On December 28th, 2009, I pre-empted one of my new year’s resolutions and did something remarkable – I ditched my Facebook account.
For most people, this may seem decidedly unremarkable; it’s just a social networking site and you are free to leave any time, right? Well, no, not really. Not once you are hooked.
I wasn’t just a casual user of the site; I was what could be termed an ‘avid user’. In other words, I was getting horrendously addicted. In just over a year I had amassed nearly 400 ‘friends’. I would think up a status update when I was out and feel the need to write it down so as to not forget.
Then I discovered I could use Facebook on my mobile phone, and my every waking thought only seemed to be real once it appeared on my profile. If it wasn’t on Facebook, it didn’t exist.
I took great pride in knowing that some of my friends would log on mainly to see my status updates, declaring them the funniest things they had read. My ego loves a bit of polishing.
What I didn’t realise was that whilst there may have been a core audience of 30 or so people who appreciated my incessant banter, there were many more who blocked my updates or removed me as a friend because of the sheer volume of comments which had no bearing on their lives whatsoever. So what if Stevie hasn’t been paid this month? In fact, who the hell is he anyway?
My work in general was being impeded by the frequency with which I was returning to Facebook. My daily thoughts were also needlessly occupied by it. The excuse was that, as a journalist and general media type, I needed Facebook. It was a vital tool in my armoury, I insisted.
During a long walk up the hills on what had been another miserable snow covered day, the peace and tranquillity of the landscape allowed my mind to put 2009 behind me and attempt to find ways to make 2010 the successful year that the previous 365 days had failed to deliver. I knew Facebook had to go, for the good of my sanity.
Incidentally, the seed had been sown barely two weeks earlier, when a friend accosted me at my part time job (wine shop) asking, “Shouldn’t you be at home updating your Facebook status?”.
Dear Lord, had it really come to this? I could no longer ignore the fact that more people now found my online omnipresence to be an irritant than a source of entertainment. As soon as I got off that hill, I was hitting the cancel button.
Upon deciding to undertake this deletion process, the Facebook infected part of my brain started to bite back and immediately identified a total of 9 key areas of concern. Here, in no particular order, are the problems I faced:
1)What about all the photos I have on the site, as well as great photos of me taken by other people?
2) Will my friends think I have removed them as friends, and how offended will they be?
3) Are there people who I am only in touch with through Facebook and how will I address this?
4) How will I publicise my work if I can’t use the links via the site?
5) Having 400 friends is very useful as a journalist. How will I cope without these contacts?
6)Work aside, will I miss the social interaction of the site?
7) My work in music journalism relies heavily on the events and invitations through Facebook. Will I suffer without these and thus be cut out of the loop?
8 ) How will I remember people’s birthdays?
9) What was it that led me to get so addicted in the first place, what need did it satisfy and how will this part of me react?
To deal with the facile ones first, people tend to tell you when their birthday is, so simply writing it in my diary will be enough.
The ‘social side’ was replacing a genuine social life, where people used to leave the house to catch up with friends. A return to this antiquated way of life will be most welcome.
As for pictures, well I prefer to live in the present and have never been one for pictures. My mind remembers things for me; often more favourably than the original event, and that is fine by me.
If I am only in touch with someone because of Facebook, chances are they are not very close to me. With my workload this coming year, my social circle is going to have to contract significantly, not expand, so this is an ideal opportunity. I certainly didn’t spend £12k getting a journalism MA so I could expand my social circle.
As for the work related elements, such as the contacts, the events and the usefulness of being able to publicise my links through the site, I will have to wait and see how this pans out. There are ways round these things, but many of them are long-winded and will probably cost me more time whilst being less effective.
Facebook is a very compact and concise site which generally functions very well for people with something to publicise. My reasoning though, is that Facebook never put any money in my pocket. I need to impress employers, not my friends and certainly not the distant misanthropes with whom I had the misfortune to attend school.
In general, and especially work-wise, it is far too early to know how my self-imposed removal will work out. One of the earliest and most alarming outcomes, as well as the most surprising, was the number of close companions who could see no reason for my disappearance other than some catastrophic personal slight.
A fair number of people, including many who really should know better, sent text messages enquiring as to why I had ‘defriended’ them (a delightful new verb). These, of course, are the ones who actually sent a text. I can only speculate as to how many have simply taken umbrage in silence.
The final unanswered question brings me neatly to my conclusion: What was it that caused me to get so addicted in the first place? Well, most likely it is my compulsive need to communicate constantly. My career choice as journalist/radio presenter/podcaster seems to back up this assertion.
In fact, what is this article if not a replacement form of communication from a man whose life is no longer published via Facebook?