Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

Confessions of a Facebook addict

First published in The Age on May 26th, 2011.

Hi, my name is Matt, and I’m a Facebook addict. It’s been five weeks since I updated my Facebook status or looked at a profile page.

Some of you are no doubt reading that sentence with a mixture of horror and disbelief. Others will be sneering at how ridiculous it is to have an attachment to an internet site.

The bottom line is that many people out there spend part of their day on Facebook, living what amounts to a virtual life. It’s a major drain on productivity for those who live a cubicle life.

Facebook is a major drain on productivity for those who live a cubicle life.

It’s easy to see why: relationships form and end over Facebook. You share in the news of loved ones who live far away. You reconnect with people who you vaguely knew in high school. You track down old flames to see if your life is better than theirs. You go where you shouldn’t.

I was one of those people. Facebook became an addiction, in some ways, and even more so when I could easily access it from my phone at any time. Within minutes, I could get updates on what my friends and family were up to, I could see where they’d been, I could look at photos of holidays or babies of friends who have moved on with their lives. Who needs to phone or see people in real life? I live on the other side of the country from my family; for me this was perfect.

There were two breaking points that made me realise that with all this social networking, I had become anti-social.

The first was that I found out my great-grandmother had passed away when my uncle updated his Facebook status three days after the funeral. No one had bothered to let me know.

The second was when my younger sister showed her concern for me by attempting to listen to my troubles and offer advice over Facebook chat. Concern doesn’t come accompanied with an emoticon. If you really care, the least you can do is pick up the damn phone.

And so I quit. I pulled out and withdrew from Facebook. I posted a goodbye message, and set about deactivating my account. Through the process I was ever mindful of the fact that I was saying goodbye to a lot of people. Facebook was my only active link to a lot of friends and family who live across the country. People with whom I no longer talk regularly, nor see in person, but still like to know what they’re up to. Many of them probably see me in the same way.

Facebook is almost desperate to hold on to you though – just as you’re about to deactivate it, it resorts to emotional blackmail. It will show you your photos, and tell you your friends and family will miss you. Josie will miss you. Dan will miss you. Darryl will miss you. If they missed me so much, they would pick up a phone once in a while.

I deactivated my account before I could reconsider.

In the month since, I’ve caught up with some people in person, exchanged emails, and spoken on the phone with some family members. A friend actually went out of her way to phone me and invite me to a party, considering she couldn’t ”Facebook event” me. It’s been nice. A bit of a relief. I can’t say I don’t get the compulsion to see what people are up to, and I feel a bit detached from those that I don’t have much to do with any more.

I guess this is what real life is like, though. At some point you move on from friendships, especially after high school. Was my life any richer from interacting with people that I hadn’t seen in more than a decade? Did I really need to be poked by those I could barely remember? Facebook is the ultimate, endless high-school reunion. You’re friends with people simply so you can see what’s going on with their lives.

It’s strange that we view this as a ”social” network, though. Reading a person’s wall or profile, posting a message, these are actions you do in solitude in front of a screen, they’ve replaced talking to people or seeing them in person. You’re getting the information, but you’re no longer benefiting from the social aspect.

And my Facebook account isn’t deleted. It’s still ”there”. Facebook holds all my information, my friends, and all it will take for me to get all that ”socialising” back is to log in. It will take me back with open arms, like I’d never left. It doesn’t keep me awake at night, but the temptation is undeniable.

The downside? I’m prone to feeling a bit lonely now. Facebook was almost like a nicotine patch for the isolation I’ve felt since moving to Melbourne three years ago. But I’ve got to make the most of it, and actually phone people to catch up. This could make me a better friend, or a better brother to my siblings.

Who knows, in the long run I might find that I end up being more social.



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This entry was posted on June 6, 2011 by in lifestyle, technology and tagged , , .
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