Alice in facebook-land

This week I made a decision to re-enter the labyrinth of facebook and ended my time as a ‘weird off grid person’ (as coined by my friend, Alex). This leap took a great deal of pondering, and even as I resubmitted my details back into the black hole of social media, my hands were shaking in doubt as to whether I was making the right decision.

Since I left facebook in February 2018 I’ve received a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances around my reasoning, often presuming that it was prompted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal (my career is centred on cyber security and data protection). Bearing in mind just how many people use facebook, I never wanted to be the bringer of doom, or appear like I’m the paranoid secret agent trying to conceal my double life. My answers were vague and often downplayed; it felt too personal, too painful to explain. Ironic, bearing in mind facebook is just about the least private location on planet earth/cyberspace.

My friends and I often express gratitude that our generation ‘grew up’ without the all-pervading influence of social media; I was 17 when I signed up. But in actual fact, we never stop growing, developing, learning, even if I had reached my ultimate height of 5ft 8in. Over a period of a few weeks, I came to the stark realisation that facebook was not contributing to my growth as an individual, it was, in fact, reducing me – making me a lesser person. Perfectly depicted by Matt Haig in Notes on a Nervous Planet: ‘I used to think social media was harmless. I used to think I was on it because I enjoyed it. But then I was still on it even when I wasn’t enjoying it. I remembered that feeling. It was the feeling you get at three in the morning in a bar after your friends have gone home’.

It felt like I was Alice in Wonderland; I’d fallen down a rabbit hole into this perverse, alternative reality where people created illusions of their own reality – people I no longer recognised or knew. Yes, I knew where they’d been on holiday, or who they’d been in the pub with last Friday, but I didn’t actually KNOW them. I didn’t know their hopes and dreams, why they cried last week, their recent disappointments, their current challenges. They knew nothing of mine either. However, if I still needed that gym kit from Sports Direct that I’d considered and rejected earlier, I could just click on a side-bar and all my problems would be solved! And so, I decided to press the ejector seat button and exit the matrix.

I truly loved my time off-grid, and gained a lot from the experience:

  1. I figured out who my real friends were, and fast.
  2. I felt much less lonely (despite having less “friends”).
  3. I got sh*t done. I got minutes, hours, days of my life back. All the wasted time scrolling: gone. All the wasted time taking pictures for other people’s benefit: gone. All the wasted time tagging photos: gone. All the wasted time being angry at other people’s sheer ignorance and bigotry: gone.
  4. The noise was quietened; my days were more peaceful without the constant facebook notifications and messages.
  5. Every time a facebook data breach was announced, I felt smug.
  6. I realised that civilisation still goes on once you’ve opted out.

Yet why go back?

I feel I now have more awareness about what I do and don’t like about facebook – what works and doesn’t work for me. I know what role I want it to play in my life: I want to have a platform where I can meet/connect with “my people”. For instance, many of the sobriety groups I have come across seem to use facebook as their sole means of organisation and communication. I want to use it as a platform where I can share my writing and read others’. I want it to support my goals for the coming year.

But this all has to be on my terms, in a way that I feel comfortable with. And so, I have my own terms and conditions for facebook:

  1. you will not be tracking my location, because I don’t have your app on my phone.
  2. you will not be telling me of all these people I should have as friends because you’ve scanned through my phone book, because I don’t have your app on my phone.
  3. you will not be bringing noise to my life, by alerting me 24/7 of facebook activity, because I don’t have your app on my phone.
  4. you will not be delaying my bed time, because I don’t have your app on my phone.
  5. you won’t be going on holiday with me, because I don’t have your app on my phone.
  6. you will not be draining my productivity, because I’ll only be logging in when I have a purpose for entering the site, completing said purpose and exiting again. No mindless scrolling.
  7. you won’t make much profit from selling my data, because I’m barely giving you any.
  8. also, I probably won’t contribute to your “1bn users per day” stat, because I’m too busy for that sh*t – sorry.

And so, my challenge is to use social media whilst remaining fully present in my reality – to put my physical reality first, each and every time.

photocredit: Matt Haig, Notes on A Nervous Planet (Canongate, 2018), p. 100.

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