A year without Facebook – A social experiment

Aim: Spend a year without using Facebook (in my personal capacity).

Hypothesis: I will successfully complete the year and reach personal enlightenment and recover from the need to broadcast my life on social media.


Find a loophole to keep using Facebook, thus remaining a narcissist by the end of the trial.

Apparatus: The internet.

Method: Use the internet, but not Facebook. This means no posting updates, pictures or videos. No viewing or sharing posts and liking or commenting on posts from my personal account. In fact, deactivate my account and delete the app on my smartphone.

Results: I found a loophole.

Discussion of findings: My reason for abstaining from Facebook for a year was primarily to save data costs. I was also social media fatigued (I think). I was a slave to my smartphone. I would constantly glance down to see new updates on my timeline, only to find that the last person to send out an update was me.

That’s right, I was the most exciting person on my timeline. I knew that couldn’t be true, because my life isn’t that eventful. And that’s when I realized I was a cooler person online than in real life.

I embarked on a personal intervention and deactivated my account, without any warning. There was no: “This is my last status update for a long time,” to inform friends. There was no clean-up operation to “unlike” pages, exit groups or “un-share” posts. I imagine this must be what it feels like to join a witness protection programme.

This was not my first attempt at quitting Facebook. I’ve done it twice before. The last time I deactivated my account, I spent a solid six months Facebook-free. The purge was good… Until I caved.

I felt like my behavior was worse when I came back. It happened incrementally. At first I would share posts instead of constructing my own updates. That would happen once every few days. Eventually I was posting once a day.

The egotistical monster got a hold on me again, there I was, constantly viewing screens for updates. These updates weren’t necessarily posts by others, but rather, how many new notifications I received. How many people liked my post? Who commented? Who isn’t, and why not? Not looking at my timeline for an hour was an achievement.

My updates weren’t about me… but they were. Sure, it wasn’t always about the food I was eating, the places I was going to or who I was with. These were carefully constructed thoughts to reflect my wit. These “clever” observations of the world were just disguised self-glorification.

You might think that I’m being dramatic. But I would save unpublished statuses on my notepad which I had scheduled to post at a later stage. (This is the part in group therapy where I admit that I have a problem).

I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

Not getting Facebook likes made me feel unloved. My train of thought would diverge into two extremes. If my post didn’t get likes, then the post wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, which means my sense of humour must be broken. Or, there was nothing wrong with me, but there was something wrong with everyone else. They’re all stupid and I need new friends.

So not having Facebook, was refreshing. During the first week I found myself glancing at my smartphone, without having anything to look at besides my wallpaper. That’s when I realized I was too dependent on it. I wasn’t living in reality, I was living online. I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

My fears of replacing Facebook with another form of social media came true. I replaced it with Twitter. But fortunately, with Twitter no one can feed into your vanity, unless you have plenty followers who engage with you. Also, you’re competing with bigger names on Twitter. So I gave up on Twitter and latched onto Instagram. (I know, so much for curbing my data spending).

Once again, I was feeding off likes which served as an assessment of my photography skills. It wasn’t long before I discovered the power of captions. They were another way to share my thoughts. The caption became my status update, and the picture was a bonus. Now people could see what I was seeing. And I had a cool filter to make my feat look even cooler than it really was. (I need to find another adjective for “cooler”).

There was also WhatsApp. I found myself texting friends during the day. I would share BuzzFeed posts, screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts via WhatsApp and email. But people didn’t respond too well to that, I texted them more often than they texted me. Again, I went down that spiral of feeling unloved.

Then there’s work, the very undoing of my social experiment. I manage the social media accounts for work. So I hadn’t distanced myself from Facebook as far as I would’ve liked. In defence of maintaining whatever shred of integrity is left in this flawed experiment, posting for a company is different to posting from your personal account.

Companies use their social media strategically, to build networks and reach specific audiences. It’s more purposeful than running your own account where you just keep up with news about your buddies. And there was a lot of things I missed out on; engagement announcements, job promotions, graduations and birthdays. (A heck of a lot of birthdays). That’s when I noticed my friends were also dependent on Facebook to stay social.

There were a few useful things I learnt. When used correctly, social media can help build your brand, especially if you’re a young professional who’s trying to network and promote a purposeful message. However, my message was a loud clanging noise that screamed out “ME!”

I hate that I used Facebook as an outlet to promote a false reality of life. Real life is nothing like Facebook. We are not meant to exist on digital platforms.

To cure myself of boredom, I found a few “old school” activities to keep busy. I started reading more, paperback too. I also started listening to podcasts. (I’d recommend that – you can learn so much about the world and people). I also developed new hobbies like running. Not documenting the parts of the world I was discovering was refreshing. It granted me some degree of anonymity.

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet.

I made more effort with my friendships. Instead of keeping in touch online, I would visit my friends more. Physically hanging out with people is more constructive than just following posts. That’s where the real relationship building happens. I even started phoning my friends again. Hearing their voices and not just reading their texts was pretty awesome. (That fellow Alexander Graham Bell was really onto something).

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet. They became awesome stories to share with people, using words from my mouth! Just sitting and waiting, with nothing to occupy my hands or my mind was so freeing.

On the flipside of this free time I had to myself, I noticed how others were so glued to their phones. People don’t just sit around and enjoy each other’s company anymore. Their heads are bowed, eyes staring squarely at screens. They’re social with people online, when there are people right in front of them. It made me think of all the awesome people I never met because I was so closed off to the real world.

Conclusion: The real challenge begins. Do I return to Facebook? Frankly speaking, if I had to reactivate my Facebook account, then I suspect it would be similar to an ex-junkie relapsing into addiction.

I know I shouldn’t go back, for the sake of my mental health. Seriously, being on a site that’s all about me will end up killing my brain cells prematurely. Self-worship will be my undoing.

It would be ideal if I could quit all social media permanently.

But I can’t. Firstly, for professional reasons, as journalists we use Twitter as a tool to source and broadcast stories. Instagram is also hopping onto that wagon.

Secondly, I will never be truly free of social media. Instant messaging is social media, and to an extant email is too. I use these mediums to communicate and keep in touch with people. So I’ll be lying if I said I quit social media, because I’d still be using it in some way, maybe not as explicitly as using Facebook.

There are two things of which I am certain:

  1. I should not return to Facebook.
  2. I am still the self- loving person I was before I quit Facebook.

There is one thing of which I am uncertain. And that is whether I will be successful in avoiding Facebook for the rest of my life.

Every now and then I read a post online about the dangers of social media, with fraud and identity theft rising. Also, watching people destroy their careers on social media through their thoughtless posts is also keeping me off Facebook. But I don’t know if these reasons are sustainable.

There is a strong possibility that I will cave, again. I almost gave in for the last two weeks of this challenge.

Was my social experiment a success? In many ways it was conflicted. I found loopholes but there were some wins.

For one, it feels great to have some part of my life remain a mystery. Whenever I meet new people, they can’t find my Facebook profile online, so they can’t suss me out from my updates or pictures. I have enjoyed this short-term anonymity, but it isn’t a long term option for me.

I could join Facebook again and be consumed by my self-love. Or I can continue using other forms of social media, taking a more disciplined approach for professional purposes.

Leaving one question … Is it too late to get a pseudonym?


Camera Roll: finweek Money Matters

A collection of clips, scripted for the finweek: Money Matters show which airs on CNBC Africa (DStv channel 410).

Construction – Finding value in debris

Is it time to invest offshore?

Is the jump in Harmony’s share price sustainable?

Digital advertising in Africa

A new era for financial services?

Surviving the global market storm

Can Vodacom handle the heat?

Supercars for the super-rich

Outlook for Coronation Fund Managers

Where to invest year-end savings

Cape Town’s transition into a tourist hotspot

Telematics a win-win for insurers and drivers

R26bn lost by state-owned enterprises

Outlook for Mondi

The minimum wage debate

Challenges facing SA’s youth

Stikeez: Nuisance or genius

Cash-proofing investment portfolios

No room for error in e-commerce

Outlook for AECI

SUVs becoming SA’s favorite

WooCommerce and Resilient Property outlook

The state of SA’s economy

The future of retail loyalty and the PPC outlook

Tips from a security expert

Frank Abagnale’s life as a conman and fraudster was depicted in the film Catch Me If You Can, but he has spent close to 40 years, since the age of 26, working for the FBI as a consultant to prevent fraudulent crimes. Crimes committed today are 5000 times easier to do than they were 50 years ago.

Online fraud, identity theft and cybercrime are rising and prevalent in 79% of surveyed organisations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Cybercrime costs the global economy more than $400bn (R5.1tr).

TOP SECURITY: Frank Abagnale has spent 40 years working with the FBI to prevent fraudulent crimes. Photo: Provided

TOP SECURITY: Frank Abagnale has spent 40 years working with the FBI to prevent fraudulent crimes. Photo: Provided

These criminals are not looking for a challenge, but rather an opportunity to attack the weakest link.  This is according to International expert on fraud, identity theft and securities, Frank Abagnale, who spoke at the Experian Insight Conference held on 4 August at the Maslow Hotel. Over the years he has seen crime evolve as cyber technology was introduced.

Every security breach in companies and government offices Abagnale has worked on in the past 20 years occurred because someone did not do what they were supposed to, he says. “I have not found the master hacker. There is no master hacker.” Human error by employees opens doors for hackers. For this reason, Abagnale stresses the importance of education to fight crime.

I have not found the master hacker. There is no master hacker.

Companies should educate their employees on the importance of their jobs and protecting the information entrusted to them. “They are smart enough to do something about it, but they need to know.” Abagnale works with Experian to develop solutions and educate corporate customers and employees about fraud prevention. Education allows people to be proactive, staying ahead of fraudsters.

One of the solutions developed by Abagnale and Experian is the 41st parameter technology. This is a device authentication technology for customers transacting online or electronically. Over 100 parameters are used during the verification process, this is beyond the 40 parameters initially developed to identify individuals 20 years ago. It provides the intelligence to identify and validate any device interacting online whether it is a laptop, tablet or mobile device. The technology also detects malware that may intercept transactions.

As an emerging market, South Africa is one of the most targeted economies in the world for internet fraud. Internet penetration is increasing, but consumer education on the risks of transacting online is not as rapid. Fraudsters recognise and take a line of least resistance, says Michelle Beetar, Managing Director at Experian South Africa. Identity theft costs the South Africa almost R1bn a year, reported by the South African Fraud Prevention Association (SAFPS). Additionally research indicates that three in ten respondents surveyed in 2014 had been a victim of card fraud.

Abagnale and Beetar advise on ways consumers can protect their information:

1. Be discerning about the information shared on social media

Individuals should be wiser about the information they share. Giving away your date of birth and the location of your birth on Facebook gives the fraudster 98% of the capability to steal your identity. Fraudsters can read the information and resell it or misuse it.

Individuals should take care not to use “passport-style” profile pictures of themselves as facial recognition technology makes it easy for fraudsters to find you online. Rather pose for a picture with friends, or in a sport activity, or have the picture taken at an angle.

2. Keep a shredder

It is useful to have a shredder to discard phone bills, credit card and bank statements or any documents with personal details. Additionally, never save passwords on electronic devices.

3. Use a credit monitoring service

Having personally used one since the 90s, Abagnale uses the service to make sure no one else has used his name to make purchases. Subscribing to a credit monitoring service allows you to check your data as often as you want, and if you identify a breach you can report it to authorities.  South Africans can view their credit reports for free, once a year. Individuals can also make use of an “alert” service, at a nominal fee, which will inform them via sms or email if something on their credit record has changed. You will immediately be aware if someone has tried to open an account in your name, or if someone is transacting in your name.

4. Do not write cheques

As often as you can, avoid writing cheques as they have personal details like your name, address, phone number and bank details. If a shop clerk has your identity number, it puts you at risk of identity theft

5. Protect your PC

Make sure your laptop or personal computer is equipped with firewalls and is protected with the most updated spyware or malware security. Security software comes at a nominal cost, but this is worth it relative to the cost of having your information stolen. Never click on hyperlinks, and always type out your bank or financial institution’s full web address or email.

Cybercrimes may be financial now, but the danger is that in the next five or 10 years, these crimes will evolve to terrorism and murders, says Abagnale. Currently, cybercriminals use stolen money to commit worse crimes like human trafficking, drug trafficking and child pornography. Technology breeds crime, he says. But technology can also be used to prevent crimes. “It is just a matter of doing the right thing and doing it ahead of time.”

This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

2025: The changing world of work

The world is on the brink of an historical era shift similar to the Renaissance, Reformation and Industrial Revolution, says futurist Graeme Codrington. He describes this change as a “deep structural shift” where new technology, economic and political realities and societal structures emerge.

Codrington, founding director of strategic insights firm TomorrowToday, suggests four ways in which this change impacts the world of work by 2025:

1. Automation

Half of the jobs that exist today (including doctors, actuaries and accountants) will be redundant as automation takes over. In addition to robots, algorithms which integrate hardware and software systems, will make decisions.  “It happened to the farmers 100 years ago; it happened to the factories 50 years ago. Now the machines are coming for your job,” says Codrington.

2. Freelance

About 25% of the people working in offices will be freelancers. “We will have the ‘on-demand economy’,” says Codrington. Employers will only get the skills they need, when they need them. Currently, websites like Elance, TaskRabbit and Freelancer allow freelancers to advertise their skills.

“It’s kind of like an e-Bay for skills,” he says. The employer specifies the job required online, people present bids for the job and the employer gets to pick the cheapest person. Jobs are now being done at a “digital distance”.

3. Smart devices

These are the most powerful handheld devices, a supercomputer, less than an arm’s length away from you at all times. Codrington says that these are well priced for everyone, not just the rich. The divide between the rich and the poor will no longer exist as everyone can enter the digital age without restriction. “If we can give people free Wi-Fi, free cloud storage and a R500 smartphone, everybody gets to play.”

4. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

The world’s best universities will be putting their best courses, online for free. Platforms like Coursera are already offering a number of free courses from universities including Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt and Peking University.

Educating children for the future

Michelle Lissoos, managing director at Think Ahead solutions, says that children currently entering the school system will be walking into the world of work described by Codrington – their jobs don’t exist yet. “Children won’t be getting jobs from the Fortune 500 companies but rather in small micro-enterprises,” says Nikki Bush, a parenting expert.

Schools have to prepare students for this “non-existent” workplace. However, despite there being change in industries such as banking, health and transport, classrooms haven’t changed, says Lissoos. Schools have to redefine 21st century literacy which involves leadership, digital literacy, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, global citizenship, team-working and problem solving with cognitive skills. Students should learn how to curate and critically evaluate information. Coding is being introduced into curriculums because it teaches problem solving, critical analysis, collaboration and team work, says Lissoos.

Many schools make the mistake of introducing technology that does not make real change. ”There is a lot of substitution but no redefinition,” says Lissoos.  For example, she says, black boards are simply replaced with white boards; it does not change how students are taught. Technology should be accompanied by project-based and challenge- based learning. Additionally, technology integration should be part of teacher training. Lissoos explains that there are big rollouts of technology. Tablets are handed out and connectivity is improved at schools but teachers are not trained to work with it, she adds.

Things have changed significantly, says Bush, and both children and businesses should be prepared for an “uncertain reality”. She explains that corporates should work together with schools in terms of sharing resources and informing schools of their needs and skills shortages.

This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

Hotels 2020: The guests of tomorrow

HOSPITABLE: Gillian Saunders, global leader of hospitality and tourism at Grant Thornton. Photo: Provided

HOSPITABLE: Gillian Saunders, global leader of hospitality and tourism at Grant Thornton. Photo: Provided

After decades of avoiding disruptive change, the hotel industry may be totally transformed by technology. This unprecedented change will impact the way hotels attract businesses and guests of tomorrow says Gillian Saunders, global leader of hospitality and tourism at Grant Thornton.

Millennials are predicted to overtake baby boomers as the main target market of hotels by 2017. Hotels need to make changes in four areas:

Mass personalisation

Technology is driving this trend through increased use of mobile and digital platforms by consumers, explains Saunders. Guests are now empowered to make direct requests to hotels, through apps and other cyber touch-points. About 46% of millennials surveyed indicated that digitally enabled check-in/out services influence their decision to return in the future.

By incorporating data analytics to track guests’ information from digital platforms (travel patterns, credit cards and mobile phones), hotels can better understand guests and offer personalised services throughout the entire customer journey. There are cyber security risks and hotels need to set up infrastructure to protect information, says Saunders.

Hotels can also customise their services to foreign markets. The Conrad group of hotels and resorts customises languages on television channels and menus for their mandarin-speaking guests. “They’re already customising the cultural difference using mobile technology,” says Saunders.

Digital readiness

The banking, financial services and transport sectors have already adapted to technology, but the hotel industry has arrived late to the digitalisation era. Hotels need to prioritise investment in digitalisation, technology and talent.

Besides incorporating technological infrastructure like sensors and other IT investments, hoteliers should recruit talent that is more digitally ready and trained to use technology, says Saunders. Employees must learn how to interact with apps and cyber platforms, as they do face-to-face with guests.

People who are really clever in the sharing economy will develop massive businesses without investment in assets.

Finding talent is difficult and Saunders suggests hotels partner with technology firms for help. Hotel schools should start introducing digital training as a solution to the widening digital gap. Unfortunately it is possible that some jobs may become redundant as technology takes prominence, says Saunders.

Hotels also need to go beyond social media reach. The Marriott and Hilton hotel groups for example have developed apps and other digitalisation programmes, says Saunders.

Brand relevance

Hotels need to differentiate themselves, which is challenging as all hotels offer a “lifestyle brand” says Saunders. Guests often use convenience and price aggregators like the TripAdvisor app to find suitable hotels instead of visiting hotel websites. “Millenials trust those spaces, not brands,” says Saunders.

Hotels can rely on technology to differentiate the guest’s experience. The mood of a room can be changed for the guest’s specific needs using digitally enhanced lighting and smells.

New business models

Disruptive technology is forcing business models to change. This is seen with the Airbnb business model which relies heavily on the sharing economy. Airbnb offers accommodation with hosts across the world using online bookings. Airbnb’s website visits have grown by 343% over two years. “Millennials trust this sharing economy. People who are really clever in the sharing economy will develop massive businesses without investment in assets,” says Saunders.

To attract guests, multi-pricing and destination integrated experiences for guests who do not want a “tourist” experience but rather a true, local cultural experience is also popular. Hotels are being erected in areas of urban regeneration in cities to give guests a local experience. These “off-beat” hotels probably appeal more to millennials, explains Saunders.

This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

INFOGRAPHIC: 10 years of Vuvuzela

By Roxanne Joseph and Lameez Omarjee

This year marks 10 years since Wits Vuvuzela was first published. The award-winning community newspaper first launched its website in 2005 and since then, has gone on to publish its content on other forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and  YouTube.

This infographic was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela