The month before I quit Facebook, I checked it probably every five minutes. I knew the end was nigh. I undulated across a continuum of obsession and nostalgia and pre-emptive regret.
I wondered, even as I boldly proclaimed that it was over between us, how long it’d be before I succumbed to the gravitational force that had sucked me back after a short hiatus on two occasions previous.
We’d been together for seven years. Facebook had faithfully seen me through milestone birthdays, finals, the dead rat incident and over-indulgent John Mayer lyrics. He knew how many times I checked on that guy’s profile and he didn’t even really care that I was two-timing him with Twitter. At the end of the day, he was still there – asking me ‘How are you feeling?’
But I needed to leave. As I frantically deleted hundreds of ‘friends’ and downloaded my data (which is terrifying, by the way, when you realise how fat the dossier on you really is), he tried to persuade me to stay; he said he’d be there if I ever wanted to come back; he told me he’d never forget about me (which would be lovely, if it wasn’t so darn creepy).
Lots of people asked me why I was leaving. I rattled off my reasons, knowing Facebook wouldn’t suffer from my social exodus. I was right, he didn’t. He got to keep the photo albums, the mutual friends and the cat.
“We just don’t see eye-to-eye,” I sighed. “It’s a waste of my life,” I whined.
Facebook wasn’t about maintaining relationships; it had become the relationship. And just like any unhealthy relationship, things had gotten farcical: I started trying to show only my best side, he wanted more from me than I felt comfortable giving and the little things that I liked in the beginning started to grate on me by the end.
The analogy starts to stretch a bit there; but it ends with the old adage – ‘Exes are exes for a reason’ – and in this case, I’m really not going back.
Here’s why. About a week after I pulled the plug, I started getting withdrawals. The urge to be constantly sociable – even just passively – was overwhelming. I started tweeting more instead. I searched for new music to lose myself in. I started running. I threw a bunch of distractions into the void, and watched them bump about against each other, never quite filling the hole which had – I suddenly realised – been there prior to Facebook.
And then it hit me like my 542nd FarmVille invite – I didn’t love Facebook, I just didn’t want to feel lonely. What an annoyingly obvious observation. In the same way that life with Facebook gave me a sense of pseudo-inclusion, life without it deceived me into thinking I was on the fringe.
At the risk of this becoming just another ‘God-shaped hole/find your identity in Jesus/Mark Zuckerberg is the anti-Christ’ article, one truth rings loud and clear. Facebook – probably more so than other social media – isn’t actually helpful for a lot of us. For the majority, it sits there like a mama pig, letting our insecurities quietly suckle away.
It is the bad romance we ought to axe, and yet we’re kept there out of fear (‘What about all my photos?,’ ‘Will I ever get invited to events again?’), addiction and insecurity.
What are your piglets? – is Facebook feeding them?
Image by Nathan McCall from an entry to our rejection photo competition.