The week of switch­ing off, log­ging out and feel­ing out of touch

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - FLIC EVERETT

LON­DON: “Oh no, not an­other one – that’s the fourth in a week,” sighed a friend re­cently, study­ing her Face­book page. Her mates, it ap­peared, were do­ing what would have been un­think­able just a few months ago: say­ing farewell to Face­book and ta-ra to Twit­ter.

Per­haps they were in­spired by Lily Allen, who re­cently quit tweet­ing to spend more time with her boyfriend. Or Stephen Fry, who threat­ened to.

Or per­haps they were alarmed by a sur­vey which re­vealed that so­cial net­work­ing sites are cost­ing Bri­tain more than £1.3 bil­lion (R16.14bn) a year in lost work­ing hours. Or maybe the nov­elty of fol­low­ing other peo­ple’s pedes­trian up­dates is palling.

As a free­lance writer who spends most days home alone, I, too, am a Face­book ad­dict. Re­cently, my crav­ing reached the point where I could barely log off for fear that I’d ac­ci­den­tally miss some new up­date or triv­ial com­ment.

Even Satur­day nights be­came a Face­book frenzy as my 30-plus friends de­bated the mer­its of Jamie Afro ver­sus Danyl John­son on The X Fac­tor. And if I couldn’t get to the lap­top (be­cause my hus­band or son had swiped it to do their own so­cial net­work­ing), there was al­ways the ping of the Black­Berry an­nounc­ing a new e-mail or MSN mes­sage.

I couldn’t imag­ine liv­ing without the power to con­nect in­stantly with the world – if only to tell them I’m eat­ing a curry. As for e-mails, I’m so ter­ri­fied of miss­ing work com­mis­sions I check them as of­ten as I do my watch. So the idea of liv­ing without a lap­top, Face­book and Black­Berry for a week felt as un­nerv­ing as be­ing sent into space.

Would things change? Would I have any friends left when I re­turned? Most ter­ri­fy­ingly, what would I be miss­ing? I grit­ted my teeth, sent a fi­nal mes­sage, and logged off…

I’m work­ing at home all day and, af­ter about 20 min­utes of typ­ing, I feel a grow­ing urge to see what’s hap­pen­ing on Face­book. Have I had any re­sponses to my good­bye mes­sage? I’m des­per­ate to know what other peo­ple think.

I’m slightly wor­ried that my friend, who’s hav­ing a birth­day party next week, will change the de­tails and I’ll end up in the wrong place. As for e-mails, I’ve left an out of of­fice mes­sage telling peo­ple to ring me on the home phone or the clunky mo­bile I’ve fished out of the kitchen drawer. I feel like those peo­ple who move to dark­est Wales.

The home phone rings and I have to brush dust off the re­ceiver to an­swer it. It’s my mum, ask­ing how the ex­per­i­ment is go­ing. I’m des­per­ate for con­tact and ar­range to meet her for cof­fee in town. Nor­mally, we’d have a quick chat on Face­book and I’d get straight back to work.

I can’t stop think­ing about my lit­tle, shiny Black­Berry, full of in­ac­ces­si­ble new in­for­ma­tion. I’m much more ad­dicted than I thought.

I’m strug­gling with a tricky bit of work, and not be­ing able to give my­self a quick boost with an on­line chat or a nose through other peo­ple’s pho­tos is agony.

I could just call a friend. But while it’s easy to log on to Face­book or Twit­ter at work sneak­ily (57 per­cent of users do so ev­ery day), it’s not so sim­ple for them to en­gage in a long, triv­ial gos­sip in the of­fice.

I send a cou­ple of texts on the old mo­bile, which re­minds me of how ridicu­lously long-winded tex­ting used to be be­fore the Black­Berry and the iPhone pro­vided full key­boards. I tell my best friend I’m hav­ing a “rem­fly hrd ti­i­imm” and have to ask my son for help.

By evening, I feel as though I’m in soli­tary con­fine­ment.

No­body’s needed me ur­gently enough to call. And when my hus­band and fel­low-Face­book ad­dict comes home from work, he’s full of gos­sip about on­line do­ings.

“Did you see the pic­tures of Neil’s party?” he asks. “Oh, and Rob left a re­ally funny sta­tus up­date…”

I’m re­duced to telling him how three of the cats tried to cram them­selves into a small box. It was hi­lar­i­ous, but I had no way of telling any­one about it – or even tak­ing a pic­ture on my phone. No fun at all.

Shame­fully, this is the day that I crack. Last night, I was eye­ing my hus­band’s iPhone like a di­eter in a cake shop and this morn­ing I’m plagued by vi­sions of lost work com­mis­sions, missed chats and aban­doned so­cial ar­range­ments.

I tip­toe to the lap­top, as though it’s a tick­ing bomb, and log on in a rush of euphoric dis­obe­di­ence. I have 72 e-mails. My heart is pound­ing. Shame that 57 are junk mes­sages, the rest ei­ther PRs pro­mot­ing their Christ­mas prod­ucts or work con­tacts say­ing: “Don’t worry, good luck with your ex­per­i­ment.”

Af­ter that, I don’t have the heart to cheat with Face­book as well.

It’s Satur­day. Nor­mally I’d check head­lines on­line, then have a so­cial-net­work­ing scan to see what ev­ery­body’s do­ing this week­end.

I’m also dy­ing to check my new blog page ( www.word­ trav­elsin­my­house) to see if any­one’s looked at it, but I’m forced to ac­cept they prob­a­bly haven’t.

But af­ter a morn­ing with the pa­pers I’m find­ing it re­lax­ing not to be any­where near the com­puter. I make an ar­range­ment to meet friends for a drink later, us­ing the home phone – though I have to look their num­bers up on the mo­bile.

But when we want to go to the cin­ema, in­stead of a quick check for times on the Black­Berry I’m forced to sit through an ex­pen­sive and an­noy­ing di­a­logue list­ing at least 15 films I don’t want to see. It re­minds me how quickly we’ve ac­cepted the ease tech­nol­ogy brings.

It’s a bor­ing Sun­day, every­one’s out, and I’m sick of watch­ing TV.

I love the im­me­di­ate en­gage­ment of Face­book – the fact that you can com­ment on a friend’s photo or en­gage in a silly chat. Most of all, I like the way it keeps me in­volved with peo­ple I’d oth­er­wise have lost sight of years ago.

Face­book is like the magic mir­ror in Snow White: it lets you see what ev­ery­body’s do­ing without hav­ing to be there.

So, yearn­ing for my fix, I break the rules and log on. A quick scan of the up­dates shows that X Fac­tor’s John and Ed­ward are as un­pop­u­lar as ever, var­i­ous pals have posted hol­i­day pho­tos and I have a long mes­sage from an old friend who prob­a­bly thinks I’m ig­nor­ing her. Other than that, noth­ing has changed.

I’m sud­denly aware that, taken as a whole, Face­book and Twit­ter are fairly dull snap­shots of daily life. It grips me be­cause reg­u­lar vis­its mean there’s al­ways some­thing new.

I am shocked to re­alise that if I logged on to Face­book only weekly, I might not see the point. It re­quires con­stant com­mit­ment.

The ex­per­i­ment is over. In parts, it was tor­ture. I felt en­tirely left be­hind as the world’s swift cur­rent raced on, car­ry­ing news, mes­sages and work away from me.

Iron­i­cally, to­day’s the day

Ifi­nally get a call from about a job. “Were you on hol­i­day? I’ve been try­ing to e-mail you.”

“No, I was just hav­ing a break from tech­nol­ogy,” I ex­plain.

“That sounds an amaz­ing idea,” says my ed­i­tor. “I bet it was re­ally peace­ful.”

It ret­ro­spect, she’s right. I made ar­range­ments to see friends I might oth­er­wise just have e-mailed, and I stopped go­ing back into my of­fice in the evening.

Deep down, I en­joyed not be­ing in­stantly con­tactable and I re­alised how be­holden we’ve be­come to be­ing avail­able 24/7.

But I missed the com­mu­ni­ca­tion – the lit­tle lift that con­nect­ing with friends on­line of­fers, and the thrilling ping of a new e-mail.

I’m now back on­line but I can go for hours without won­der­ing whether some­one’s com­mented on my sta­tus or check­ing the news feed.

I can even start to be­lieve that if some­one re­ally needs to get hold of me, they’ll ring.

But even if Face­book is for nar­cis­sists, and e-mails are the thieves of time, I’m glad to have the choice. – Daily Mail

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