Why you should take a break from Facebook

Social media is anything but social, says Johhny Virgil as he offers compelling reasons to stay away from your favourite social media site

Executive reading magazine with tea cup and smartphone on table

I registered on Facebook in 2010, and by then I’m pretty sure it was already uncool and relegated to a place for the ‘oldies’ to hang out. The younger and hipper crowd had already moved on to other social media, leaving Facebook to the 30+ population who were looking to re-connect with friends, classmates and family in other parts of the world.

The first thing I did this morning was check Facebook. Why? Because, as embarrassed as I am to admit, for better or worse, it’s become a part of my life. That’s sort of like admitting you enjoy watching the parliamentary proceedings for fun, or that you really like sticking your tongue into spinning fans. How did this happen? I’m not really sure. I think some of it is addiction, like a rat getting a food pellet every time he presses a button. So each ‘like’ is a little imaginary food pellet that feeds my sense of… something. Self-worth? I don’t think that’s it. Peer approval? Maybe.

Also, I get to peep into the lives of, and interact with, a lot of different people from my past and future with the click of a mouse. I think the bigger reason I check Facebook multiple times a day is because it’s become a source of entertainment for me—it has replaced the newspaper, reading fiction [except for the obvious fiction of people’s Facebook lives and most political posts] and watching too much TV.

Is it better than all or any of these things? I doubt it. It’s mostly time-wasting trash. Having said that, I’ll admit that I read it before work, during my lunch break, after work, and at night before I go to sleep. I even read it when I’m sitting on the toilet, [don’t judge me, I know you all do it too, and that’s why I will never ask to borrow your cell phone] and whenever else the mood strikes me. In short, I am on Facebook way too much, and it needs to stop. Starting tomorrow. Or the next day. Next week at the latest.

What would happen if you woke up tomorrow morning, and Facebook was down?

So is Facebook your friend or your enemy?

I’m pretty sure Facebook has become that friend you run into in the market and at first you’re glad to see them—then they start following you around the store, incessantly talking about themselves until you’re contemplating faking an epileptic seizure just to get them to stop showing you pictures of every meal they ate on their trip to Italy.

How Facebook helps me… I’m still wondering

All that got me thinking—what would happen if I woke up tomorrow morning, and Facebook was down? I don’t mean down for an hour, or down for a day—I mean down for good. What would I do? For that matter, what would the one billion-plus other users do? Well, for starters, we’d have a lot more free time to work on things like world hunger and global warming. Too grandiose? Fine! We’d have more time to do laundry so we didn’t have to sniff socks in the hamper and pick the freshest pair for work on Monday. And who knows? Maybe with all that extra time, an ordinary person would do something extraordinary. Here’s an example: Yesterday, I spent three minutes of my life watching a video of a pug walking around on his front legs and peeing in the air for a solid minute and a half. Number one, that was a lot of pee, and number two, yes, you’re correct. I watched it twice. Again, don’t judge me.

What would I have done with that extra time? Honestly, probably not much, but when you really think about it, it adds up. If I could have back every minute of my life I’ve wasted on Facebook, I probably would have already written another book. Probably two, if I’m honest with myself. Would I have solved world hunger or brokered peace in the Middle East? No, but on the other hand I would have wasted a few less brain cells.

The top excuse to be on Facebook—finding lost friends

I have friends who aren’t on Facebook, and older relatives who don’t even know what Facebook is. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that they’re better off for it. Yes, I’ve gotten back in touch with some old classmates, but generally, those conversations go like this:

Old classmate you forgot about sends you a friend request. You accept and then…

You:  “Hi, how are you? Wow, hard to believe it’s been 20 years already!  What have you been up to?”

Them: {Insert highly-embellished life story here}

You: “That’s so great! Congratulations! It was really good to touch base after all these years. Keep in touch. We must get together!”

Them: “You too! Talk to you soon!”

Then you never hear from them again.

That’s the best-case scenario. The worst case scenario is one in which they invade your Facebook timeline and do one or more of the following:

  1. Post non-stop pictures of their children, beginning at age two and continuing chronologically until they’ve graduated from college, moved out, gotten married, gotten divorced and then moved back home.
  2. Invite you to play 1,243 different games that involve things like words, candy, jewels or various farm animals. Or sometimes even all of them together. [What? You’ve never played Words with Jewelled Candy Cows Saga before? You have no idea what you’re missing.]
  3. Send you links to conspiracy theory articles or articles containing questionable political content that a first grader could refute without putting down his or her Xbox controller.

It’s generally a waste of time for both of you and it makes you realise why you never kept in touch with that person to begin with.

I have friends who aren’t on Facebook, and older relatives who don’t even know what Facebook is

If Facebook didn’t exist, you’d just have to get used to thinking things like:

“I wonder how that one guy from high school is doing these days? Hmm, I guess I’ll never know.” Or, “I haven’t seen a funny cat video in a long time. I might have to go to YouTube and watch a few.”

Then later in the day you could think, “Guess it’s time to go stalk that girl who broke up with me six years ago. No wait, I don’t have time for that right now. Maybe on the weekend, when I have a couple of extra hours to drive around her building over and over until I see her leave for her hair appointment.” OK, I took it to a dark place there for a minute, but you get what I mean.

My advice to you is this: Take a break from Facebook. Read a newspaper, or a magazine or even a novel. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and ask them to lunch. Granted, when you call them they’ll probably be busy watering their imaginary crops, crushing candy or watching a video of a pug peeing while walking on his front paws, but try yelling “OMG! LOL!” That usually gets their attention. Ironically, social media is anything but social. Only you and 1.4 billion other users can change that. The next time you find yourself floating aimlessly on Facebook, ask yourself “If Facebook didn’t exist what would I be doing now?” And then go do that.

This was first published in the June 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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