Of course I’m not the first to try a Facebook detox. Books have been written about it, whole families have gone cold turkey overnight, and much of America has gone off the idea of the world’s biggest social media platform almost entirely. But I’ve never tried even the shortest of breaks. In fact, after Gmail, Facebook is usually the first thing I check in the morning, and not only to see who might have messaged over night…
My sister lives in Alaska, so about the time I’m waking up, she’s posting her news of the day. Her world is very different from mine, and I like starting my day with a touch of the unreal: ice fishing on the lake, warnings of bears on the prowl, videos of Cessna flights to Valdez. About an hour later, my Cotswold-based mother comes online (she’s an early riser) and I get the village updates: who’s turned 80, the latest yarnbomb project, petitions against world domination by Tesco. In between, I’m scrolling through my friendship groups (other than relations, these divide roughly into the Colleagues, the Do-gooders, and the Entertainers – if you’ve made the cut, you know where you fall!), occasionally sharing or liking a particularly witty post. Work aside, I don’t actually engage that much. But what I do like is knowing what’s going on: that fear of missing out is borne of being a) a nosy journalist and b) an insecure introvert. So goodness knows what a week sans Facebook is going to do to my career and my self-esteem!
The funny thing is, I never thought of Facebook as my preferred platform. I have social media accounts on Instagram, YouTube, Behance, Reddit, Tumblr and Google+, but always considered myself a LinkedIn career girl through and through, a Pinterest crafter in my spare time and an occasional tweeter. Then I decided to monitor my social media usage (smartphones store these details) and discovered Facebook was, to me, what bananas are to monkeys. I was posting, sharing and liking A LOT more than I realised. Even when I deducted the work-related stuff, I was still actively using Facebook for over 30 minutes each day.
So I bit the bullet, Vibered my family to let them know I wasn’t about to drop off the face of the earth, took a last, fond look at as many cat videos as I could find (special thanks to all the teachers in my network!) and then quietly disappeared…
It took most of Monday to organise the trial separation. I use Facebook to source articles, quotes and interviews, to stay in contact with interviewees and to exchange documents and images. So everything had to be done at the start of the week. But by Tuesday, I was ready to go.
I went to sleep the night before feeling strangely relieved – but on booting up this morning, I was stumped. The emails were answered, I had my work for the day prepared and I was ready for the usual – a shot of Facebook. For a few seconds I was at a loss. But I girded my online loins and hit the BBC instead: I might not know exactly how many grizzlies are currently on the loose in Alaska but, my goodness, there’s a lot else going on in the world! The problem is that I then wanted to share this. I resort to Google+ and LinkedIn.
This is the day my Mail articles go online, and I always look forward to seeing who has posted, shared and commented. Sadly, I may never know – my Facebook feed moves so fast, they’ll be completely lost in the rubbish tip of technology by next week. It’s an issue I share with others in the trade. Radio host Maria uses “Facebook to advertise the show”, while fellow author Lorna says the platform, “generates interest and builds sales of my books!” I also found find a fascinating piece on ‘5 tips for Facebook success for dentists’ (“Thursday is your best friend in the health and beauty industry”!), and an article on ‘Making Facebook work for your accounting firm’. So it seems every it’s not just those of us in the media who rely on the social giant for work.
One friend in the educational sector reveals she intentionally blocks the site when “there’s too much work on: it’s a huge distraction. If I’m in the middle of a project, I just quit for weeks at a time. Nobody ever notices I’ve been gone; I’m not sure how to take that!” For me, it’s only been two days. But I haven’t had a single email or call asking me why I’m not on Facebook. Are we all so wrapped up in who HAS liked our posts that we don’t notice who HASN’T?
I seem to be spending an increased amount of time on other social media platforms. In my down-time, I’m watching much more YouTube and have upped my tweeting levels. But then I discover that Facebook owns 77 per cent of mobile traffic, including Instagram and WhatsApp (am I cheating by insta-sharing a picture from today’s interview, I wonder?). The social media giant has even launched a collaborative platform, Facebook Workplace –used by companies such as Starbucks, booking.com and the WWF – which connects all their employees. But then other organisations ban the use of Facebook completely, although this is increasingly rare. Back in 2009, a study revealed that 54 per cent of US businesses had prohibited social media usage within work hours. In the subsequent eight years, the stats have gone quiet… perhaps our bosses have realised its benefits?
It seems it’s not only companies that put the kibosh on social media; governments like to dictate our cat-pic-sharing capabilities too! Thailand has recently been in the new over a proposed Facebook ban, while – at one time or another – Turkey, China, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan have all banned the platform… This Facebook detox doesn’t half teach you new things!
After cheating early in the day to retrieve some image files for a freelance piece (it was an emergency job; emailing is too slow, honest!) I go for a drink with a couple of friends. And I start counting. In the space of an hour, both have checked Facebook – one posted a snap of her wine the instant it was poured. I enforce a phone-ban. It doesn’t go down well.
There are simply so many things we use Facebook for that it’s difficult to live without. Cyprus is the most Facebook-saturated country in Europe, with 97 per cent of account-holders regularly online. A Boston University study entitled Why do people use Facebook? proposes the social network meets two primary human needs: the need to belong and the need for self-presentation. Recent psychological research suggests that frequent Facebook users “exhibit high levels of neuroticism and narcissism”. Both of which were evident on my night out. You don’t notice these traits when you’re buried in your own phone. Look up, and you’ll notice the self-doubt selfie Still Rules OK.
Although I’m still tempted every morning, it seems easier to ignore Facebook at the weekend. Possibly because there’s less traffic: the biggest spike in Facebook usage is on Wednesday afternoons, while Saturdays and Sundays are the least popular days of the week. This makes me a feel a little bit less left out: if other people are out living their lives, I should be too!
Okay, I love being at home. I’m an introvert and, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, that means greater Facebook usage. As in life, extroverts may be more active on Facebook, but introverts actually use the social network for far longer periods of time; it’s a communal safe haven for those of us more sensitive to the bangs and clangs of real life. Or to anyone who’s going through a challenging period…
“My hormones were already difficult in the first months of my pregnancy, and I couldn’t face any more posts of people and animals in pain. So I took a break for a couple of months and it was a huge relief,” says one of the mums in my network.
Even my mother weighed in with a few words of wisdom: “Obviously there was no Facebook when I was expecting, but I did have strange reactions to baby animals on TV and had to rush out of the room! There must be a connection between modern technology and pregnancy…”
Luckily, I have no intention of being with child; my already fraught emotional state couldn’t handle that sort of hit!
We’re off to the beach! Where you’d think there’d be fewer opportunities for Facebooking. Not true! CytaNet has set up Wireless Zone Hotspots all over the island; there are literally hundreds, according to the network provider, in “cafes, restaurants, hotels, stadiums, conference centres, clinics, marinas, squares and other public spaces which are partners in our wireless network.” Okay, both of us have 4G on our phones, so we’re never really disconnected from the ether, but it’s a bit disconcerting to see so MUCH phone usage from the tourists on the beach.
And anyway, I’m a real child of the sea, so if there’s one thing that trumps my desire to know what’s happening in the online world, it’s the chance to get in a spot of sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. Once we’re done with that, we take out our books and indulge in a good old beach read. I do take a few snaps to post to Instagram later on, but other than that Sunday is a total tune-out, and it’s wonderful. I’m starting to get the hang of this!
I’m almost done with my week sans Facebook, and NOT ONE PERSON has mentioned it! “I can leave my account for three weeks at a time, and nobody realises!” says one ex-colleague. But one avid poster in my network tried the same thing for double that time: “I lasted seven weeks and people DID notice. Lol!”
I’m assuaging my ego by maintaining that most of my Facebook usage is for work, so friends won’t necessarily clock my absence. Though a few have commented on my increased engagement in real life: it seems I’ve been far better about returning phone calls and meeting up than per usual. I gather there have been quite a few announcements I’ve missed, but in that I deplore the use of the platform for hard news (seriously? Check the source; it was written by some man in a pub after one over the eight!) the majority of what I’ve skipped is probably a cascade of cat vids and kid pics.
Emotionally speaking, I think a Facebook detox might be a good thing. I’ve found I’m less angry: although I tend to delete those who soapbox, each day does see a fair few opinions which put my back up. Probably, the most tempting attribute is the need to feel connected. As a work-from-home freelancer, sometimes my only interactions are via social media, and Facebook is a big part of that.
It has been hard. I have cheated a couple of times (though only for work, promise!) and I’m not sure I could do it again. But at the end of the day, Facebook is an indulgence rather than a necessity. Nobody misses you when you’re gone and I reckon, if I’d lasted another seven days, I wouldn’t have missed them either… I’m not sure how much I’m looking forward to logging back on tomorrow, but I know it will be fun to catch up. See you online!