I’ve been here before, that moment when I’ve had enough, throw my hands up in the air, and more or less leave Facebook. Well, I’m back. After repeated violations of trust and choices that make privacy advocates cringe (on a good day), I had been teetering on the edge of giving up Facebook and looking for that last reason to put me over the edge again.
Recently I had picked up the new season (season five) of Black Mirror on Netflix and the second episode “Smithereens” spoke vividly to me. Without going into a lot of detail and spoiling the episode for you, the principal character in this story is in a high place of distress over what he’s done because of his addiction to Smithereens (for all intents and purposes, it’s Facebook). At one point, he talked about how much he’d become addicted to it and how it had been so tightly wound up into his routine. He’d wake up, and the first thing he’d do is check Smithereens. Impulsively throughout his day, briefly glance at all that’s going on. And the last thing he’d do before going to bed was, you guessed it, check Smithereens.
For this character, he was keenly aware of his addiction to the app and how that addiction destroyed his life and much of what was dear to him. The episode came to a climax at what should have been this big deal. This climax of events was being broadcast and shared live as it unfolded on Smithereens — only to basically end up being a “blip” in the day of the average Smithereens user, lifting their phone, glancing at the news event, and then putting their phone back down again like the thing was no big deal.
Watching someone else express some of the things I’ve felt about Facebook (and all social media) and that resonating with me, it was enough to feel like I should make steps towards reducing how much I’m strung up by my phone and the apps on it. The irony isn’t lost on me that here I am, on my phone, typing up this blog entry. I used to wake up every day, impulsively grab my phone after shutting off the alarm, and opening up Facebook first thing in the morning. Every time that I felt bored throughout the day, I lift up my phone, click on the F, and start mindlessly scrolling for five to ten minutes. And at the end of the day, I’d scroll mindlessly for a half hour, watch stupid videos continuously play, and an hour or two later my phone would tell me the battery’s reached 20% — time to charge the phone and go to bed.
The addition is ridiculous, it’s impulsive, and it literally adds no value to my life. I scroll and watch the lives of others pass by, maybe commenting on them if I have enough mental fortitude to share something witty, or “like” a friend’s post just to let them know I’ve seen it. Whether or not I’ve actually read it is another story — usually not.
It has cultivated this mind-numbing feeling of apathy and “OK who will entertain me now” kind of feeling. I really wasn’t posting that much anymore because of my hatred for Facebook, but I still had a baseline addiction, enough to cause me to go on auto-pilot and scroll through video after video, maybe checking my news feed (which I have grown to loathe because of Facebook’s need to curate what I see).
I haven’t deactivated my account yet because there are still groups I actively participate in and friends that only use Messenger (ack!). Don’t get me started on Messenger. I almost hate that as much as Facebook itself. But for now, I’ve deleted it off my phone and have just kept Messenger, Local, and Pages on my phone for the instant messaging, event invites, and managing the few pages I still run on Facebook. But if I need to interact with Facebook itself, I do have to go through a browser now, which does cut down on my time spent on it.
I’ve also deleted Twitter and plan on removing a few other time-wasting apps as well. The plan is to try and reduce the time I spend on my phone (as useful as it is), and to try and be more present wherever I am. Plus, I want my kids to see that it’s possible to get through most of your day without a phone.
My kids so desperately want one, begging me now and then to change my mind — my son’s mentioned how he wants 100 phones for Christmas, and I know it’s because of his friends who have phones (friends that aren’t even teens yet). Part of the problem is that our kids see my wife and me on ours frequently, and that it’s usually within reach at all times. But I think I need to change the frequency at which I look at my phone, maybe even stop carrying it around all the time, too. Removing Facebook and Twitter is a good start for me. It’s removing a couple big time-wasters for me.
I am keeping Instagram around, but just for the ease of posting photos from Instagram to Facebook and Twitter, which is something I do every Wednesday for our BEER & BIKES group, posting pictures of our group rides. I may go back to sharing my personal photos on Instagram and maybe using that to auto-share to Facebook for family/friends that still use that platform — but if I really had my way, I’d love to see Facebook die a horrible death and everyone leave it altogether. In the end, though, this is just a personal decision and a personal change — not one that I’m trying to thrust on anyone else.
A neighbor friend grilled me pretty hard over the weekend on why I am leaving Facebook, almost trying to convince me that my reason for leaving could be altered if I just started using it for “good” reasons. But that’s the trouble with Facebook, for me anyway — I could return to it for good reasons, but only to get snared up into the mind-numbing, time-wasting scrolling through the timeline and constant video feed coming at me. In a way, it’s like how if you were an alcoholic, you wouldn’t set yourself up for failure by going to a bar to order a soda. The smells, the sights, the ambiance — it would beckon your inner being, “aw, come just have one drink, you’ll be OK.” But it’s never just one drink. It’s never just a few minutes on Facebook.
I’m keenly aware that I don’t have a lot of time left on this planet. Time is a finite resource and I already impulsively waste a lot of it as if I have an abundant, ever flowing stockpile of it. But I know that’s not true. For all I know, today could be my last day to live — and at this moment I don’t spend my time like that was the case.
It is hard, when you’ve had a long day at work, or the kids have been exhausting, and you just feel like you need to do something mindless to escape from it all. But sometimes I think of it from the perspective of looking back and seeing how that makes me feel. One analogy I like to use for myself to help put things in perspective is this: I used to take pictures of most of the new beers I’d try out and post them to the Untappd app to keep track of what I’ve had and what to try. [I’ve also removed that app from my phone, too, now.] My phone automatically backs up all my photos to Google Photos and I happened to go back through my photos, searching with the term “beer”, and seeing the hundreds and hundreds of photos of beer that I’ve had just over the course of a couple years. My brain of course then does a little extraction and interpretation of this and thinks — damn, I spent a lot of money on beer, money I could have used on other things. Of course it was pretty good enjoyment at the time, but I can’t help but wonder how things might be different if I enjoyed a little less and spent that money on other things.
Bringing the topic back to time, the same can be said for the accumulation of time that we’ve blown on Facebook, or mindlessly scrolling Twitter or Instagram, or the hundreds of hours looking for something to entertain us on YouTube. While it’s not all bad and some mindless entertainment is OK, I can’t help but wonder what really good things I could have done with a lot of that time. All the time I’d blown on Facebook, or playing Minecraft or World of Warcraft back in the day, or whatever.
I think it’s a healthy self-evaluation to go put oneself through, and ask some tough questions about how we use up our time, because it’s the one resource we have a finite supply of and disappears as quickly as it arrives. I think I’d like to get better at living more presently in each moment that comes my way, and doing something more meaningful and rewarding with it.
This scene comes to mind. While I’m no Oskar Schindler, I can’t help but try to put myself in his shoes and wonder if I’d feel similar remorse about all the time and money that I’ve wasted when I look back on my life.