A lot of fuss has been made about the positive things being constantly connected can bring us, but sometimes we forget to talk about the downside. Constantly comparing our lives to others’ (not their real lives, of course, but those carefully curated to make them seem the most fabulous and flawless), the tendency to stalk, the ease and potential for cheating in relationships, the competitive and addictive nature of constant life updates: social media is rife with negative behaviour.
Facebook is a particularly toxic friend; it parades things in front of you that you’d rather not see, from events you’re not invited to to peers enjoying something you wish you had or recently lost. Our dependence on checking in on ‘what everyone’s up to’ – despite only a handful of those people actually meaning anything to us – has become a little scary.
Sometimes you just need a break. However stable or on top of things you think you are, social media can really get you down. But how easy is it to step out of the circus when you know no one else is going to?
I have one friend who’s done it permanently, and I’m sad to say it has somewhat isolated him from the crowd. Many more seem to be doing it in short bursts these days, and it’s something I did twice recently: a two-week break from Facebook earlier this month, and a week-long spell away from all digital devices while on holiday.
Even though I’m just about in the generation who remembers a social life before mobile phones, it’s tough. We laugh about FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but there is something valuable in being visible to your friends and connections, to be remembered when invitations are sent and projects come up.
And you have to go the whole hog with Facebook – delete the app, sign out on all devices. I changed my password to something obscure and tricky to remember. StayFocusd is also a great service for Google users – you can schedule it to block certain sites or kick you out after 10 minutes of restricted usage per day.
But doing it can be a beautiful thing for your mindset and wellbeing. Removed from the ‘how fabulous am I?’ race, you can take a proper look at where you are in life and how you’re behaving, without any kind of online image to keep up with or connections to please. You get more done and you’re better company – reading an article from today’s papers instead of that morning timeline browse, making eye contact and asking a friend how they are instead of snapping your cocktails and tagging yourselves at the venue.
Could I ever really quit? Not until I’m convinced that I wouldn’t miss out on 30% of my social life.
Three tips for a better relationship with Facebook:
1. Use the Block function with exes, enemies and sources of envy. It takes seconds and makes them completely invisible to you, and you to them, and it’s a weight lifted (plus it’s complex enough to unblock that it’ll put you off changing it).
2. Have a cull. This summer I sat down and removed around 200 of my ‘good friends’ (people I met at a party once, friends of ex-boyfriends, girls I hated in high school…) If you can’t stomach seeing your friends tally go down, have a timeline clean up and ‘unfollow’ all relationship-paraders, political ranters, selfie addicts and anyone who makes your blood boil.
3. Be a networker, not a broadcaster. Instead of just filling your own wall with gushing or sorrowful updates, send funny links to friends, check in with them and ask them how they’re doing. ‘Like’ their stuff. Try and make all of your comments positive. Facebook karma is a thing.