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De-addicting

I’m on a process to break away from the distractions of social media, primarily Facebook, and spend the time to pursue other interests. This is an interesting experiment, and it has required significant dedication and effort on my part. At the end, though, I’m not certain if I’ll be successful.

I realised that I had a problem when Facebook became the most visited sites in my browser. I should have been working, not scrolling through Facebook like a, well, you know what Jerry Seinfeld has to say. I further noticed that I would tend to log on to Facebook every time I was stuck at work, so that my capacity to tackle problems was reduced to only those that involved cracking a walnut shell. Anything more complex, and I would procrastinate and end up on Facebook.

What I needed was a swift kick in the arse to get off Facebook and into the real world. It came through the means of my latest project which required all my attention. At this time, I logged out of Facebook from my work computer and focussed entirely on my work. The feeling was amazing, as I finally got stuff done. Then I noticed that the very sneaky bastards at Facebook end up sending emails targeted at triggering my fear of missing out (FoMO). These include the following patterns

  1. X posted something new
  2. Y responded to something X did
  3. X commented on his/her own post

The emails become more desperate in their volume as time goes along without someone logging in to Facebook. The peak I saw was three emails a day, all about people Facebook thought I cared about or stalked. Imagine if Facebook were a person!

I responsibly trashed these emails, and took this as a challenge to not access Facebook at all. Eventually, I realised that I couldn’t just shut myself out, so decided upon a once-a-week access policy. I decided that I would access Facebook every weekend, then nothing for the week, and so forth.

As you can probably guess, this experiment also failed. It failed because my friends have almost unanimously decided to use Facebook to coordinate events and activities. In this case, my fear of missing out isn’t unjustified, not accessing Facebook resulted in me missing out on invitations and appearing anti-social. The next week, I had to organise an event of my own, and I used Facebook to do it. During this time, I had to regularly send and receive messages, all on Facebook, and I broke my resolution to only access Facebook every weekend.

Obviously, the biggest setback to my grand plans to get off Facebook is that all my friends are there, and actively use it to converse. This includes friends I meet in real life as well, not just those far away. I could share an office with one of them for a week, and they wouldn’t tell me half the things I would know about them or what they’re thinking from Facebook. This leads me to wonder, how did we ever become this way? When I was a child, all we ever had was a landline. We did not even have cable TV because we lived on the outskirts of the city for a long period. Computers and internet were out of the question. When we finally got a computer, we had to connect through a very slow and very expensive dial-up connection that shared the same phone line. Today, our phones have changed, and travel with us wherever we go. They have all these apps that seem to constantly require our interactions with them. We have this need to be loved, to be constantly appreciated by others, and hitting a simple like button is easy enough for our friends. The analysis is clear, Facebook and other social media is not too different from cocaine or heroin – just as a drug user continues his habit even to his own destruction, we too seek the endorphins released by our body through the trap of interacting with others on social media.

Facebook seems to be like a parasite that seeks to suck out all the information from me while temporarily pumping me full of chemicals that make me feel better. At the same time, I’m struggling with tasks that once felt easy. I used to write much better, and with more ease than I do right now. This post has seemed arduous, winded, and I’m not happy with the outcome. It seems to me that the only real fix is not with a weekend-only Facebook policy, but to invest my efforts in something meaningful to the point that I no longer care about Facebook, or the lives of a thousand odd people who have connected with me there. I had this brief moment of clarity, and it lasted me for a month when I had laser-sharp focus on my research and nothing else. Let’s see if I can keep that up for the year to come.

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