Could you give up Facebook for 40 days and 40 nights?

It’s a time for religious reflection and the denial of luxuries to better connect oneself to what really matters in life – but could you give up Facebook for 40 days and nights? JesmondLocal’s  Megan Cunningham goes cold turkey on her favourite webpage…

Friends and family often take the mick over how active I am on the internet and Facebook in particular. Facebook is immensely popular and, in October of last year, reached one billion users (or a seventh of the world’s population). It’s commonplace amongst many UK citizens and I don’t know a single student who doesn’t use it regularly. It’s invaluable for staying in touch with friends from home as well as for making new friends at university.

One of the people I keep in touch with via the site is my brother. He recently jibed that I’m top of his newsfeed without fail, usually whinging about something trivial or posting pictures of where I’ve been that day.

FACEBOOKI don’t like to think that I brag about the places I’ve been or the things I’ve done, and I certainly wasn’t impressed with the idea of being a whinge! So, on Shrove Tuesday three weeks ago, a housemate and I decided to prove a point and give up Facebook for Lent; traditionally 40 days and 40  nights.

Before I began my ‘fast’, I posted the following status update to tell my friends what I was up to. Because of my self-imposed exile, I still don’t know what responses it’s had (if any at all).

This year for Lent I’m giving up chocolate (again). I’m also giving up Facebook. Traditionally, Lent is supposed to be a time when Christians commit to fasting or giving up luxuries as a form of penitence, but I’m not sure what to make of all that stuff. Either way, I think I’m just going to challenge myself, not only to be more focussed and productive, but to always try and be with the people I’m actually in a room with. Not half with them and half with some virtual community where perception is reality. I’m going to try and ring, or even write to, the people I love and miss rather than just ‘stalk’ or ‘poke’ them. Coincidentally, Easter Sunday falls on my 21st birthday this year. Mundane updates about what I did at lunchtime may or may not resume after then

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
– (allegedly, Albert Einstein)

A little dramatic, perhaps, but I think all my points are valid. And with that, I was done, cast out into the cold of cyberspace without one of its most important sites. What I’ve discovered looking from the outside in has been really interesting.

Cold turkey

Since quitting I can’t believe how often friends around me are mindlessly scrolling and refreshing and scrolling and refreshing on their phones. We’re slaves to our smartphones, hermetically attached to them in lectures, during dinner, out in bars, whilst watching a film and, insultingly, often while I’m trying to hold a conversation! We’ve all become so incessantly interested in what ‘everyone’ is doing and saying, we’re not focussed on what we’re doing and saying, or what our nearest and dearest are doing and saying. I’ve lost count of the occasions where I have trailed off mid-sentence after realising the person I’m talking to isn’t in the room with me anymore because their attention has floated off into cyberspace.

This initial observation had me feeling fairly superior at my decision to shun such behaviour. But I hate to admit that the first week or so was surprisingly difficult. I’ve had Facebook since I was about 15 years old and it’s clearly had habit-forming effects on me. There’s a certain awkwardness our generation finds in standing or sitting alone. If while waiting for a meeting to start, for the Metro to arrive, a friend to come out of a lesson I found I had no idea what to do with my hands. Without that crucial Facebook check you’re just standing and doing nothing, and that looks creepy, doesn’t it? Does it? Must be careful not to make direct eye contact with anyone…

Disconnected from reality?

These petty habits aside, JesmondLocal wanted to know whether being away from social media has had any effect on my being informed with the news, local and otherwise. I’m relieved to be able to report that in terms of serious, breaking news, I haven’t missed much. That sort of information is still primarily fed to our house through the 10 o’clock news on telly, Twitter and talking, and in my social circles at least, Facebook isn’t central in regards to circulating the really important stuff (but for how long?).

As for local happenings, I’ve been completely out of touch! My local Zumba class is organised via Facebook and I totally missed out on attending a number of campaign meetings for a friend who was running for a sabbatical position at Newcastle University. Everything was organised on Facebook and, because it’s so ubiquitous, as far as those involved were concerned, I received the notifications and chose not to respond. I had to apologise for not being on Facebook to read any of the updates! Even now, housemates turn up at my bedroom door and say, “Well, are you coming?” to which I have to confess that I have no idea what anyone is talking about. I also totally missed the ‘Harlem Shake’ phenomenon but I’m led to believe that that was no bad thing…

Slaves to social media

All told, what’s surprised me the most so far is how often I’ve had to actively tell people about my fast to make sure I don’t miss out on any vital communication between study groups or colleagues. Facebook has become so ingrained into our lives, the oxygen in our blood, that every single time I say, “Oh, take my number, I’m not on Facebook,” I’m met with the same dumbfounded look as people tend not ask “Why?” but, somewhat sadly, “How?”

This being said, and despite all my tutting and dressing-down, of course I’ll be going back. Nobody likes feeling out of the loop or excluded. It’s like being back at junior school again, always a few days behind the ‘next big thing’. “What’s everyone talking about?”, “Oh, haven’t you heard?”

As for you, assuming you’ve read this webpage in one whole go, you must have been away from Facebook for, what, three minutes by now? Get back there sharpish, someone must have said something new! I’ll just stumble along in ignorance until sweet release on Easter Sunday and my birthday. Best set aside a couple of hours to be on my own in the corner with my phone so I can catch up on everything I’ve missed. With a massive bar of Lindor…