Monday, April 19, 2010

In Her Own Words: Facebook Addict Quits Cold Turkey

Special to 360 Degrees - In First Person

It's become a daily ritual for millions, but what happens when you deactivate your Facebook account and go cold turkey? Caroline Hocking - a self-confessed obsessive - finds out.

I'd done it. My (virtual) life was over. After two years on the online social networking site Facebook, I'd taken the plunge and killed off my account - in Facebook speak, I was "deactivated".

It hadn't all been bad; we'd had some good times. I'd enjoyed a bit of snooping as much as the next person and found it useful enough as a way to check out potential love interests, flog unwanted stuff and organize the odd shindig or three.

I told myself that I'd managed

perfectly well pre-Facebook and

resolved to return to simpler times.

As a newbie to online social networking, my first few forays into Facebook had been cautious and brief. It had been a guilty pleasure - an enjoyable escape which tapped into a basic urge to share and compare.

But over two years, I'd turned into a Facebook fiend, uploading over 30 photograph albums, posting countless inane status updates and acquiring hundreds of online "friends" (350, to be exact).

I'd got sucked into semi-stalkerdom and felt something akin to separation anxiety if I ever found myself offline for more than a few hours. What had been my favorite waste of time had morphed into a demanding and anti-social addiction.

The turning point came when I completely forgot about a long-planned reunion with a friend one evening because I'd been sidetracked by mindless Facebook mulling. This is ridiculous, I thought. Surely social networking was supposed to enhance my social life, not to trash it?

And the whole set-up had started to grate: so much pathetic posturing, fakery and careful cultivating of one's online "brand". People posted anything and everything, surrendering their own privacy and that of their friends. I didn't NEED to see pictures of strangers' weddings or the drunken holiday antics of brides and grooms.


I told myself that I'd managed perfectly well pre-Facebook and resolved to return to simpler times. I would still keep in touch with people I liked. I had a mobile and I was perfectly capable of bashing out an e-mail or penning a letter. And so I decided to deactivate. It only took a few clicks and was pretty painless.

Facebook demanded to know why I'd left - it even gave me a helpful little list of possible reasons why I might have fallen out of love and suggested ways around them.

But my mind had been made up. I wanted to see if I could cope without - for at least a week. It gave me the option to return at any time and resurrect my account, but I felt liberated.

One person, who thought I'd removed them alone from my list of Facebook friends, sent me an anxious text message, citing - and apologizing for - all the things they had done which might have offended me and prompted a "de-friending".

Leaving Facebook was clearly seen as a BIG deal to them, indicative of something being "not quite right". I was flattered that people cared about me and felt a little ache for the ol' Facebook camaraderie.

I thought I'd enjoy tons of free time in a

Facebook-free life, but instead I've just reverted

to other distractions, like trashy celeb magazines.

Of course, not everyone worried about my departure - or even noticed. One of my roommates was perplexed after seeing that their Facebook friend count reduced by one, but hadn't investigated who might have gone AWOL.

But one day into Facebook cold turkey and my fingers had itched to log back on. I felt bereft and out of the loop. I missed the online chatter of which I had become so contemptuous.


Sure, I could have messaged people direct, but that is the beauty of social networking sites - while they make spies/personal detectives of us all, they also cater to the lazy. They allow you to be passive, throwing information at you which would otherwise take time and effort to seek out.

Facebook had made one-stop communication so easy and many of my friends were devotees; some only communicated via the site. Would people invite me to events if it meant they had to send me a separate invite rather than include me in a Facebook scattergun missive?

I thought I'd enjoy tons of free time in a Facebook-free life, but instead I've just reverted to other distractions, like trashy celeb magazines.

And, even though I couldn't be actively involved in its machinations, I still found myself gassing about Facebook. I might not have been frittering away hours browsing its pages, but the site - and my departure from it - became my favorite topics of conversation. What did other people think about Facebook? What did they think about me leaving?

I found myself leaping on any Facebook-related story in the news with disproportionate enthusiasm. It proved hard to let go completely. The break (up) was tough and eventually - well, after just 10 days to be honest - I found myself reactivating my account.

My world hadn't fallen apart by going offline. I managed to stay in touch with the people I cared about, even if took a little more energy on my part (although I never did get round to penning any letters).

But absence had made the heart grow a little fonder. My package holiday-sized abstention reminded me how useful Facebook could be, particularly for organizing and remembering events.

I confess my heartbeat had quickened a little when I logged in. When my homepage fired up, I'd felt a small surge of joy at being reunited with my long-lost friend(s). I was back and I was downright curious: what had I missed?

Not a huge amount as it turned out. It was like I'd never been away: acres of holiday snaps, numerous links to interesting news stories and YouTube marvels, and some funny/not-so-funny status updates.

I logged out within a few minutes. I've been back since, uploaded some pictures, dashed off a few messages, commented on a few links and acquired a couple of new Facebook friends.

But I no longer had the same urge to plunder the latest online goings-on and see what people are up to quite so regularly. I knew I could cope without Facebook - just. And if it all gets too much and I feel myself slipping back to my old ways, I can always take another break.


hmarty said...

Unfortunately, for many, there is no balance in life. Anything can become an addiction. Good for this lady she recognized she had a serious issue. hmarty

360 Degrees said...

If there were ever an 11th Commandment, it would have be written: "Thou shalt not take thineself too seriously."