A strange thing happened over the weekend just passed. I’d only come to realise on Easter Sunday that a couple of my friends had been missing from Facebook. For, like, 40 days.
Not that I’d noticed during the reported month+ that they had forsaken the social platform, apparently as some sort of ‘Lent’ stint. I just figured they were really busy doing, you know, family stuff for Easter, hence putting FB messages on hold for a while wasn’t a big deal.
Firstly, I’d like to thank them for not sending a personal note to tell me they were about to embark on this intriguing little social experiment. It would have made me have to pick up the phone, and I often feel petrified when going to do that. And secondly, I’d also like to scold them for not sending a personal note to tell me of their sudden endeavor into social media analysis. Like, thanks for making me look like a prick for not contacting you via phone, email, text…
When it eventually dawned on me that two of my good girlfriends had been offline for over five weeks, and that we had not stayed in contact via text, email or phone call (let alone our regular physical get-togethers which used to be every month or so), I was quite shocked. Shocked over the fact we’d lost so much of our ability to physically socialise, mainly due to habit of maintaining relationships the easier way online – but more shocked over the fact that once my homegirls had been cut off from that mainline, none of the other forms of communication were resorted to (at least not to make contact with me, but then perhaps I’m something of a leper).
The only signs I’d seen of this sudden phenomenon that had swallowed my friends for 40 days and nights was when one of my girlfriends had announced on Facebook on about Day 33 (somehow sneaking into the system, hence ‘breaking’ her fast) that she had “just one more week to go” while the other had finished the full abstinence and announced she was glad to finally be back online again.
It got me thinking, is Facebook really that bad for us to have to go through great pains to cut it out of our lives? Apparently, even doing away with it comes with a swathe of withdrawal symptoms and temptations, like an alcoholic might feel when cut from spirits, or a meth addict might sense when the crystal has run dry. They know they don’t have to try too hard to get a hold of the thing they’re being deprived off (except for the meth addict who might have to get on their knees and do more than beg).
Did my girlfriends get sudden cravings, wanting to sneak in a look occasionally via their partner’s account? Did they experience strange pangs, like when a smoker on Champix might on occasion, then see the thought exit their head as quickly as it entered? Or, like the good ol’ chocolate-giver-upper during a season where the stuff is everywhere, did they try and sneak in a nibble here and there (“No, no, honey, you can keep using Messenger if you like,” she says earnestly as she eyes the screen over his shoulder intently, squinting to find her name).
It’s been reported in studies that Facebook and other social media are similar to chocolate, drugs and alcohol in some ways; that hearing a message notification or spotting those extra likes actually triggers a dopamine high. I know that if I’ve put some heart into a post, as small as it may be, and someone has gotten enough out of it to respond, I get a real sense of joy; a buzz, even.
But while chocolate, drugs and alcohol can be cut out of people’s lives for good, online media, I’m afraid will never be, unless you’re willing to go live like a hermit in a cave at the base of the Himalayas. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, practically everyone you know would probably have one (or impractically, depending on how you see it).
Then there’s the FOMO factor. That fear of missing out. Missing out on the date goss, the engagement news, the ongoing wedding plans, and inevitable pregnancy snaps and baby photos to follow across (at least) 18 months. The fear of not being able to throw your two cents worth in when debating whether Steve Smith ought to be banned for life or whether we’re all making too much of a big deal over an overrated sport that gets too much attention already. The fear of not being able to bitch about that bastard who left Alycia at the altar on Married At First Sight. And the worry that everyone else parading their life online might, just might, think you’ve gone – shock, horror – domesticated and boring.
Alas, Facebook Abstainers never really need to worry about that last bit. Everybody else is so wrapped up in their own world of selfie snaps, self-congratulation, and snide, ironic commentary, most of us haven’t even realised you’ve been M.I.A. on FB, Insta, Pinterest, etc.
Interestingly, the re-entry into the social media realm sees those that have taken a break from it suddenly offloading a torrent of apologies and a tsunami of anecdotes that don’t really make sense if presented in a different order to when they actually happened (at least Facebook’s timeline usually works to keep things in context). As for ‘Likes’, these are suddenly triggered erratically like some poor kid at a birthday party pricking his first piñata.
Yes, the comeback is very intense and the high ever-so. As for the big binge, it can’t be good for any party concerned.
This ‘need it’ / ‘do I really need it?’ dichotomy is one that is starting to plague more social media users as they realise their privacy is being sold off to careless corporations, and their life beginning to resemble some kind of self-directed Lifetime movie with all the good bits edited out.
It will be very interesting if, say, a social media giant like Facebook were to suddenly go bust (and I wouldn’t discount the thought, considering the privacy breaches that could see them slapped with mass-actioned subpoenas). What if social media as we know it suddenly imploded?
Well, for one thing, my girlfriends who’ve had a bit of practice from keeping the bad drug at bay would be feeling a lot less stressed than the rest of us heathens. #cleverthings. Antonino Tati