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The diary of a recovering Facebook addict
by Jay Gutman
2014-08-09 10:17:01
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When Facebook started in 2004, people expressed each other by communicating on each other’s walls or by posting pictures. Increasingly, people stopped using email or private messaging systems and communicated publicly on each other’s walls.

Facebook then added a newsfeed, where people could see what other people were posting on each other’s walls. Groups started forming, which people joined often to express an aspect of their tastes or personalities rather than to communicate. Facebook them made other changes, removing the wall and replacing it by a page where users could upload links. People were soon after able to comment on each other’s links, before the “like” button started appearing.

Facebook then became available on mobile phones and was ubiquitous. Today anyone over 25 and under 90 years old is usually on Facebook, and geriatrics over 90 years old are increasingly starting Facebook profiles. People upload pictures of their trips and parties, scholars upload their journal articles and newspaper op-eds, academic organizations leaders have become like sect gurus trying to find ways to attract more members.

What bothered me about Facebook was that it completely shook my identity. Anthropologists argue that we have several different identities and personalities depending on what network we hang out with. I would behave differently with my college friends than I would with my academic colleagues. My personality is not the same when I hang out with my family members and when I hang out with my high school friends.

My Facebook profile was one huge page that all my different networks: the friends I met travelling, my elementary school, middle school, high school, college, grad school, workplace, family, in-laws, academic colleagues, different organization colleagues, football club friends, friend’s friends, people I met at parties, people I met on Facebook groups, people I met at internships and people who randomly added me on Facebook all converged into this single space: my Facebook profile. When I posted something on my profile, everyone had access to the same story, which could not be modified according to groups.

That led to a certain amount of anxiety on my behalf: my grad school friends understand that workaholism is part of a grad school students’ daily life, but my family and college friends not so much. My Korean friends support the work I do in Korean Studies, my friends from other countries believe it is rather irrelevant.

In real life, I would never bother my high school or college friends with such detailed accounts of my life in Korea. On Facebook, everyone gets to see them, and when they’ve had enough of them, they click the unfollow button. In real life, I would never bother my academic circles with pictures of me having a cup of coffee at a fancy coffee shop with my fiancée, but Facebook forces them to hear that story.

There were three points at which I knew I would get out of Facebook. First, there was this bitter rivalry with an academic I have never met in person, as we were competing for popularity in our circle. We disagreed about everything very openly until the academic found out my week spot: the person advertised phony conference and job advertisements which the person rejected me from very bluntly. I only realized later they were phony and were merely meant as a trap.

The second point was when I realized that going to events organized through Facebook produced really awkward moments of being among a crowd that has nothing in common other than being members of that Facebook group. No one present at those events had previously met any other member present at that event, and introducing yourself in real life is not the same as typing a self-introduction on Facebook.

The point where I decided I had used Facebook long enough was during the conflict in Israel, where Facebook became the platform of delusional comments where Israeli women were stripping for the IDF and anti-Semites were openly glorifying Hitler. I decided I belonged to the real world, a world where the chances of me having a cup of coffee with an Israeli friend will not end up in her stripping and the chances of me meeting friends secretly harboring anti-Semitic feelings will not end in those secret feelings being revealed.

But like many, I was hooked, so here’s a diary of my withdrawal from Facebook.

Day 1: I felt anxious all day, eager to find out what had happened to my friends. Had trouble sleeping, but did not relapse.

Day 2: Relapsed in the morning. Found an interesting conference being advertised in a Central Asian country with all costs reimbursed. Turns out it was a conference set up for propaganda purposes. I re-deactivated my account and found out that Academic organizations advertised a lot more conferences and events than Facebook did and that Facebook was not a reliable source for academia.

Day 3: Did not relapse. Cleaned my room in two hours and it was sparkling. That’s what happens when you don’t have to check your profile every five minutes.

Day 4: Wrote so much of my dissertation that I had time for a long break to take an entire 8-hour course on the history of ideas.

Day 5: Relapsed. Realized there was nothing interesting going on anymore, and that I barely knew anyone who was on my profile. I forgot most people who post frequently on Facebook are not people I am acquainted with anymore. Quicky re-deactivated  my account.

Days 6-15: Did not check Facebook once. Dissertation advancing at high speed. Took classes about epic poetry, astronomy, legal reasoning. Met a few people in the real world, all seemed to agree Facebook was useless but that many people were hooked.

After day 15: I realized that ever since I started using Facebook, I would always interrupt an online course after 2 or 3 lectures because I would check Facebook and never come back. My hygiene is a lot better because I don’t need to check Facebook every five minutes. I’m a lot more productive despite not having the need to show my progress by updating my Facebook status. I also realized that using Facebook has two faces: on the one hand you get all those random people “liking” your posts which is a blessing and makes you happy, then you have all those annoying people that make you feel like you are stuck at a meeting you don’t belong to.

Quitting Facebook is a lot more mild than quitting smoking. Though the first few days you wonder what’s going on in the Facebook world, it’s OK to relapse a few times, as long as you convince yourself it’s really is useless.     

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Emanuel Paparella2014-08-09 14:19:10
Aristotle wrote that if at the end of one’s life one could count on one’s hand a few genuine friends, one can consider oneself lucky. In the era of face-book, would he change his view? Probably not. He would continue to hold that there is a clear difference between friends and acquaintances. People with many “followers” delude themselves that they have many friends. What obtains on face-book is not a colloquium of friends exchanging views and examining their lives to determine what it means, but the blind leading the blind, not knowing who leads and who follows. First we were enslaved to the market and turned into voracious consumers, next we were enslaved to face-book and turned into consummate narcissists. Addictions of any kind are always harmful: they enslave. Orwell had it on target in "1984" (long passed): when the truth is irrelevant one ends up with inverted meanings: love is hatred and war is peace, and one does not know who one’s enemies and one’s friends really are. One becomes a zombie without a conscience. It is the condition described by Kierkegaard as “the sickness unto death.”

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