The week of switching off, logging out and feeling out of touch
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.wordpress.com/ 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