Kicking the Habit
Hi, my name is Heather and I’m a Facebook addict.
What’s that saying? The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem?
Telling people you have a Facebook addiction doesn’t quite get the same reaction as saying you’re battling an alcohol or drug addiction. It’s not like anyone’s ever died from Facebooking too much.
I am willing to bet that relationships have been ruined, jobs lost, and negative health consequences have been incurred all thanks overdosing on Facebook. I’m not gonna lie, there have been occasions when I’ve chosen to stay inside looking at Facebook instead of putting on my sneakers and heading out for a quick jaunt around my neighborhood.
How did I get so hooked on Facebook? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
The Early Years
I got my first taste of the strange and exhilarating world of the Internet sometime back in 1997. We lived in rural Vermont and had to use dial-up to connect. I can still recall the rhythmic tones and static that meant our computer was reaching out and grabbing on to the World Wide Web.
Back then the Internet and my comprehension of it was horribly lame. I thought that you got charged for visiting Internet sites that were far away, like a long distance phone call. At first we really only used the Internet for sending emails to each other. We would connect just long enough to download new emails and then disconnect while we read and composed responses. We did this because using dial up actually did rack up charges on the phone bill.
Even then, when all I was doing was emailing, the addiction had started. I would suffer the 10-minute procedure of getting online to check for mail several times a day. It would have made sense to just check every evening at say, 8 pm and then wait the 24 hours for a reply. But no. I couldn’t wait.
Just so you understand how bad my thirst for fresh email was, check out this story. For about a week, we were without a monitor. I got this crazy idea that I could log into Outlook, connect to the internet and then PRINT any new email that came in. I’m not making this up. I turned on the computer and sat at the desk. I stared into the space where the monitor had been and I visualized where the Outlook icon was located on the desktop. Believe it or not, I was able to open up Outlook and connect to the internet. I heard the familiar ding indicating new mail coming in. If I had paid attention in computer class I might have remembered the correct keyboard shortcuts to open new messages, but this is where my plan failed. I couldn’t figure out how to open the email and print it. Instead I had to wait in horrendous agony until we got a new monitor.
Talking to Friends and Random Guys on the Internet
In my senior year of high school, a friend told me about a chat program called ICQ. It was amazing. Logging on and seeing a friend’s name with the bright green flower next to it, meaning that they were online and available, was such a rush. You know what else was a rush? Being available for random chats. My mom reads this blog so I will keep it clean, but let’s just say I had some interesting conversations with people all over the world thanks to that feature.
I soon learned about AIM, and set up an account (lilywhite8) on there as well. Most evenings I would set up camp at the computer (which was in my moms bedroom!) and talk to my friends into the wee hours of the morning. (I think I could be online for a long time after 9 pm because the phone rates were cheaper?) My mom somehow managed to sleep despite the glowing screen and my endless tapping on the keyboard. Crazy, right?
AIM was a part of my life for many years to come. Being on the computer without AIM on and connected made me feel like I was missing an arm. Even if I wasn’t talking to anyone it just made me feel a little less lonely picturing my friends hunched over their computers in their homes at the same time. Plus we all got creative with away messages. I was that girl who posted tragic song lyrics in the hopes that someone would think I was really deep and emotional.
At my first office job I installed AIM on my work computer and kept company with online friends throughout the tedious work day. Of course this was before any of us had smart phones or even cell phones with a texting feature, so having AIM was how you kept up with your plans for the evening or shot quick notes to friends.
A friend then told me about something called LiveJournal, and I started my first blog! Of course I didn’t call it a blog, I called it LJ. It’s actually still out there for all to see, and if you ask me nicely I might tell you what my username was so you can look it up. It was not lilywhite8, but good guess.
I also tried a blogging site called Xanga, but that didn’t last very long. Then came Friendster, which was nothing but a flash in the pan. Around the same time was when MySpace appeared so of course I had to try that too. It’s funny, in hindsight, every time I tried out a new social media site, I’d end up adding all the same people as friends. It’s like it was more about the program than actually keeping in touch and building meaningful relationships.
The Facebook Era
After a 5 year hiatus from college, I returned to academic life at the age of 25. I opened my Facebook account that first semester, which was the fall of 2005. It was pretty boring at first because it was only open to college students and since I had just started college again, I only knew about 5 people. But soon I started accumulating friends through my classes and then people I knew at other schools would connect. It must have only been a year or two later that Facebook opened up to everyone because that was when it got out of control for me.
Suddenly everyone had Facebook. I connected with nearly everybody I’d ever known in my entire damn life. Focusing on my coursework became super challenging, what with juggling AIM conversations, scrolling through Facebook posts and bedazzling my MySpace page.
I knew it wasn’t healthy or positive to be this distracted, but at the same time I wanted to be able to keep up with everyone and be available at all times in case anyone was looking for me or had the urge to tell me something.
I told myself that after I graduated and got a real job, I would stop using Facebook so much. Graduation came and went and I struggled to find work in the tough economy. Being on Facebook was a way of avoiding a difficult reality. Should I have bucked up, quit Facebook and stepped up my job searching efforts? Yes. That probably would have helped. But I argued to myself that Facebook was a networking tool that I needed to get ahead in life.
The first job I managed to land after graduation was not at all what I wanted. I drowned my sorrows in Facebook, which I was on for much of the workday. (I was a receptionist – there wasn’t much work to be done.)
It was that winter that my Facebook addiction really reached it’s raging peak. I had well over 500 friends. I played FarmTown. I posted status updates every couple of hours and responded to everyone who commented (and I felt like a loser if no one commented). I had political and religious arguments. I got angry and cried over conversations had on there. It was craziness. To this day I don’t know how my relationship with Dave survived. Probably because he didn’t even know how bad it was. It was my little secret.
The Winds of Change
A moment that really struck me and made me realize what an idiot I was being was on a gorgeous spring day in Vermont. I had gone up to visit my family for the weekend. John and Nick were still in high school at the time. We’d all gotten into this silly Facebook game called FarmTown. Mom and I, and I think Nick (John was probably still in bed), were sitting around the table eating breakfast and taking turns passing around a laptop so we could harvest each other’s crops in FarmTown. At some point I looked out the window and noticed that Dad was outside working in the real garden. Suddenly it struck me how dumb it all was. I should have been outside then, with my sleeves rolled up, enjoying the warm spring sunshine and a day where I didn’t have to be stuck in an office.
Soon after that, I deleted the FarmTown game, and I cleared out my friend list of all the people I’d added after meeting only once, or who I’d accepted a friend request from just so I could add another friend to my list.
By the end of that year, I’d moved on to another job – one without a computer! That helped to cut back on Facebook time immensely, but to be honest I still spent a lot of time contemplating witty status updates that I could then post as soon as I got home (this was before I had a smartphone).
Over the last several years my obsession with Facebook has waxed and waned. Sometimes I am so sick of it that I deactivate it and try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Other times I revel in it, posting brilliant status updates, sharing gorgeous photography from my Instagram account and participating in lively conversations in the groups I’m part of. (I’m teasing… my posts aren’t always brilliant… I probably drive people nuts with the righteous vegan content I prefer to share lately).
No One Cares
Pardon me while I go Eeyore on you for a moment. Something that has been bothering me about Facebook for a while now is the realization that none of it matters. How many of my Facebook friends are true friends offline? How many of them would notice if I just disappeared from Facebook? It goes the other way too. On more than one occasion I have been speaking with someone in real life and discovered that they had deactivated their Facebook account and I hadn’t even noticed their absence. There have been times that I’ve seen someone’s name on Facebook and noticed that we weren’t actually friends, but I honestly couldn’t recall if I had un-friend-ed them or if they had un-friend-ed me.
On Facebook, if you’re not continually active, no one notices your absence. Unless of course you have stalkers.
Ma Ma Ma Ma Madness
So why am I obsessing over my Facebook obsession now? Well, I’m finding the problem is once again creeping up and taking over my life. I reach for the phone every time I have a moment to spare (and even when I don’t!). It’s especially troublesome at work, when I am faced with starting a task I don’t particularly enjoy. I’ll just scroll through Facebook for two minutes before I start the next project. Hit a roadblock? Let’s check Facebook. Feeling distracted? Check Facebook. Feeling like I need a little attention? Post a witty observation and check Facebook 14 times throughout the remainder of the day to see if anyone liked or commented.
The worst of it is that most of the time I check Facebook there’s nothing significant to discover. Sure, I have friends who are probably more addicted than I am, who post articles and memes and funny jokes all the live-long day, but I get tired of seeing that.
I crave real interaction. I want to talk to people about real things. Feelings. Observations. Thoughts on life. I want to get an email that starts out with a genuine greeting and contains meaningful content. I want to know if anyone’s actually read this far down on this crazy long blog post, and if you think I’m absolutely nuts for sharing this somewhat embarrassing confession about my searching the interwebs for meaning all these years.
Of course there are positive aspects of Facebook. I can keep in touch with my family, who are spread out all over the place, as well as my NFED friends, who are also spread out all over the place. But ultimately, if you’re really important to me, and I’m really important to you, we’re going to have the capability to communicate without Facebook.
Stopping the Madness
A week ago I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I installed a habit tracker app and gave myself permission to check Facebook three times a day.
One week later, and I deactivated my account. I had managed to limit my Facebook checking to less than three times a day. That is until one day that I caught something in my news feed that set me off on an “I’m deleting everyone who has ever upset me!” rampage which lasted a solid hour and left me with about 50 less connections. Immediately I began worrying if they would notice and be hurt or upset.
What a flipping waste of time! Clearly I cannot handle even limited access to my account. That’s why I consider it so similar to an alcohol addiction. You don’t say to an addict that they can limit themselves to three drinks a day. They can’t. I can’t. It’s all or nothing.
That being said… before I deactivated my 10-year old account, I created a new one so that I could keep up my EEC Chick Facebook page. But that’s different. I couldn’t spend hours on there if I tried, because it doesn’t let me look at any of my follower’s profiles. Which is good, or I would have been stalking every one of you instead of focusing on writing this post.
I thought long and hard about sharing this weakness. It really does make me feel like a loser to admit just how much time and energy I have wasted on Facebook and on other social media throughout the course of my life.
I don’t mean to make light of anyone who struggles with drug or alcohol addiction. In no way do I consider my inability to select the “Shut Down” option on my computer to be on par with the struggle to quit drugs or alcohol. I do, however, think that the root of the problem probably comes from a similar place. And to be honest, I never let myself experiment with drugs because I think I probably would have become an addict if I had.
I think that is all…