Glance around you wherever you are, on the street, the bus, at dinner, in the office, and chances are most people will have their heads buried in their phones, mindlessly trawling Facebook.
I was one of those people who kept getting suckered into the blue screen and I started to hate myself for it. So, when considering the usual suspects of what to give up for Lent this year, I threw myself a curve ball and decided to give up Facebook!
Facebook and I have been going steady for nine years. That’s almost a decade of news feed checking, stalking ‘friends’ profiles and impulsively glancing at my screen… even when half asleep! This compulsive social tick had become normalised by the fact that everyone around me was doing the same… even my Grandma. When I wrote my article on mindfulness last year, I realised how poisonous this addiction had become. I was so caught up in a virtual world that I was failing to appreciate the real life that was right there in front of me. So, I took an initial step back and stripped my friend list down to those I really cared about, but somehow Facebook took over again… until now.
Come the first day of Lent, the app was removed from my phone, auto-login disabled on my computer and my cover picture unsubtly changed to broadcast my absence. In honesty, the first two weeks were tough. Instinctively I would find myself stuck in traffic in a taxi gazing at my phone, willing it to amuse me. The FOMO (fear of missing out!) kicked in; not a social form, but worry that people were writing on my wall and I couldn’t see. I was very much out of the Facebook loop, failing to understand certain conversations centering around a recent post or viral sensation.
However, I did start to realise (once the compulsiveness subsided) that it wasn’t the chit-chat that made me miss the site. It was the fact that people chose to mark important moments via Facebook and that by not being online, I was failing to find out key news. But I have to say, somewhat proudly, in all other respects I have now embraced being Facebook free. I find myself fully engaging in social interactions – actually asking people how they are rather than having a pre-informed knowledge. I have been procrastinating far less during my work day and paying attention in movies or even cab journeys to what is going on around me. I’m also pretty sure I’m far less annoying to walk behind on the pavement!
Through my absence I have been able to analyse what role Facebook actually plays in our iPhone obsessed lives. For me personally, its main benefit was as a means for me to keep friends and family back home updated on my life and for me to learn about happy moments in theirs. And this same core benefit is true for everyone else, thus revealing that the ‘purpose’ of Facebook, pointless procrastination aside, is rooted in experientialism. We use it as a tool to either document our own experiences or seek inspiration from others.
Daily inspiration via tweets, statuses and inspiring images about where friends have travelled, what they have seen and eaten and books they have read has meant that our generation has learnt to assess our success in life by the experiences we expose ourselves to. Shunning the superficial approach of previous generations whose value of life was judged by what material goods they owned, we favour hands on living. Thus creating a culture that values what we do with our lives rather than what we buy.
This in itself is no bad thing as the ultimate outcome is that we seek to fill our lives with more exciting experiences. The issue is that we’ve become so caught up in documenting our experiences or stalking other people’s that we forget to actually enjoy the experience itself! Our desperation to capture the moment often leads us to miss it.
So, come Easter Sunday, I will stray back into the online social world but with a more mindful approach. That means no Facebook iPhone app, no interrupting an experience to document it and never valuing it over the experience itself. And who knows, maybe I’ll find time to actually see my friends more often, in person that is, not via my news feed!