and about my relationship with social media. I didn’t really expect that. I took a break because the election quagmire was spiking my anxiety, and I didn’t think it was healthy for me to be too exposed to peoples’ opinions and knee-jerk reactions at such a turbulent time. I just needed a break from overreactions and panic and anger and misinformation and cruelty. I needed to realign my perspective.

And it worked. While being away from Facebook didn’t make me feel any more positively or less horrified at the election results, it went a long way towards leveling out my emotional response in the days that followed. But that wasn’t the biggest impact… 

There is a level of addiction that’s above trivial ones like chocolate or sushi, but below dependencies like hard drugs or severe alcoholism. I guess the closest analogy is caffeine dependency. A legitimate addiction that forces you to consume on a daily basis but doesn’t impact your ability to function in any meaningful way. Facebook was firmly in that class of addiction for me, and I didn’t understand how much it was affecting me until I forced myself to stay away.

When I first joined Facebook, I couldn’t understand how people were spending hours on it per day. You scroll through, see what your friends are posting, and then… what? But as your friends list grows, and you start relying on Facebook to be your hub for current events, news, entertainment, and opinions, that’s when the addiction sets in. Somewhere between 2008 and now, I got to a point where I was checking Facebook once or twice an hour – less so if I was busy, more so if I was bored. If I saw a single notification appear on my phone, I looked at it, then I scrolled through all the latest posts… I read the comments, I checked the trending topics, I watched the videos, and I convinced myself that I was in control because I’d curated my “following” list carefully, and dialed in all my privacy settings to exact specifications, and told Facebook which ads I didn’t want to see anymore.

But I wasn’t in control. Facebook controlled me, because I HAD to check it. It was what I did first any time boredom brought my phone out of my pocket for even a minute or two. It was what I checked right before going to bed, which everybody tells you NOT to do. And it was all making me weirdly unhappy. My irritability was spiking. Scrolling through my news feed became a game of visually blocking out half the content before I had a chance to comprehend, and subsequently become annoyed by, some of the things my friends were posting. I ignored any image of text, any mention of “guns”, or “Hillary”, or “Trump”, or “Privilege”… the list goes on. Curate your friends list as much as you want, there’s no avoiding everything you don’t want to see. Multiple small daily irritations have a cumulative effect, it turns out.

My first day away, it was weird. I kept feeling like something was missing, like I’d forgotten my phone, even though it was right there in my hand. I didn’t know how to keep my mind busy during those crucial breaks from constant stimulation. I spent a lot of time swiping back and forth on my home screen aimlessly. But then I remembered there are games on my phone! And there are websites on the internet I had forgotten I used to enjoy! There’s other stimuli out there that doesn’t involve a single person’s opinion! By day two, I wasn’t the least bit tempted to log back in.

Almost immediately, I noticed myself becoming less irritable. My mood was more stable. I started being able to look at the problems of the world, including the recent YUGE problem, with more pragmatism and clarity. I even stopped checking my phone right before bed, choosing to read a book instead, and cut down on constant phone-checking in general.

So why come back at all?

Well, I considered it. But my overall opinion about Facebook and social media in general hasn’t changed: It’s a tool, and its positive or negative impact on your life relies entirely on how you use it. Facebook lets me stay up to date with what’s going on in my friends’ lives, all at once. It helps me organize events, and remember birthdays. Like the smartphone itself on which I used to access Facebook, its usefulness outweighs the negative impacts on my life. But now, I only check it once or twice a day, instead of once or twice an hour. I haven’t logged back in on my phone, and possibly never will. I’m kickin’ it 2008 style – browser access only. And instead of constantly trying to chase down my news feed and stay up to date on every post, I’m only using it for purposeful utility: staying in touch, opening communication, planning events, etc. I’m using the tool, not letting it use me.

If it seems ridiculous to write an entire post about the life-changing effects of not getting on Facebook for a week and a half – good. You’re probably using it right. But for all the rest of you – you know who you are – if you’ve ever felt that Facebook (or Twitter, or any other such thing) was becoming a burden, take a break. Remember what things were like before it existed. It might do you some good.

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