Sunday, 23 March 2014

Online Isolation

This year I decided to quit Facebook for Lent.

I was raised Catholic but I'm not particularly religious* and don't often observe Lent but it's a handy time to consider your behaviours and indulgences if the mood takes you and I had been spending faaaaar too much time staring blankly at social media.

It isn't as though anything particularly Earth-shaking was happening on Facebook, there weren't many people posting huge life events and the stuff they were sharing ran from interesting and/or amusing to repetitive and/or boring.
The stuff that was happening on Facebook wasn't the real problem, it was the 'maybe something interesting will happen, better keep checking' impulse.

This impulse first manifested itself earlier in my life as 'maybe the next music video on Rage won't suck so much' and could lead to sitting up until 2am until I realised that the odd video that I enjoyed wasn't really worth the shit ones I was sitting through to get to them.

So when I really took the time to notice that I was wasting an inordinate amount of time checking, hitting refresh, and scrolling about on Facebook just in case something of note happened I figured this was a good chance to stop with that shit and have a crack at actually doing something myself.

Some people reacted with surprise when I said I was doing it, warned me I'd miss out on things, said they wouldn't be able to do it themselves and then looked sly so I know when I log back in there will be hundreds of notifications awaiting me because everyone I know is a bastard.

Other people, who have militantly resisted joining Facebook, took me into their arms like a long-lost loved one who had escaped a cult and spoke to me soothingly of how much bullshit I'll be freeing myself from and how I'll no longer be providing free market research for an unloving corporate monster.

The reaction that really stunned me was when people found out that I was still using Twitter.

"But that's CHEATING!" they cried. "You might as well not have bothered!"

Uh, no, I gave up Facebook because I was wasting time waiting for it to produce results.
Twitter is interesting and a lot quicker to flick through, harvest and step away from.

Besides, it was like telling people you're giving up coffee and then having them incensed because you're still drinking tea and hot chocolate.

"Next time," they declared, "You should give up the whole internet! Do it properly!"

Give up the internet for 40 days?

Yes, I'm sure I could but it would make life a lot more difficult in some fairly key ways.

I do all my banking online, phone books are no longer physical, research for travel or restaurants or events or even my work would be made almost impossible.

It wasn't so much that they thought I should give up the whole recreational aspect of the internet that took me aback, it was the fact that they already assumed that was what I was doing.

As if giving up Facebook meant giving up the internet.

As if Facebook was the internet.

I hadn't known until then that that's the way a lot of people see it. That Facebook is the only part of a vast sea of information that they have regular and intimate contact with.

It's both fascinating and a little bit worrying.

I know I am missing out on a few things because once people have announced things on Facebook they forget to say things in person but it's made conversations a lot more engaging because when I talk to people now they have news to share which I haven't heard, even if they have to be prompted to remember I won't know it yet.

When you're on Facebook you have a lot of conversations that go:
"Hey, what've you been up to?"
"Oh well I've got that new job."
"Oh yeah, you put up that big post about it."
And that's it.
Because you already know.

I've sent and received a lot more text messages and emails since I've been off.

People have casually mentioned how much more effort it is remembering to forward things separately if they want to share with me, not in an accusatory fashion, but in surprise as if they hadn't realised how much they depended on Facebook to inform people, to arrange meetings and events, and even as a primary medium for private messages.

Apart from ease of communication, I haven't particularly missed it, and I have really enjoyed how much my being absent from it has bugged some people.

When I go back I think I'll be a lot more casual about it, at least I hope I will be.
It might take a few deliberate reminders to keep me from falling into old ways.

In the meantime I'll enjoy the next... 28 days of freedom and prepare myself for the ridiculous deluge of tags and posts that the assholes I lovingly call friends have carefully curated for me in my absence.

And I'll have to work out whether I want to suppress or foster the urge to write smug posts about my time away, partly as revenge for all the tags they'll have accosted me with and partly because, like everyone I know, I am essentially a bastard.

*My beliefs in marriage equality and assumptions that a divine being would have better things to do than keep a list of things he doesn't want you doing to each other's fun bits keeping me from embracing organised religion too closely.

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