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:
- I should not return to Facebook.
- 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?