Facebook has been the chronicle of my life since 2007. I wasn’t young enough (sob!) to have it at uni. I was of the age where we had uni email addresses – our first – that were strings of numbers @uni.ac.uk. I can still remember mine. (A string of seven numbers; I can barely remember a phone number any more.)
Before Facebook, I had a fairly clear delineation between my public life and my private thoughts. I had a diary I wrote in, at first every night, with a padlock, and then as I got older, a journal with multicoloured pages in which I’d record my innermost thoughts and dreams in a way that I assumed was both amusing and poignant.
Who was I writing for? I don’t know. The folly of youth. I never really thought I’d be famous or anything. I didn’t think they’d eventually publish my diaries interspersed by anecdotes of my amazing achievements. (Would it be the Nobel Prize? The Booker? Or maybe the school drama prize? – I did win that one, hilariously.)
I think I was writing for the self I wanted to express. The self I half wanted to be and half already was. I’d write a lot about how I felt rather than what I did – and usually there was some sort of yearning involved. Typical adolescent angst. I don’t think I was special in that way.
The difference with kids nowadays is that everything is more accessible. Everything is more shared. I never would have dreamt of sharing my deepest fears or thoughts or dreams, but nowadays they’re insta-fodder. (Preferably with an artistic photographed background with an inspirational quote over the top of it.)
When I was younger, I felt I was the only one. The only what? The only… Me. The only one who felt that kind of existential angst and confusion and fear I could never be loved. Now, any teenager you can see is baring their heart online, pouting for selfies, telling the world what an amazing time they’re having – and sharing their suffering. With all of this online we are simultaneously together and alone.
Studies have shown that people’s moods are easily affected by what they read online, especially on social networking sites like facebook. Facebook itself did an experiment where people saw positive statuses or negative statuses and it affected how people felt about themselves. It does have an affect on my mood. When I see all the baby announcements, or yet another amazing holiday selfie, sometimes I feel a bit disillusioned with my life.
I’ve always been an early adopter of tech. I was on online forums before my friends even discovered the Internet. (I still don’t quite get people who don’t have social media… I think, how do you know stuff?!) I’ve been top poster. I’ve been online popular. And I’ve been burned (flamed!) by people who probably wouldn’t say it to my face. I know the pitfalls. I know that not everyone (anyone?) online is who they say they are. And yet… I don’t hate it.
On balance, I love it. I love the idea that I can get online on my mobile in almost every situation. That feels magical to me. I remember the days of dial up, when you had to wait to see if your extension cable telephone cord would let you online after a few tries (when your housemate was using the telephone!). I love the immediacy of needing to find something out, of wanting to find out a fact and googling it, or wanting to get in touch with an old friend and looking them up on Facebook, of finding anyone’s online footprint. Knowledge is power – and it’s at our fingertips (as long as we’re prepared to trawl through the other rubbish out there). We can find out anything, and anyone.
Because everyone has Facebook. (I know; they don’t. But most do.) And everyone has an extremely photogenic life. I mean, if you look on Facebook you’ll see that almost everyone you know is loved up, successful at work, eats healthy, goes for runs and foreign holidays and has exactly two photogenic and well behaved children.
Or that’s how it seems, anyway. My “real life” friends and I have a bit of an offline laugh about it. It’s funny, especially the real self-promoters. To be fair, I’ve probably fallen into that bucket before. (Wasn’t my wedding the most photogenic out there? Isn’t everyone’s?) It’s a legacy of being unpopular (or so I thought) at school… The desire to be seen as successful, and happy, and it somehow seemed easier to be my best self online. It still does.
I’ve loved Facebook. I had a quick look at my stats, and I spend over half the time on my phone using the Facebook app. My first thought in the morning is “What’s going on?” It’s how I spend my downtime. I connect with friends, I spout a load of rubbish on discussion forums and I post pictures of food and Dog.
And what is it all for, really?
Last week, I felt pretty bad. Anyone who reads my blog would have noticed this! It was my due date for PB, the baby I miscarried last year. Also, everyone on Facebook appears to be pregnant or having babies. And to top it all off, there was a wonderful (*sarcasm) meme sweeping Facebook about motherhood – posting 3-5 pictures of how wonderful motherhood is, depending on just how smug your fertile friends are. (Way to make you feel barren.) It was kind of too much for me last week.
So last week I went cold turkey. Well, not exactly cold turkey; more like room temperature turkey. I had already switched off notifications several months ago, probably at least a year ago, to stop myself from feeling obliged to look at it every time I saw a red dot. (This did nothing to stop me. I still checked it all the time.) I unfollowed and “acquaintanced” a few people (so they wouldn’t show up on my news feed / I wouldn’t post to theirs). Then I thought “What the heck? I might as well log off for a bit.”
I still had messages on. (Because you never know what you might miss on that, and my, like, real friends message me on there!) And I logged on briefly to check notifications for a group I manage (in case anyone wanted to join- it would be mean not to approve them just because I was “on a break”). I didn’t read the other notifications. I posted once on a page I manage. But just stopped engaging with my personal profile.
For the first few days I felt my finger hover over the Facebook app on my home screen, as if it had a life of its own. I moved the app to several screens back so I wouldn’t automatically touch it – “just to see what’s going on”. You know what? Nothing massive happened. Life goes on. I read more without having Facebook. I thought more on the tube. I listened to music. It wasn’t too bad.
What was I doing it for?
I don’t know – a bit of sanity. I felt so oddly grief-stricken last week (not odd in the way that I shouldn’t grieve, but odd in the way I thought I was past grieving). I felt like I needed to do something to protect myself. (The mummy posts really didn’t help. But it’s not their fault they’re fertile and I’m not. I just needed a break from feeling sangry.) I know my friends are on Facebook but I also know they’re off Facebook, too. One of my friends emailed me to see if I’d survived the christening. Another Whatsapped me for a chat. Others didn’t because… I didn’t really tell people it was our due date. That’s okay. I don’t feel like everyone needs to know. (The thing about grief is, you want everyone to know your pain sometimes, and others, you just want people to be nice without them knowing. A strange mix of psychic empathy that very few possess!)
For me it worked to insulate myself for a while. For someone who spends half their life on social media, it was kind of drastic, but also kind of okay. It’s been a week now and I don’t really miss it any more. That’s not to say I won’t go back. When I first went “on a break”, I thought I’d struggle to make a week. Now it’s a week, I think, I might as well leave it for a bit longer. I have friends who hardly ever go on Facebook, and they’re just fine.
Right now, I have a battle to fight.
Right now, we’re on a break.*