My name is Randall and I am a Facebook addict. This is why today I will be deleting my Facebook page (and my Twitter account). After long consultations with my therapist it has been decided that I should cut back on as many unnecessary distractions in my life as possible so that I can make more time for the things I really need to do get done. If I did not have a tendency towards compulsive behavior maybe I could continue on with social networking sites but because I am easy prey to the temptations of social networking it is best that I stay away. For me having a Facebook account is what I imagine having a toothache or a subtle yet lingering back pain would be like for an ordinary person. There is this chronic throbbing feeling someplace in my body that is always pulling me towards my computer to check my Facebook page and it is this throbbing that I want to go away.
Six years ago I was a luddite. I wanted to have as little to do with technology as possible. I think I knew then the potential threat that technology posed towards my love of reading, writing, painting and my peace of mind. Someplace deep down in my psyche I was able to know that if I got caught up in the storm I would get drenched. The end cost would be my free time and my passions for reading, writing and painting would have to take a back seat to my need to be on-line. So I was smart to stay away but like most temptations in which everyone else around you is partaking in- it was only a matter of time before I gave in.
I consider myself fortunate to have avoided the storm of My Space. I stayed out of its way and watched the My Space storm drench everyone one else with its downpour while I was proud to avoid getting wet. But then came the gift of a Mac PowerBook G4 for Hanukkah a few years back when Facebook was becoming a popular on-line destination. I promised myself that I would stay away from social networking sites and use my new laptop with an Aikido like discipline. My wife was having a blast re-connecting with lost friends and connecting with current friends on Facebook while I read my books alone in my darkened room. I scoffed at her willingness to turn all of her personal relationships into digital ones but she would often tell me to “not knock it until I tried it,” so I took that as a challenge and one day decided to sign up.
I was getting bored just using my new laptop for googling, email and blogging. I knew that my PowerBook G4 had enough power in it to take me into multiple virtual worlds at once and change my experience of communicating and living on earth into something less complicated- but I instead was choosing to not tap into my laptops full potential. I admit that I had some semblance of guilt about this and felt bad that the laptop was growing weak because of my inability to really use it for all it was worth. Facebook felt like a good place to begin.
Like any addiction in its initial stage my introduction to Facebook was innocent and fun. I was excited to re-connect with a few old friends and engage with current ones on-line. Facebook was a good way for me to connect with certain friends without having to talk with them on the phone or see them in person. I am already a slightly solitary person who would rather read a book than socialize so there was something initially liberating about Facebook. I could stay in touch without really connecting. I enjoyed reading the various articles and watching videos that my various friends posted and felt like I was creating a positive community of people that I was motivated to be apart of. But like any addiction- my Facebook addiction became an out of control obsession before I even knew what was going on.
Within a month I went from 10 friends to 175 friends. I had never had this many friends in my entire life and there was something about the number 175 that made me feel slightly popular. “I have 175 friends,” would often run through my mind like a mantra or a declaration against loneliness and isolation. For the first time in my life I felt like I had a fan base, an audience and status updates became an important way for me to communicate to others the way in which I experienced the world. My friends were listening to me, reading my status updates and leaving comments- and this feeling of being known or heard or seen filled me with the illusory sense that I was unique, maybe even slightly famous. After less than two months on Facebook I was beginning to feel special.
As a child my parents worked all the time and I spent a lot of time alone. When my parents were home I felt like they were too preoccupied to pay any real attention to me. Deep down I knew I was someone special but to my parents I felt like I was just an ordinary kid. I tried to do everything I could to stand out. I got in trouble at school, ran away several times, started a new wave magazine, was determined to play professional tennis and one day be famous. But for some reason all of my attempts to stand out never really attracted the attention I needed from them. I got punished, or told that I was a dreamer and then they went back into their worlds. I felt abandoned, unseen, unheard and determined to one-day make something of myself in this life- so they would have to see who I really was.
This feeling of isolation that followed me into my adulthood was muted or watered down by my compulsive desire to leave status updates. With every status update that I felt like I was constructing a persona that was not really “I” but was more like the “I” that I wanted to be perceived as being. I kept a notebook on my person at all times where I would write down status update ideas when they came into my mind. Before I went to sleep at night and when I woke up in the morning I would work hard to think up various status updates in my mind. I was leaving three or four status updates a day and checking my Facebook page seven or eight times a day to see if anyone had left a comment. Before I knew it, months had passed without me reading a single book or putting a splotch of paint on a canvas. It was then that I began to have the lingering feeling that I could be addicted to Facebook.
The worst part of my addiction was not the false sense of self that I created from leaving Facebook status updates. Nor was it the loss of privacy or the amount of repetitive times that I spent checking my Facebook homepage everyday. No, the worst part of my Facebook addiction is the most difficult confession. I hope you will forgive me this transgression. You see, I would work hard at constructing various status updates. The updates had become my main preoccupation and my main form of creative expression. The status update blank digital box had become my empty canvas or a blank page upon which I created my art. I felt like I was making myself vulnerable to all of my Facebook friends and the least that I expected in return was a comment or two. Some kind of acknowledgement from my peers. But when I would post a status update and none of my friends would leave a single comment- I felt a sense of rejection so deep that I could feel fire burning behind my eyes. The fire filled my mind with a blistering indignation towards all my facebook friends who had failed to acknowledge my one form of creative expression. I felt unseen and unappreciated and this in turn ruined my whole day. But like every addiction- a quick fix was just around the corner.
My consumption of alcohol increased during this period. I would put out the flames of my indignation with the cold carbonation of beer. After two or three drinks I would return to my Facebook page and not feel so bad anymore. I would leave another ridiculous status update about being drunk and usually receive a comment or thumbs up which caused my indignation to disappear. I would return to business as usual. My wife never noticed that I was checking my Facebook page sometimes twenty times a day to see if anyone had commented on my page and/or to catch up with my friend’s status updates and various posts. Sometimes, I would even take pride in comparing my status updates to my friend’s status updates and take great delight in the superiority of my status updates. Ridiculous, I know- but Facebook was making me into the kind of man who I did not want to be.
A lot of my fifty minutes in therapy has been taken up with discussions about my Facebook addiction. My therapist became concerned about my lack of self-control and was worried that all the time I spent using or thinking about Facebook was distracting me from what I really needed to be thinking about in my life. She found for me a few Facebook anonymous groups in Sacramento, which I promised her I would look into. I was convinced that my Facebook addiction was not as bad as she was making it out to be and I knew that I could stop going to Facebook when I was on-line if I wanted to. But I was wrong- Facebook had me exactly where it wanted me and was not going to let go any time soon.
Like any great form of self expression- my status update creative phase fell victim to a writer’s block. I was only able to leave one or two status updates a day and I knew that these status updates did not have the brilliance and charm of my earlier status updates. So I slowed down on my updates and spent more time consumed by my friend’s status updates and the various superficial cutouts of information and entertainment that they posted on-line. I would pass hours watching videos and reading articles. The first thing I would do in the morning was to check my Facebook page. It was also the last thing I would do before going to bed. My creative impulses were becoming weakend by the amount of digital information I was taking in and when it came time to sit with a book my eyes were so strained that I could not clearly ingest a single word.
Prior to using Facebook I spoke to my friends on the phone or saw them in person. It has been months since I have talked to a friend on the phone. The loneliness that I thought was being nullified by my time spent on Facebook has only increased. Like a cancer it has not gone away but simply changed its form and moved to a different place. Loneliness is one of the greatest symptoms of our new social networking world. Communities like Facebook create a false sense of friendship and belonging but what I think really happens is that the more digitalized our friends become the further away we grow from ourselves and our corporeal world. Communicating becomes reduced to status updates or brief cutouts of personal information. But human beings are complex organisms with multiple layers of self. To really be a friend one needs to spend a lot of time peeling back these layers and getting inside. The more I have used Facebook the more layers I have been able to keep concealed and this has turned the majority of my friendships into nothing more than a superficial status update.
So I am going to stay away. As of today I will delete my Facebook account and get back on track with living in the world of flesh and bones. I will get back to my books, my writing and paint on a few canvases that have collected cobwebs and dust in the corner of my room. I will start keeping a journal again with pen and ink (where I am the only one who can read my personal thoughts) and re-establish a sense of privacy that I feel I surrendered the moment that I joined Facebook. Maybe deleting my Facebook page is a radical step in the wrong direction but for a compulsive person like myself Facebook is a virus that I must wipe out if I want to feel my normal, vibrant self again. I know that it will take a few weeks to re-adapt to life without Facebook but I am prepared, optimistic and excited for this challenge to live a life that is not spent on-line. Who knows, maybe I will pick up the phone and call a few friends.