Standing in the kitchen as my pasta boiled and my beef bubbled, I typed a two-word, one-hashtag farewell on my phone, closed the app and then uninstalled it. This morning, I opened the browser on my computer and symbolically deleted the Facebook bookmark from the toolbar. Then I did the same on my laptop.
I haven’t yet gone the full Monty and closed my account. That still feels oddly taboo. Though I hope to do so eventually.
And do you know what? I feel free.
I was a very early adopter of Facebook, joining in 2006 the moment the site was opened up to the general public. Then as now, Facebook provided a chance to hook up with friends, relatives, acquaintances, former classmates and fellow students around the globe. To an expat like me, who had frequently packed his bags and switched town and even country (I recently notched up my twentieth such move), Facebook offered a simple way to keep in touch with people whose lives I could no longer follow so easily from afar. And as a long-term freelancer who spent his days alone in his home office, I missed the social interaction that daily contact with colleagues brings. So I embraced the opportunity for “social networking” with open arms.
Over the past ten years, I have been an extremely active member on Facebook, sometimes more so, sometimes less. I have uploaded photos of my kids and cats, updated my “status”, joined and founded groups and pages, reposted articles, jokes and links to other sites, amused, offended and expressed my opinions on the posts of friends and others. I even “poked” my Facebook friends when that was still novel and fashionable. Though I thankfully never got into Farmville and similar games, I have spent hours, days, possibly weeks (or more) scrolling, posting commenting and liking on Facebook on a wide variety of devices.
So why on earth, you might ask, am I leaving? It’s very simple: I am sick and tired of it.
I’m sick of the false amity and the inane bickering, the frantic friending and aggressive unfriending, sick of the frankly creepy “stalkers” who read everything yet never comment – unless you do something mind-blowing like announcing your departure. I’m sick of the politicking and the conspiracy theorists, the self-aggrandising selfies and meaningless meal photos. I’m sick of the time-wasting memes and viral videos, the constant stream of random personality tests and patently false “If I get a million likes” chain reposts. But most of all, I’m sick of what I have become because of it.
What, after all, did I gain from all this social networking, aside from a smattering of “likes” as ephemeral as a soap bubble? Sure, I saw some funny pictures read some interesting articles that may or may not have been true and got some snippets of news that I could probably have found through other, more reliable sources. I’ve renewed contact with people whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to for a long time, though the initial thrill of re-acquaintance eventually wore off, as did, in most cases, the communication. Apart from that, all I have to show for ten years of Facebook is a worrying dependence on instant entertainment.
Yes, after years of denial, I am finally ready to admit that I’m a Facebook junkie. And it’s time I kicked the habit.
As I jogged through the sun-drenched streets of my adopted home this lunchtime, a boy who was clearly returning from school turned around and clapped as I went past. “Allez, allez!” he cried with a big grin on his face, as if I were in the final stretch of a marathon. A little further on, a fellow runner smiled briefly at me and said, “Bonjour” – an extremely rare occurrence in urban climes.
Neither the boy nor the man clicked on a stylised upturned thumb. They didn’t type a bland, pithy expression of electronic encouragement. We had a face-to-face encounter, our eyes met and they gave me both verbal and nonverbal affirmation. And I reciprocated in kind. And in that moment, something real, something human passed between us.
A million likes and a million comments can’t match that.
Out of habit, I had planned to repost this article on Facebook, partly also as a kind of parting “Fuck you”. But then I realised that this is exactly what I and the 1.4 billion other active members are supposed to do – to generate content, likes and comments – and I’m no longer prepared to help the obscenely rich Mark Z and his friends earn yet more money selling something they didn’t even make themselves.
In any case, my rant would only hurt the wrong people; the friends I genuinely like and who genuinely like me.
So what am I going to do with all the time I won’t now be spending on Facebook? I’ve already begun: this morning I started doing the daily ab and proprioception exercises I’ve been promising myself for months. I’ve re-subscribed to a magazine I very much enjoy reading. I also signed up for a tough trail race in the autumn that will need considerable training for if I don’t want to die somewhere along the way.
And in the future? I’m going to restart the blog I set aside six months ago for lack of time. I shall exercise more. I will work when I need to and step away from the computer when I don’t. I shall attempt anew to master the art of unicycling. I shall have fun; real fun with real, non-virtual people. And I shall finally finish the books that I started but never completed – partly because of the distractive lure of “vitamin FB”.
But most importantly, I shall spend more time with the wife I have neglected and the children I have neglected and who themselves now waste even more hours than I on pointless online “activities,” be it playing games like Minecraft or, worse still, watching YouTube videos of people playing Minecraft. And it's all my fault because I led by example, staring at my phone screen when I should have been telling them about my day and enquiring about theirs.
When he came home from school today, my son was terribly excited about the unseasonably warm weather and asked if I would play football with him. Probably expecting me to decline, as always. To his surprise – and, frankly, mine too – instead of giving the usual lame excuse about being too busy, I said, “Sure”.
So we went outside and had some wonderful quality time. That is, until I kicked the ball into a neighbour’s garden. But even that was OK because of the subsequent conspiratorial bonding experience as we sheepishly rang the doorbell to ask for our ball back.
A hundred million likes and a hundred million comments can’t match that.
Will I ever return to the Facebook fold, as several of my stalkers have been oh-so quick to predict? I honestly cannot say. For now I sincerely hope not. I already look forward to ignoring the siren call of the automatic reminders that I know will soon litter my inbox, hinting at the fun and all the friend requests I’m missing. “Go on,” they will urge me like a street-corner dealer. “Just take a look. We know you want to.”
Perhaps I just need to break that taboo and close my account.