Back in 2005, I remember walking into the common room at university and being accosted by two girls I knew who told me that I just had to join this new website.
It was called Facebook.
While I respected their opinion – they had, after all, got everyone into a new gameshow called Deal or No Deal and that was a must-watch back then – I wasn’t that excited about Facebook. That in itself was interesting because I’d been a blogger for several years and an active user of other social networks and community sites (Neopets, Myspace, even Friends Reunited). I think until that point I’d segregated people into ‘online people’ and ‘offline people’, and there still wasn’t a massive crossover. Why would I talk to my friends online when I saw them offline every day?
It wasn’t until 2006 that I finally joined Facebook (thank you, peer pressure). I slowly, unwittingly, got more and more addicted. In my first job after finishing uni, I moved down south and was incredibly lonely (see How to make friends as an adult). Facebook was my replacement social life for many evenings spent on my own, and increasingly so during the day. I got my wrist slapped repeatedly at work…but I was two hundred miles away from all my friends and family.
In 2009 I moved back for a job that was pretty tedious, and then suddenly, one day, I saw an ad for a job that sounded absolutely perfect for me: SEO and Social Media Executive. In four years I went from being ‘meh’ about Facebook to getting paid to spend time on Facebook. This probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact that my co-workers used it as their primary method of communication. And if the company didn’t operate on 24/7 shifts. And if customers had ever let me sleep. The lines between work and play got very blurred very quickly. Despite using lists, my feed and notifications were a mess. I didn’t know what was work and what wasn’t anymore.
From 2012 my addiction was pretty much out of control. I’d raise my eyebrows at friends who weren’t on it, inwardly sighing that I’d have to text them or call them or use something else to ask them about plans. I’d scorn people who deactivated their account, saying, ‘They’ll be back soon’. I didn’t even enjoy it anymore; it was just something I did, like eating or showering.
And I mean did. They say that people from the US can spend, on average, about 45 minutes a day on Facebook. I was lucky if I was off it for two consecutive hours. Working in an extremely fast-growing company that was based on 24/7 shifts, there was always someone awake. Someone who’d gone out for the night and was drunkenly messaging me. Someone who wanted to share an article with me. Someone who wanted some advice from me. Someone who wanted to talk to me about a work problem. Someone who wanted to tell me the latest gossip.
By 2015, the company had about 200 people in the office I worked in, and thousands more worldwide due to a buyout. When I had started there had been about 30. It was completely and utterly overwhelming.
My phone became glued to me; even my cats saw it as an extension of my hand. I’d wake myself up in the night to check my phone, and nine times out of ten I’d have at least one message. I got very twitchy going to the cinema because I couldn’t sit through a whole film without my phone. I loved chatting to my friends. I would sometimes fall asleep talking to them. But the work side was getting out of control too. I can’t even count the number of dinner parties I disappeared on or the nights out that ended with a group of us going back into the office or the weekends I spent working for free. I was a member of a ton of groups. I spent a lot of time engrossed in how different types of people used Facebook in different ways. I spent hours on groups getting tips and giving advice on all kinds of things, reading news articles, arguing with strangers. As a natural blogger, I loved documenting my life on the social network. All the usual Facebook stuff, just a lot of it.
I knew I had a problem. But I also knew that I didn’t want to do anything about it. It wasn’t harming my health like smoking or alcohol would (I ignored the fact that it wasn’t making me happy and I was massively sleep-deprived). It didn’t cost me money..in fact, it even made me it. It was something everyone else did, that everyone else also complained about. I couldn’t deactivate my account – I needed it for work. I had to write reports, reply to customers, post updates, and Facebook does an extremely good job of keeping you hooked anyway – deactivating my account would have meant all the custom apps the developers had made would break.
By the start of 2015, I was extremely bored and extremely overwhelmed. I was tired of putting money in Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets and neglecting my own blog and failing to have a happy, productive online life. Then I moved jobs again. My role became a lot more varied, and there was far less focus on Facebook. By this point I was getting sick of my addiction. A much smaller company meant the opportunity to cut back. I decided I would work my regular working day and not ridiculous hours that made me depressed. I decided I wouldn’t go on Facebook during the day – going from tens of thousands of customers to a handful (who prefer Twitter anyway) meant I didn’t need to. I found it surprisingly easy. I didn’t even want to go on Facebook at lunchtime more than a couple of times. I was talkng to people less. I had more time for myself. I loved it.
Three weeks ago, I got Joe to change my account password and then log me into Messenger but not the main site (I still talk to some people very regularly, but those are mostly people I don’t see/pass by in real life). I use Buffer to schedule my updates for work, and customers prefer to engage with us on Twitter anyway. I didn’t give myself a length of time I should try to quit for. This is important because a) I didn’t want to feel like I’d failed b) I wasn’t sure if something would come up that I needed to be on Facebook for – and it did (work reports) and c) I was concerned that if I said ‘I won’t use Facebook for a week’ or something, I would go back straight after that because I’d told myself I could.
This is what happened.
I cut out a lot of unnecessary noise
The sheer amount of information I was processing was ridiculous. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was heavily contributing towards my sense of feeling overwhelmed and unhappy. Cutting out a lot of rubbish that I didn’t need to know or think about instantly made me relax.
I’m a lot more aware of my surroundings
I actually pay attention to the little things and what I’m doing right now in real life rather than what’s on the screen in front of me. I enjoy journeying to places more instead of using my phone to occupy my mind until I get there. I’ve taken some good photos of things I would have totally missed before, so it’s helping my photography too. I appreciate the little things more.
My brain rests occasionally
I will always be an overthinker, and I find it extremely difficult to clear my mind at the best of times, but now I have moments to daydream and time to think about important stuff rather than random crap that other people are choosing to put in front of me.
News becomes happier
One of the reasons I wanted to take a step back from Facebook is the increasing amount of racism. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable, angry and upset in relatively equal measures. Now I can read a (fairly) neutral article and form my own opinions on it rather than reading the crazy/stupid stuff people post on Facebook threads.
I can let things go
If I’m reading an article, I can get to the end and stop. I don’t need to get into a big debate or read hundreds of comments or keep going back to something that actually doesn’t matter. I don’t need to change my mind or refine my views based of tons of comments – I can just read something for what it is or form my own opinion rather than inadvertent crowdsourcing.
I give my eyes more screen-free time
Slightly. But it’s an important break all the same. I think in the summer I’ll be spending a lot more time outside too, which will help with that.
My phone battery is a lot better
As it turns out, Facebook was eating a lot of that. By bedtime it’s still about about 30-40%, versus totally dead by about 7pm.
I have more time to do stuff
Like blogging. And sleeping. And all my interests. I spend a bit more time on Twitter now, but still far less than most people.
I sleep better and longer
Facebook is no longer than last thing I look at at night or the first thing I check in the morning. I don’t use my phone at all then beyond checking the time or turning off my alarm.
I’m happy to leave my phone
It’s almost always out of my sight now, and I’m fine with that. If I don’t have big plans, I’m even happy to leave it at home altogether.
People haven’t really noticed I’m not there
They’ll occasionally reference posts they’ve made as if they expected me to see them, but since I’m still using Messenger and other networks my disappearance is probably not as noticeable as it would be if I had quit all kinds of social media altogether.
I dread logging in
When it came to logging into Facebook to do a monthly report for work, I absolutely hated the thought. I hated asking Joe for my password. I did the report and logged back out, conscious of the little red number (make that huge red number) of notifications but ignoring it. I know the password now but I haven’t logged back in on either my phone or laptop.
The most surprising thing of all is that I don’t miss Facebook…in fact, I’m wary of using it at all now. I’m thinking I’ll probably post a few photos when I go on holiday soon and also thank people for birthday messages, but that will be basically it. I won’t be sitting there checking my feed, commenting in groups, talking to friends, getting addicted again.
I’m still totally obsessed with technology. I still use my phone and laptop and camera and everything else all the time. I’m okay with that. They’re (generally) more productive uses of time and they make me happy rather than anxious and stressed out. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to say I’ll quit Facebook permanently; I just want it to take a very minor backseat role in my life.
Do you have any habits you’re giving up? Are you a fan of Facebook?