Ten days ago I decided to see what life would be like without Facebook. I’d been thinking about trying it for a while but hadn’t got round to taking the plunge. I think I’d describe myself as a regular-to-frequent status-updater, averaging about five a week, but as a tool for procrastination I was finding it second-to-none. If I had a bit of free time I’d often check out the notifications (or more likely head to Twitter, about which more later). Would I describe that as ‘addicted’? Not really. It wasn’t so much that I missed it when I wasn’t doing it, but more that it was an easy choice when there was nothing pressing to get on with.
But whatever my devotion to Facebook I’ve generally been more of a tweeter. Over the last five or six years I’ve written over 12000 tweets (that seems like an awful lot now I’m writing it down; I guess it comes down to maybe eight a day. Some tweet more; some less). Anyway, it’s an even more ‘addictive’ procrastination, since you can almost justify it as some kind of news or inspiration feed, and it’s updated all the time, particularly if, like me, you follow a lot of people in the UK and the US.
With both I would experience a mild feeling that if I didn’t check in regularly I might be missing out on a really interesting or helpful post/tweet. This manifested itself most strongly in the morning, when my first act would be to check emails, Facebook and Twitter, a process that would take up to half an hour. I could justify this (the Twitter portion, at least) as some version of the morning paper, where I would find out what had been happening in the news/sport/etc. while I had been asleep. If I’m being honest, though, much of my feed could be described as ‘pointless’ and/or ‘shite’.
So I’m sure you’re gagging to know what the last ten days has been like. Well, I haven’t missed it one iota. Most days Facebook only enters my consciousness because my wife often checks hers somewhere near me and starts a conversation about someone’s update. But I’d go further than that: I feel as if a cyber-weight has been lifted from my shoulders; as if an odd kind of freedom has cleared some portion of my mind, and I like it very much. I left with the suggestion that my absence would be temporary, but I currently have no desire to return. (Perhaps it was quite telling that two of my good friends are not on Facebook, and I’ve always been kind of jealous and admiring of that.)
So far, so good, then. Serendipitously, I found this fascinating article in Sunday’s Observer. It confirms many of the feelings of which I’d been vaguely cognizant but goes even further explain the very real damage social media can do to our effectiveness and brain functions. My immediate response was to leave Twitter, too. It’s only been a couple of days, and I’m a little disappointed not to have enjoyed a celebratory tweet about Arsenal’s magnificent victory away to Manchester City, but I’ll have my fun on the Guardian match report comments, and if I can get the same beneficial effects as the Facebook cold turkey it’ll be a small price to pay.
(By the way, an unfortunate side effect of this experiment will be an emaciated Friday links post. I get most of them from Twitter and Facebook, so unless you (plural) send me good stuff by email, that post will be going on a crash diet.)
I hope a positive consequence will be more time to devote to the thinking and writing that goes into this blog. The longer format works well for me to be able to explore things in more than 140 characters, and the responses you give are often longer and much more thought provoking. Let’s see…
And I’m interested (as usual) in whether or not you’ve tried the same thing, and if so, what happened.