If you are an extroverted introvert (yes, that’s a thing) then Facebook is probably not really a good idea. It will drain you with all the interaction, and hypnotise you with all its wonderful pictures of cats, babies, and flowers. One conversation is difficult enough, but seven or eight at a time is like trying to spread a drop of honey all over a whole slice of bread.
You come away etiolated and depressed, which is usually easily fixed by reading, only you’re sick of ‘reading’ from all the comments and statuses. So the only thing that recharges your batteries doesn’t work. This is the sad state extroverted introverts, like me, are reduced to when they use social media.
And so it was, around a year ago, that I decided to leave Facebook. That wasn’t to mean I was going to leave social media altogether. I merely migrated to Twitter. Twitter is far better suited to me. It’s quieter, for starters, which means it is easier to ignore, so you’re not constantly itching to look at your phone every ten seconds. There are fewer pictures, which means less distraction. And even the most irritating of followers is limited to the strict character limit rightly imposed by Twitter. It puts the brakes on things.
If your life revolves around some sort of business, you’ll be expected to have social media which the business will expect you to use. So not having Facebook is like telling your boss or client that you don’t know how to use a laptop. Some might even get very angry with you, indeed, and that is usually because they were banking on being able to reach a wider audience themselves through your re-sharing and posting of things.
But it is precisely this ‘reaching of audiences’ that prompted me to leave in the first place.
I would never really fully understand how many people could see a status of mine, or a post in a group. Suddenly you find yourself among crowds of people you have no business being around. Facebook is not a club where like minded people meet. It is the total opposite.
While we all believe in equality in the eyes of the law, and equality of opportunity for the masses, still there is a very good reason why we mostly marry people who are from a very similar background, bar some exceptions. But social media, which has increasingly begun to sound more like an ironic contradiction given the antisocial behaviour it brings out, places your words in front of people whom you have absolutely nothing remotely in common with, or people with a prejudice against you, causing them, and subsequently you, to go ballistic.
Indeed, Facebook places the academic along side a Nazi thug, vegetarians next to a McDonald’s meal, and people who live in the desert in front of people who live above a bar in Soho. It’s a meet and greet from hell. I had had enough of people I didn’t like.
Facebook had to go.
The Year spent Facebook-free
Telling people you’re not on Facebook is like a mini heart break for some. Once those formidable words come out of your mouth your interlocutor’s eyebrows slide down the side of their face as they grapple with thinking up a way to stay in touch (Whatsapp, obviously). Others give you a good pat on the back, as though you’ve told them you’ve been tobacco free for five years. Then, of course, there are those who praise you for your great courage, independence of mind, and explain to you in detail how they wish they could do the same but are too afraid to loose contact with all those wonderful people they know online.
The year I spent away from Facebook turned out to be exactly like any other year. The fear of being left out, I can assure you, is completely unfounded. If people want you somewhere, they will message or call you. This, in turn, can also have the effect of increasing your social engagements as people will make it more of a point to contact you, and you won’t have a list of invites you just ignore because there are too many other notifications. It truly has been bliss.
If there was any news, I had Twitter. Otherwise, there was no real change in my life as a result of not knowing what everyone is up to. But I must say, meeting people in person did change. I had conversations with people in order to catch up, something I haven’t done in years. But this doesn’t really add to your sense of belonging, or the lack of it. It just meant I actually had something to talk about.
Spending a year without Facebook was, all in all, pretty unremarkable. I had no real revelation that others may expect. I didn’t suddenly realise the true meaning of life, socialising, or what it means to be a human being. It was rejoining that was an eye-opener.
So why did I rejoin? Social Media is not for personal use. It is a business platform and must be treated as such as much as possible, especially if your job revolves around things like reputation, accessibility, or anything that requires you to be in some shape or form in the public eye. So I decided I would have a Facebook account just for business purposes.
But joining Facebook today is not like joining Facebook in 2008. Things have changed. The platform has evolved. There is more nuance and many more features.
Joining in 2008 felt impersonal, like joining another Hi5 or Myspace sort of website. Using Facebook back then was fun. We used to openly admit that we were addicted. Now, though, it feels more professional. This is the platform from which you will reach many people. You won’t simply be ‘keeping in touch’.
As for my insight into human nature and relationships, all I can tell you is this. Away from Facebook my interaction felt very organic, and bonds grew gradually and felt sturdy. But I only realised this once I saw how, when it came to social media, so many people are on hyper mode. It’s hyper-friendships, and hyper-connections in a hyperconnected world.
A simple photo of two friends elicits the exact same response as a picture of a loved one who just recovered from a dreadful illness: a heart emoji. Floods of emojis fill some posts of popular people. We get surprised by sudden splashes of emojis, and new videos about our friendships and friend-anniversary. It’s like we’re constantly in love with each other. Or constantly angry.
Facebook is you made larger and more powerful without you knowing. And with this increase in power, we must develop a suitable code of ethics. We can’t keep creating all this wonderful technology and then wash our hands clean of any responsibility when things go wrong.
Facebook is shock amplified, which deranges us no end. Facebook is propaganda amplified, and it’s worse when people don’t know it is propaganda. Which leads me to the last point; Facebook is lies amplified. Lies told by powerful people on a powerful platform. Think images of crowds at a Nazi rally at the Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg is a frightening reminder of “the madness of crowds”? Just think what an audience of 1 million is. 1 million people who will see your words, or actions.
I returned to Facebook, but I am more mindful of its impact, and my impact. One day the big wigs of social media will have to answer some very serious questions. But we must also remember that if politicians play us for fools by pushing our buttons and engineering consent for human rights abuse and injustice, we will be the biggest losers.
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