by Stephanie Self
I have many feelings about social media.
The time I spend thinking about how deeply and intimately it penetrates our lives is more than is actually necessary for anyone. And taking the month of October off from my most used social media, Facebook and Instagram, didn’t help with that a whole lot. Surprisingly.
It’s already been established that Facebook addiction is real enough to warrant at least a hefty amount of academic research. Now there’s even the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (the work of researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway), which essentially looks like any other scale you would use to determine an alcohol or drug addiction.
I’m just waiting for that episode of “Intervention” featuring subjects so addicted to social media that they resort to things like prostituting themselves to support their habit.
“I do this for you, Facebook!” they would say through bloodshot eyes while shaking their noodley hands and limp, carpal tunnel wrists in the air.
My month-long hiatus’ purpose was to see how much my life would be affected by Facebook’s absence. If we’re sticking with the drug addiction theme, I would consider myself a recreational user of Facebook, not a habitual one. I never felt the need to post about every trivial event in my life, take selfies, check my notifications compulsively or friend request people whom I had just met.
Despite my recreational usage, though, I did notice some changes in my life.
I didn’t make any announcements on Facebook or otherwise to say that I wouldn’t be active any longer, and I didn’t delete my account. For the better part of October, only The Sagebrush staff knew about my leave of absence, unless someone asked me why I hadn’t seen their message, post, comment, photo, link and so on.
Because it was so strange to certain friends for me to not be on Facebook, or at least not be privy to some information posted on it, people would sometimes start conversations with me on the pretense that I had known something about someone’s personal life or an event being held that weekend when I really didn’t know anything.
Conversations usually went like: “Oh, my God. Did you see what so-and-so posted?”
“Wha— Oh, yeah. You’re not on Facebook.” And then they would just tell me anyway.
I probably missed out on several parties and might still be unaware of some juicy gossip about someone I don’t know very well, but I realized that I probably wouldn’t have cared that much anyway.
When I wasn’t using social media, I was forced to directly contact anyone I wanted to catch up or hang out with. I couldn’t rely on passively lurking on their Facebook pages to know what they were up to or if anything catastrophic had happened to them.
Not so surprisingly, this improved my social life. The defense of using social media is often that it makes us more connected, and to an extent that’s true. We are more connected, but I question the substance of that connection.
If I know something about someone’s mood or day because of Facebook, that doesn’t feel nearly as meaningful as when I go out to have coffee or get a beer with them. I actually began to feel more connected to the people in my life, even though it was less people than it could have been.
So, this is where my hiatus analysis becomes one of shameful confession: because of what I mentioned above, I didn’t miss Facebook because I didn’t know as much about other people’s lives.
I occasionally missed Facebook because I couldn’t broadcast all the quips, links and photos related to my own life that I wanted to share. That doesn’t mean that when I did use Facebook I never interacted with other people’s activity; I did. But what did I really care about?
I cared about what other people had to say about the things I thought were funny, inspiring or interesting. In other words, I wanted validation that those things were genuinely funny, inspiring or interesting.
That’s when I realized that when it comes to how often we use Facebook, it’s not necessarily about being connected, but interacting in a social way where you can be exactly how (or who) you would like to be or see yourself as being.
People don’t typically include all their bad habits, emotional problems or neuroses in their “about” sections. But in reality, we can’t hide any of those flaws from each other, and that’s exactly what makes our Facebook interactions so superficial. It’s not that we don’t try not to in person (of course we do), but we can’t.
Well, unless you’re one of those people who constantly posts about how terrible everything in your life is, even though you’ll post 10 minutes later about how your significant other bought you an Arizona Green Tea and turned this into “the best day ever.”
Then no one can help you.
Before this column takes a gross philosophical turn, I’ll say this: I’m not against using Facebook or how we use it. (I obviously use it for the same reasons as other people.) However, I got to the point that I didn’t even want to use Facebook anymore because of how much I was enjoying my social life without it.
Not using Facebook for a month was probably one of the best things I’ve done this year. (Look, it’s been kind of a lousy year, OK?) And I would encourage everyone to take a hiatus every once in a while, if not to improve your social life, but to examine how its absence affects your life.
Stephanie Self studies English and journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.