Let’s face it, we are a planet addicted to Facebook. You see people standing there in the park on a sunny day (like the photo I snapped the other day while walking my dog), on the sideline of their children’s sports event, across from the dining table in a restaurant, swiping up and down, living vicariously through other people’s lives. You recognize that Facebook-blue on people’s mobiles and laptops, and you know they are checking their status updates. You get excited when you see the red number on the top right corner, indicating how many alerts or messages you have. When life is happening, you are at the ready with your mobile, photo-journaling the process, while pondering in your head how best to caption these photos. What started out as a fun, online resource for sharing with friends and acquaintances had become the main way we socialize. Instead of talking to our friends, we comment on their posts. When I felt the earthquake the other day, my first instinct was to check the Facebook feeds to see if my friends felt it, too. When Plumster crushed a particularly worthy challenge, I am not immune to post my pride… then check incessantly to see how many of my friends and family reacted to my post. When I talked (as in, ahem, face-to-face) to one of my friend the other day and asked her how she was, she retorted, “you didn’t see my post on Facebook?” I mean, do we now have to study up on people’s Facebook updates before talking to them like we do before a job interview?
After the 2016 Presidential Election, with the foreign-sponsored Facebook bots terrorizing and undermining our democracy, I begin to take a harder look at HOW I am using this supposedly fun social network. I realize that I have become increasingly reliant on Facebook trending news. I click on friends’ posts to read up on everything they care to share. All the sensational news of the day. I donate money to links that friends shared. I share stories and posts I read. I engage in political debates, sometimes even with complete strangers. In other words, I have become an ideal Facebook customer. When I see friends, I know what vacations they take; if they have insomnia the night before; what television show they watch. But then what is left for us to talk about when we actually see each other?
Quick, I thought, I needed to do something about this. At the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I decided to quit Facebook, cold turkey style… or so I thought! You see, Facebook doesn’t really let you off the hook so easily. Like a drug dealer, they ask you, what’s wrong? Why don’t you like us anymore? Maybe you could just take some time off, and come back, say 7 days? Could you tell us why you are quitting? Like a friend, they helpfully offer ways that can help you cut down the consumption of this drug called Facebook.
Here is five-step program that I am trying out, and I hope you find this useful, if you have the same addiction.
First and foremost, you’ve got to have the courage and clear mind to admit that you have a problem. Does your mind wander to your phone and your finger itch to click that app open to check people’s comments? Even when the moment is not right? Even when, say, your child is sitting there right in front of you? Even when say, your spouse is TALKING to you? Yes? Yes, then you do have a problem.
Ok, now that you admit it, decide on how you want to quit. Do you want to quit cold turkey? Or wean yourself off slowly? If you want to quit cold turkey, more power to you! If not, Facebook gives you an option to quit for a set period of time and you can log back on after the set days, and nothing would be lost, no hard feelings. Judging from the number of posts and the memory I shared, I decided that perhaps I should do a trial of separation first.
Once you decide to down-shift or quit on Facebook, the first thing you need to do is to delete that Facebook app from your mobile phone. Pronto! Stat! Get that drug off your phone. Limit your access. This way you are not carrying that drug in your purse, in your back pocket, taking it everywhere with you. It’s like carrying a pack of cigarette in your pocket while trying to quit smoking. Or a bottle of wine while trying to quit drinking. This way, even if you have a weak moment, or a particularly good or horrific news you want to share, you can only check it on your laptop, or using the web browser version on your mobile, which is kind of cumbersome and clunky and does not entice you to stay any longer than necessary.
During my week of trial of separation, I felt… unencumbered and free! Surprisingly, I did not have withdrawal symptoms. I thought I’d be itching to check my feeds, but with the app off my mobile, it was easy to not want to.
At the end of my separation period, I realized that I needed to check in on Facebook status from Plum’s school groups. Parents share important school updates on the various private groups that we belong to. Without the real-time updates, I would have missed the school trip reminder, on the day of the trip, where they reminded us that we had to be in school 25 minutes earlier than usual!
With the decision to stay, I had to make some provisions here. My phone was still off limits for the Facebook app. I refused to get back in too deep this time around. Next, to limit the feeds I read, the arguments I would inadvertently get myself into, and the internal struggles I created when I posted certain things, I cleaned up my friends list. Take an honest inventory of your friends list and choose quality over quantity. After the 2016 election, I became wary of people on my friend’s list that I knew who voted for a certain candidate. I worried about what they thought of my posts and my political views. Also, I was disappointed in them. How could they possibly have voted for a candidate who essentially did not give a damn about people just like me: a woman who immigrated from a foreign country who was non-white, who relied on a functional public school system and government funded merit scholarships to get to where she was today? These people were basically telling me, I did not care about people like you; whether or not people like you existed did not matter to me; or worse, maybe they wished people like me did not come to this country in the first place!
While you are cleaning your Facebook house, go through the app list that is linked to your Facebook account. Delete any app you do not want linked to your Facebook account. You’ll be surprised how many apps are linked to your Facebook account. Those fun questions you answered? Those merchants you clicked to make online purchasing easier with just one click? The character from Game of Thrones that best describes you? I did not even know how most of these accounts got linked to my Facebook account. But here they were. Delete. Delete. Delete. The more apps you delete, the less profiling Facebook has a handle on you. This entire cleansing process felt cathartic.
Last but not least, allow yourself a set amount of time to linger in your Facebook account. Once you are done reading, log out. The active process of having to use a password to log in and out helps in cutting down the temptation of just taking a peek during any downtime you might have.
In short, here are my five step process in living my life in real-time in a Facebook-carefree life. I am not saying we need to quit completely, but be free of it spiritually and emotionally.
- Admit you have a problem.
- Decide on how you want to down-shift: quit cold turkey or a trial of separation?
- Delete the phone app on your mobile.
- Cleanse your lists: friends, apps, groups.
- Allow yourself a set amount of time and log out when you are done.
I hope you find this post useful. Now go out there, weave yourself back in to your real life. Be present.