Karachi: Confessing that I committed Facebook suicide several weeks ago may not be the best way to begin a column on social media – but in the interest of full disclosure, here it is: I left Facebook in April after having used it religiously for several years.
For avid Facebook users, as I once was, leaving the network is a serious, life-altering decision. It is what I assume rehab is for junkies.
Leaving is not easy. Habit and a sense of dependence will you to stay. Not all of my ‘friends’ were acquaintances. Some were close friends and family living in different parts of the world. Facebook allowed me to keep track of what was happening in their lives on an almost day-to-day basis – complete with visuals. Status updates, photo albums, and wall posts are fairly good indicators of what’s going on in your friendsÂ’ lives. Leaving behind all this wealth of information is not easy.
So why leave?
Imagine inviting everyone you know to a single party in one small room. This includes your best friends, your siblings, your colleagues, and people you have only seen once or twice in your life and you’re not even sure where (or why). Not all of these people like each other; in fact, even you don’t like all of them. You’re only inviting half of them because they invited you to their parties and expect to be invited to yours.
Imagine all of them together in a cramped room. That is, imagine your vociferous theology-advocating friends and your equally opinionated, godless friends, all under one roof. Imagine the mayhem that subsequently unfolds.
Next, your indiscreet but well-meaning best friend cracks a joke about the time you called in sick at work but were actually out partying hard with friends – while your boss is standing right next to her.
If that wasn’t bad enough, imagine the most obnoxious of your friends possessed by a sudden paroxysm of vulgarity rife with foul language and vile gestures, in front of yourÃ–grandmother (yes, she’s on Facebook too).
That’s what Facebook does. It encourages us to throw together a motley of friends, family and colleagues in one place, promises that we can control what we share and with whom, and then lures us towards inevitable, cringe-inducing moments.
Whether they decide to stay or leave, at some point, all Facebook users have to ask themselves what, if anything, being Facebook ‘friends’ means. How much do we really want to share about ourselves and with how many people?
Is all the hassle even worth the trouble?
I decided it wasn’t.
To make the experience even more cathartic, I decided to delete every single one of my 300 odd ‘friends’ before deactivating my account. No I was not mad at the world. I was just beginning to feel claustrophobic on Facebook.
I began hesitantly. What if I couldn’t find any of these people if I really needed to reach them at some point in life? Was I cutting off something vital? Burning bridges? Perhaps I was – If having a peephole into your neighbour’s teenage son’s life is vital to personal well-being that is.
I have to admit the therapeutic effect subsided sometime after I deleted Friend Number 38. What began as a brave, purposeful exercise soon turned into a mind-numbing, finger-aching, dreadfully tedious one.
Several hours worth of laborious clicking ensued until, at last, I was ‘friendless’ and my fingers were sore.
Then came the moment of truth.
I thought clicking ‘deactivate’ would be a profound moment in my life. Over time Facebook had become a primary means of keeping in touch with people. My Facebook profile was a lengthy archive of correspondence, photos, and work that would take ages to manually transfer to other non-site locations.
And then there was the level of dependence. I discovered I didn’t even bother to save phone numbers and email addresses any longer because I could always go back to Facebook and get the information from there. I also didn’t make note of friends’ birthdays because Facebook would always remind me just in time.
Even Zuckerberg and his people were loath to let me go. I had to choose a reason for leaving and provide an explanation before they let me leave.
So breaking free of the network was supposed to be a big moment. But in reality, leaving Facebook was anti-climactic. Life carried on as it always has. If anything, my social life became more active. Goodbye, living vicariously. Welcome, real social interactions. I had more time to go out and do real things. The people who really wanted to reach me went to flattering lengths to make contact after I left the site.
I didn’t find myself alone and transported back to medieval times. In fact, leaving Facebook helped me filter the information I was processing on a daily basis. Now I could focus on what and who I wanted to know. Sure you can do that on Facebook too but doing so is tiresome and time-consuming.
It turns out I’m not the only one who left. Statistics suggest that while users continue to increase in emerging countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and India, the First World is moving on from Facebook.
According to a report by Inside Facebook, a leading source of news on Facebook, over the last few months, the US has lost nearly 6 million Facebook users, Canada lost 1.52 million, and the UK, Norway, and Russia have also shown losses of more than 100,000 users.
Why are they leaving?
Partly because compared to the others, the First World has experienced Facebook longer – it has had more time to get excited about it, to use it, and to get bored with it.
Privacy concerns have also scared away many users. And at least a few ex-users may have been animal rights activists who left in outrage once news broke that Zuckerberg slaughters the animals he eats with his own two hands – too much information Mark (another problem with Facebook).
Where are all these ex-Facebook users going?
To Twitter perhaps.
The writer is assistant editor The News, Karachi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Source: The News