Cutting off your face in spite of news

by Gautam Raja

I’ve finally done it. I’ve pulled the plug. I’ve left Facebook.

There are many advantages. It means this article will be written several paragraphs at a time, without me switching to Facebook every sentence. It means that there’s more cooking at home and we’re not always popping out to Surabhi Garden for takeaway gobi Manchurian. It means that materials get bought and curtains get put up, rooms get set up and roof gardens start growing.

There have been many studies showing that social networking can be extremely addictive—perhaps even more than cigarettes. I exhibited most of the symptoms—a nearly uncontrollable need to check and recheck for new items on the feed, anxiety when away from it (but—for me—not when completely away such as on holiday) and the clincher: a lack of interest in other things when Facebook is available.

The last one really hit me because it was true that as long as I had internet access, I was not interested in any of the things that normally excite me—cooking, doing work on my bicycles, listening to music, reading. The latter has suffered the most.

And so, after that last article I read, I decided to just do it. I removed all my pictures and then set my FB account for deletion (this is different from the deactivation link that is more easily found—Facebook doesn’t make it easy to see how to leave). Even then, your account isn’t deleted for 14 days. You can log in any time in that period and all will be forgiven.

As you’ve seen, none of my reasons are about privacy or copyright ownership or even boredom or irritation with the site. I’m going to miss it. I like knowing what people are up to. I love the strange links that my varied friends share, and knowing what the trending topics of the day are. I’ll miss the fun “conversations” we have through comments on links and photos. So much of my news came via Facebook, as did my awareness of new products or ideas related with my hobbies. And yes, I miss having my own little soapbox.

But the advantages of being away are beginning to assert themselves. I’m already starting to have more meaningful interactions via e-mail, instead of a desultory chat or message. My general anxiety and fidgetiness at home has reduced, and I wake up and spend my tea-drinking time reading a book or talking to my wife instead of scrolling through my newsfeed. And unbelievably, I’ve written all the way to here without any distractions. In several small ways I feel as if I’ve got my life back.

It’s unlikely I’m ever going to be smug about leaving though. After all, my exit was because of my failing, not the website’s. But there is still much social cachet attached to not being too attached to Facebook, even though nearly everybody and his grandmother is on it. So many people are smug because “Oh I never post on Facebook”, and yet know exactly what everybody is doing or saying. I’m never sure how sneaking around to roll your eyes at people is something to be proud of.

Some people don’t get why I’d delete my account—why not just log in less? Clearly these people aren’t taking the word “addiction” seriously. Others congratulate me and say it’s a good move, one they’ve been contemplating for a while. It’s your call to make, but remember this—if you have ever thought that it is interfering with the quality of your life, you’re probably ripe for deletion.

First published in Gulf News, October 15, 2013