I used to joke that being on Facebook is like being in the mob: you can only leave in a body bag.
Signing up about four years ago – long after most of my friends, I have to add – was a rare instance of me bowing to immense peer pressure. A colleague on a slow news day cracked it and made me an account with my “reluctant” help. My first Friend was my editor. My profile picture was Superman fighting a Jedi. Then it was ’60s Batman, and then it was Tina Fey, and then it was some eerily accurate likeness of me made by that Mad Men website (remember that?)
Over the years, Facebook became a lot of things. An indispensable procrastination tool when university and newspaper deadlines loomed. A fun, alternative way of keeping in touch with the cheese to my macaroni, living as we did for some 12 years in cities 400km apart. A means of meeting people working in my field whose services/advice/connections I might need, one day, and solidifying that connection with the click of a button, so that they are forever more a subtle notification noise away.
But it was other things, too. Things I started not to like.
A way for me to say “Yes, we should absolutely keep in touch!” to my large interstate family right before I get on a plane, and not feel guilty when I don’t hold up my end of the deal because I’ve got pictures of their kids eating a muffin in my newsfeed that prove I’m making an effort.
A way for people I haven’t seen in years to make me introspective and depressed, because I don’t have a new investment property/two dogs/gym membership/fiance/baby or because I know all my food pics would be of sandwiches and pies or because I don’t have any photos from my month-long stint in Europe so I must be terrible at managing my money if someone who’s worked retail for six months can afford it and I can’t.
For the world to remind me how awful it can be sometimes.
For the idiots to be idiots.
A way for me to be jealous and bitter, when I have no reason to be either.
At some point during all these realisations, I started to get angry. Angry that I’d get momentarily stuck on a sentence or scene, load up Chrome, log in and lose three hours. That I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation without someone without saying “Oh yeah, I saw something about that on Facebook”, like we were part of a cult worshipping at the altars of coffee-stained keyboards. Angry the word “friend” – one that, being pretty old-fashioned on this topic, I have never used lightly – had all the meaning sucked out of it by a faceless, formless website billions of people read like it’s the morning paper. Angry I could be so easily tricked into thinking someone cared about me enough to connect, when really, they just want to have a good ol’ Facebook Stalk. Angry that “Facebook Stalking” is a thing. Angry that I’d become the kind of person who did it, like I don’t have a script to redraft and a novel to edit and another to write and three more seasons of Battlestar Galactica to watch.
Anger, next to stressed, is my least-favourite emotion. It is useless and it does no good.
Luckily, I had two things in my favour: a job requiring a time commitment which redefined the belief “there are not enough hours in a day”, Twitter.
The job kept me off Facebook for a while. I was eating toast for dinner. I was getting five hours of sleep a night. I was responding to emails until 3pm when the real work could begin, and then again at 11pm when the other half of the world woke up. I fucking loved it. To say checking my Facebook page became “trivial” is an understatement.
Twitter… is awesome. I did not stay off Twitter. I had a job third parties apparently found interesting and insights that tickled the like-minded. I had useful things to share and so did other people. It was a pithy library of content curated for me, its only card-carrying member. And if I didn’t like something, I could simply unfollow the person who put it up there and not worry about my actions becoming the subject of dinner party analysis.
I don’t hate you now, you’re just the tenth person to RT that cronut recipe.
It wasn’t until I emerged at the other end of my work-tunnel that I realised, I hadn’t missed Facebook at all. I’d cracked 400 Twitter followers, lost track of the people I needed to lose track of and worked out who was prepared to send me a text if they wanted to get in touch and who considered it too much effort. I returned to it for the same reasons people gravitate back to an old lover: it was familiar, and I couldn’t think of anything better to do.
And then one of my closest friends deleted his account, out of the blue. When he told me, I realised I was jealous.
A week or so ago I turned 23. Phonetically, something about that makes me feel like I might finally be approaching adulthood after all. Twen-ty-three. If so, I should probably learn to eradicate the things in my life that I know are making me miserable, in the same way I like to think I’d tell an abusive boyfriend to GTFO or switch off Rizzoli & Isles reruns instead of wishing and hoping (They’ll never get together, Liz. Never). I’d officially become that person who either rants about how boring and annoying Facebook is, or gets distracted by how boring and annoying Facebook is. But no more.
To quote Frank Underwood: “I have no time for useless things.”
So I did some Googling, found this article and started at step one. It took most of the afternoon, because I’m not talking about deactivating my account, which any schmuck can do; I’m talking about stone-cold, here-lies-Liz’s-account, deletion. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it until I’d almost done it, so I could avoid being talked out of it. Then I posted a message saying what I was doing (which got a lot of likes – ironical) and included my email address for those who couldn’t bear to see me go and didn’t already have another means of contacting me. I left it up for an hour and then I hit the delete button, which Facebook keeps well-hidden. You’re then given a 14-day grace period in which to change your mind, log back in and cancel the scheduled deletion. Today is Day 7. I haven’t received a single email.
The aftermath has been interesting. At first, I did feel a tiny bit lost, a microcosm of the full-blown distraction I feel whenever I misplace my phone. I erased the web history and passwords on all my devices and browsers to avoid accidentally logging in, and I had to cancel my Spotify account and start new, because I’d logged in with Facebook when I first downloaded it a year ago and couldn’t circumvent it now. I’ve caught myself about to log in once or twice, mainly on my phone (I stopped using the App ages ago). I still find myself opening a fresh tab when I’m on my Mac and bored, but then I realise, I don’t care.
I’ve had friends try to convince me to return, concerned I’ll forget everyone’s birthday (I am great with birthdays) or reminding me that I wouldn’t know about the marriage of some chick I went to high school with if I’d never had it (devastation).
I’m on Twitter more often, and have learned I need to cull my follows soon or risk boredom, and I’m also refreshing Pocket pretty frequently, but neither with the obsessive routine that once characterised my relationship with the ‘book. I’ve written 10,000 words of a New Thing I’m fairly excited about, finished season one of Veep and started reading Bedroom Philosopher Diaries and Gotham Central (both brilliant). I’ve taken to calling my housemate, whom I’ve temporarily abandoned for a job out of town, and I’m more mindful of when I last contacted any of my friends.
1. A person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
I know which definition I prefer.