Deactivated. 168 hours, 10,080 minutes and 604,800 seconds.
“Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” From The Joy of Quiet, New York Times.
With that in mind, I embarked on an experiment that changed my life five months ago. Seven days without Facebook. Seven days of not being plugged and not always connected. The days passed like this:
I type in my email, then my password. My mouse pointer hovers on the “Log In” button. Reactivating the world of Facebook is just a few clicks away. On previous days, it took a superhuman-like will power not to click on the abominable button. Oftentimes, I felt like a drug addict struggling not to grab the bag of white powder hanging beguilingly in front of her face.
I confess: I am a chronic Facebook user. One of the first few things I do when I wake up in the morning is to check my Facebook account. One of the last things I do before I go to sleep is to check the account. Of course, I do visit it several times throughout the day when the occasional calls for it, or when I am idle.
Still, I never thought that any of my habits on Facebook were anything short of dysfunctional. Like many of its millions of users, I use Facebook to keep in contact with friends and family – all the more important for me as I have left most of them on the other side of the world. When I am busy, I do tend to stay off it during the day. Facebook is definitely nothing like air, water, or food; it is NOT something I require to survive.
I supposed then that this might not be easy, but it should not be too difficult either. There is always Twitter, email, text, and my cell phone to contact others. With all those in hand, losing Facebook for a week should not be too disabling. It is not as though I am stranded on a deserted island. With that, I wrote a message on my Wall, bidding my friends a temporary adieu. Facebook account deactivated. DONE.
Seven days later, going cold turkey on Facebook feels like a great achievement, especially considering what I went through for the first few days. I kept making up excuses to myself so that I can check Facebook. First, was to contact a certain cousin in Singapore a question, only to realize that I could use Whatsapp to do that just as easily. Second, was to see how a friend whose cell phone number I did not have was doing. Normally, Facebook did the job quickly. Looking at the Facebook Log In screen bleakly, I realized that she has a Twitter account too. Facebook is a convenience, not a necessity.
Consequentially, the presence of Facebook loomed heavily at the back of my mind throughout the hours. I was twitchy, restless, and perpetually anxious. Maybe I was on a deserted island ala Survivor after all. I was out of the loop, and it felt lonely.
Of course, there are all the other applications and hardware, but it felt as though they took too much effort to do things. Email and text felt like snail mail, and I felt it redundant to text every single one of my friends to see how they are doing. It felt like I was stalking them if I were to do that. I did, however, text some of them and they did kindly reply.
Is there not other a vast amount of content readily available in the outside world? Also, how often is the news on Facebook life transforming or important enough to warrant it constant attention? At the same time, for once, rather than keeping myself busy trying to keep up with all the new things the hundreds of people are posting, why not look at the slower things, and look at it in more depth? After all, when I do think about it, I do spend a minimal amount of time browsing through each of the content and posts that is continually generated, seemingly ad infinitum.
“All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.” From The Joy of Quiet, New York Times.
I went out of the house and explored the neighborhood, wondering whether there were any quaint nooks that I missed during my previous explorations. The air was refreshing with a gentle spring breeze that I often did not notice, what with my eyes usually focused on the tiny screen in front of me.
All was good, except that when I began to upload pictures on Instagram, Facebook quickly appeared once more from the dark, mildly forgotten recesses of my head. There was the new restaurant that I tried out, too. Taking pictures of food and uploading it on Facebook has always been a habit. I certainly was not enjoying this feeling of being out of the loop.
As the days went by, that overwhelming sense of isolation slowly diminished. Although, I still missed the instantaneous connectivity that Facebook gives. My mind felt clearer and I begin to enjoy the moments of tranquil the walks seem to bestow upon me. I even feel as though I am reading the book with far more lucidity than I usually do. I do not feel the need to needlessly bring myself out of the pages to look over at the cell phone for updates. In fact, I started to put the phone on silent moment sans vibration for the periods when I am reading. Those updates can wait.
Quietly, my cat came up to me and settled herself on my lap. A soft pur emerged. I smiled. How long ago was it when I often forgot to indulge in her purring as the chime of a social media feed distracts me? Petting her silky soft head, with the book in my other hand, I took a deep breath of the mellow, cool air in the gently lit room.
This is the Joy of Quiet.
Pico Iyer in conversation with Lisa Napoli – The Joy of Quiet: Desperate to Unplug (or coping with the age of always-on) from Ted Habte-Gabr on Vimeo.
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