Welcome to my world! Today our topic is “Facebook fasting!” I’ll talk about taking a step “off stage” for a while, and resigning from the Drama Department!
Should you quit Facebook? Sometimes it feels like a good idea, right? There are days when every post feels like an incendiary device designed to make me blow my top. If it’s not yet another scandal in the M/M romance world lighting up your news feed, it’s another outrageous preacher blaming the gays for today’s horror-filled news story, or someone posting animal abuse, or an invitation to play some game you’ll never ever play (Farmville must burn! Burn it to the ground, I say!) or a sunglasses ad, or one of those “like and share this if you hate cancer and if you don’t share it you’re a terrible person” things.
Yeah, that can make quitting sound really good. I found myself taking some time off from Facebook recently, after the whole “Josh Lanyon” thing. I’d written a blog post about that, which I thought nobody would read (my usual blog traffic is in the double digits), and suddenly it was everywhere. And suddenly I had to know who was writing about what I wrote, and who else was weighing in on it, and what someone else said about that, and so on. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else – I had my phone when I was out and about, I had my tablet when I was on the couch, and I was like a crackhead, reaching for the pipe every five minutes for another hit. I couldn’t read a book, never mind write one. I was getting so angry when people said what I knew was wrong…I had to weigh in on that! They had to be told!
And at a certain point, I just…snapped. I realized…what the hell am I doing? I’m spending all my time and energy on…what? I realized I’d become that person I hated, the person who loves reality shows because they feast on the drama, the chaos, the upset. At least, I’d become that person temporarily. And there was only one thing to do about it. Just…stop using Facebook for a while. Just…stop. Tune out the whole carnival.
I had to think about the ramifications. Would I miss my friends? Would they miss me? What would I miss out on in their lives? And as a writer, I had to think about it as a business decision, too – would it even be possible as a writer to stop Facebooking without losing money on sales? And even if I did lose money (and I did), was it worth it anyway?
Well, the science is in on that, thanks to researchers at the Happiness Research Institute, which is of course located in Denmark, officially the “Happiest country on earth,” probably because they have free education and free health care and all that good stuff.
And the answer is yes, it is worth it. They ran a Facebook experiment (downloadable here) in which one group stopped using Facebook for a week, and the control group didn’t.
“At the end of the study, non-Facebook users reported lower levels of worry, sadness and loneliness than the control group who continued to use the website. While 84% of non-users claimed to enjoy life, only 75% of daily users admitted the same, and a quarter even described themselves as feeling lonely, compared to only 16% of non-users. Interestingly, Facebook users are 55% more likely to feel stressed, while non-users were 18% more likely to feel “present in the moment” while taking a break from the website.”
That need to “keep up” can get us all, just as Facebook intends – after all, their income comes from getting lots of people’s eyes on lots of ads, so keeping that level of anxious engagement at a high level is their business model. So it lets us tag each other, and notify us about tags, and notify us when someone comments on our post, or comments on our comment, to keep us coming back again and again. In Silicon Valley, they call this “stickiness” in an app, though if it was a slot machine, you’d call it “addiction.” And there are so many posts that incite upset, anger, indignation – political craziness, mostly, especially during a presidential election cycle. Which draws you back in to participate, to express solidarity or opposition, but to stay on Facebook, to keep scrolling and clicking.
I knew I “had a problem.” So how could I manage it? The first thing I felt I had to do was announce and apologize – to tell my FB friends that I was taking time off, that if I didn’t comment on their posts or tags it wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was just that I needed to get my head out of the blender for a while, calm down, think, prioritize.
And everyone was more than understanding, and forbearing. Yeah, I saw my income go down when I wasn’t out there pushing my name and my product, but it was worth it. It was hard work to quit, in the beginning – I realized that I reached for my tablet the way a smoker reaches for a pack of cigarettes, without thinking, in the middle of watching a movie, a ball game, while reading a book. This sudden urge would take me and I’d have to check my feed.
But then I moved my tablet and my phone onto my kitchen table, where I’d have to actually get up off the couch to use them, instead of just reaching blindly for the device. (Amazing how effective laziness can be in behavioral modification!) And, I moved the Facebook app off the front page of my phone and my tablet, to the third page, where I’d have to go find it, where that little red ball with the number of notifications I had was out of sight, and out of mind. Admittedly I was still logged into Facebook Messenger, though not “online” – I’m trying to run an editorial business, so I couldn’t be completely out of touch.
When I was done with my Facebook fast, after a week, I came back to the site with new eyes. I no longer had to weigh in on the latest outrage by The Donald, I didn’t have to participate in any frenzies. When a member of the M/M community turned out to be a catfisher, I was able to just…walk away! Not weigh in, not participate. Just…let it go. And it felt great!
Yes, there are times when we all turn to Facebook, as with the Paris shootings, to check on people we know, to register our anger and our fear. But there are times when we go to Facebook “because it’s there,” because we haven’t been there in five minutes, and what did I miss?
None of us want to leave Facebook. We don’t want to lose touch with our friends, or even miss out on the best cute animal pictures. But sometimes, you gotta get away from it all. Try it for a week…see how it works for you. I know I feel a lot better!
QUESTION: Have you taken a “Facebook Fast”? How did it go? Did you spend less time on FB when you came back?
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