Of course I’m on Facebook. Not only has it been the place to be for a decade, but it’s become the playground of older folks like me. It’s like living in a vast 55-plus community where children are to be seen in the photos of their parents and not heard. However, it had become both an addiction and a means of avoidance: avoiding all the personal projects I rise at sunrise to complete before heading to the office cube, avoiding my own emotions (why feel them when I can turn them into status updates?), and perhaps above all avoiding the moment. Now is not only powerful, it’s very uncomfortable. I don’t like being here now. I don’t like sitting in the now, pondering the now, deciding what to do in the now, or allowing the now to be more than an annoying stop between the past and the future.
I knew it was time to kick the habit, if only for a few days. The pull of the Facebook app on my handheld was now greater than almost any other force in my life, able to drag me back to it in ways that only caffeine and nicotine can compete with. Possibly cocaine, but it’s been thirty years since a grain of that went up my nose. It was time to confess: I was a social media junkie. I used Hootsuite so I could throw out every random thought, every passionate, dull, profound, pointless sentence that popped into my head, sharing it simultaneously on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram. Have I forgotten any?
For someone with a lifelong history of indulging compulsion, Facebook is the great enabler. It requires nothing more than a pair of working thumbs and the delusion central to Facebook’s success: that 114 people (a very modest number, I’ll admit) are my friends and care what I have to say about everything. Prior to Facebook I was a self-identified Lone Wolf, proudly independent, going my own way with a drum to beat to the rhythm of my choice. I communicated with people when I chose to and with whom it meant something, because it required effort. I reserved the title “friend” for those who truly were. Like anyone with a small-e-ego, I needed support and validation, but it came from those in my life as heartfelt. My life–our lives–were not ones littered with easy likes and cartoon thumbs-ups. If I was depressed or had a bowel obstruction, only my doctor knew.
Oh, Mark, you’re being harsh and unkind. But it’s not my intention. It doesn’t matter what you intend, it’s how people interpret it. A ‘bowel obstruction’? Really? It’s just an example, to make a point. You’ve exceeded 144 characters, what worthy point could you possibly make, and who cares? Did you see Pink on the Oscars? BORING!
This is how my mind had taken to working, the groove it was stuck in. It was no longer sufficient to suffer my own monkey-mind, it had to jump out there where everyone could see it. I was no longer able to watch a movie or a Sunday morning talk show or eat a meal in a restaurant with … what were they? … friends? … without leaving the experience to text about it. That’s what Facebook was for me, an endless text interrupted by a facsimile of reality, and I was having more and more difficulty differentiating between the two. Was Facebook the real world, or was the real world something else entirely that I needed to escape from into Facebook? The lines had become hopelessly blurred.
So I stopped. For five days. I deleted the Facebook app from my iSelf, along with the Facebook Pages app (oh yes, I own a fan page), Hootsuite and Twitter: the tri-headed Medusa. I went cold turkey, and I found the value in all those moments I’d been frittering away. I got a tremendous amount of writing, editing and publishing done. I went to dinner with my husband and a friend and not once, not for an instant, looked at my phone or took a photo to share on Instagram.
I’m back on Facebook now, but much more cautious. I’m sticking to posting a couple times a day at most (no cheating!), and avoiding reaching for it every time someone on television angers me or I just made up another “quote of the day.” I have become what I could never be with drinking and smoking: a social Facebook user, a man of moderation. It may be the first drink that gets us drunk, but I’m hoping it’s not the first status update that takes over your life. We’ll see.