I created a Facebook account in 2007.
Thus begins a grisly tale of horror and deceit, rife with moments of duplicity, vanity, hostility, and plain old-fashioned spite. Add a dash of gossip, a touch of voyeurism, and a dollop of selfishness and we have a recipe for disaster.
No, I am not being facetious. I wish I was.
I cannot believe that Facebook has only been around a little more than a decade. My pre-Facebook life seems to take on the hazy quality of old movies. Sometimes I wonder what I did during my leisure time in those days – the memories are like sepia-toned images.
Seriously though, what did I do with my free time then? Before Facebook, before Instagram, before Pinterest, before I could google everything from my phone, before I even had a portable telephone(!). Now “google” has become a verb, I sit and stare at myself while making abominable faces at my camera that masquerades as a phone, I have an incessant need to check my “news feed” to read the latest gossip or see the trending hashtags, I mask my snooping behind privacy settings, I air my opinions forcefully and maliciously, and take self-righteous umbrage when faced with any form of criticism.
Like I said – a grisly tale.
Over the last decade as I voluntarily turned over my entire life to Facebook and Instagram, I realized a gradual change in my personality. I found myself getting impatient and irritable at the end of each day. Even when I logged in to social media (to "de-stress," if you will), I’d end up after an hour of mindless scrolling, more irritated, frustrated, demotivated, and depressed than before. Initially I tried to give excuses – this was social media, everyone is on FB and Instagram, it’s just a few more pictures, what harm can it do, etc., etc.
(Seriously, what did I do before social media seized control of “free time”!)
The negativity didn’t go away though. Day in and day out, I found myself trying unsuccessfully to disengage myself from any contact with depressing news articles that were forwarded to my page, or the hundreds of petitions that needed to be signed, or the strident opinions of social justice warriors. The alternative was watching videos of multi-hued slime on Instagram (believe me that is very much a thing!). But I was addicted and I couldn’t stop myself from going back every day for more of the same rot.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I realised that I was choosing to pick up my phone each day rather than spend time with my then almost-four-year-old. She was already in school so I barely got a few hours with her on a weekday anyway. In those precious hours, I would try to distract her by giving her a book to read or some toys or worse, put on a movie, while I got some alone, me-time with my phone. I tried to excuse my terrible behaviour with the self-justifying reason that I was tired after work and I needed to de-stress. Yeah right, try telling that to Paul who wrote this pithy reminder –
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. [Philippians 4:8]
Realising that nothing I was meditating on (i.e. reading on FB or watching on Instagram) would fit the checklist above, I finally acknowledged that I had a problem. I was on social media but I had no clue how to handle my time on it or what I allowed myself to see or read. Worse, it was not only robbing my joy and any sense of beauty and sincerity, but it was also stealing my time – time with my daughter, time with my husband, and definitely time with my Heavenly Father.
So after much deliberation and waffling–wondering if I was making a mountain of a molehill–I finally tried to delete my FB account. “Tried” being the operative word, as FB is like Hotel California – you can enter but you can never leave. I kid you not, I spent over an hour attempting to explain to FB why I wanted to delete my account.
They came back with helpful (unsolicited) suggestions of how they can make FB more relevant for me (by inundating me with more advertisements, was their solution). When that did not work, they tried to guilt trip me by showing me random contacts from my friends list and saying that they would miss me if I wasn’t around anymore. Yes, I am serious. I told you, I wish was being facetious, but unfortunately, I am not! Finally, when no persuasion seemed to work, they threw one last parting shot – Ok, you can deactivate your account if you want, but your photos and everything else is right here waiting for you. Just log-in anytime with the old username and password and we’ll welcome you back with open arms. The Eagles were probably thinking of FB when they wrote that infamous song!
Finally though, the deed was done. I deactivated my FB account in 2017. The precision of God's timing never fails to astound me.
When I moved on to Instagram, a similar series of events occurred. Again, they tried to dissuade me from leaving. They asked for feedback on what they could improve to make me happier, they even had a helpful drop-down menu where I had to select my reasons for leaving. Apparently, “just cause” doesn’t cut it anymore. Finally, they reiterated the same message that FB did – all my stuff will be right here, in their safekeeping, waiting for my return.
One good thing was that by then I was actively wanting to get out. I had initially been worried that I might be shooting myself in the foot, I wondered what I would do when I had “free time”, I thought I might miss out on stuff happening in my extended family (then I remembered the catastrophe that is Whatsapp groups and didn’t worry about that last bit anymore!). But this little glimpse of the self-made prison that is social media was a breath of fresh air that blew away the cobwebs in my mind.
It has been a few months since I’ve been off these two platforms, and honestly, I do not miss them at all. I finally remembered what I did in my free time during my pre-FB days – read a lot, poetry especially, write, think, paint, talk, listen, pray, play.
It has been a joy to re-focus my gaze on the Beautiful One; to meditate on things that are pure and true; to spend quality time with my little girl while she is still little; to slow down and allow God to lead me at His pace, in the paths He wants me to tread, to show me great and unsearchable things from His Word. I can sense my mind being renewed and refreshed; that is a joy that never goes stale!
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