The rush of the real. Facebook’s effect on my brain, senses and social ability.

My friend Murray and I were talking on the way to the airport about this time last week. It was an early 4.30am drive, the freeway quiet, the orange glow of hot air balloons gently bobbing above the city like chinese lanterns.

The stretch of time laid out like the open road before us. One uninterrupted hour with an old friend, conditions to incite the type of flow in conversations where one idea bounces easily to the next.

The exhilaration of having a fresh, meaningful conversation wasn’t something I used to think about. Definitely wasn’t something which motivated me to write it down and describe it. Yet now, here it is.

After two weeks in Melbourne, the town I grew up in, I was heading back to New York, my home for the past two years. Murray waved goodbye. Until the next time we were face-to-face, we typically would piece together each other’s lives through Facebook, buoy our friendship through likes of baby pictures and Brooklyn, and scrawl quick messages on the social network’s walls.

That’s when I decided it was time for me to deactivate. Sounds so dramatic. Not really, and not like it was anything new or progressive, friends had dropped out of the Facebook world a few years back, blogs have been written, books even, people coming to this point a lot earlier than I did.

I wanted to share the thoughts around switching off Facey  as a post here as much to record the experiment and my own state of mind at this point, as to stimulate thinking and opinion about why individuals are increasingly moving away from Facebook. Group effects of Facebook aside (which is far more interesting but harder for me to write), here’s a diary of what I’ve noticed happening to me personally. So bail out from the post now if you don’t want to get personal :)

The creeping desire to deactivate Facebook (and it was a slow, creeping feeling) was not just because I felt it had robbed me of the commune of real conversation. It wasn’t Facebook’s fault I didn’t pick up a phone to maintain a friendship between visits home. That was on me. Facebook has had a profound effect on my desire to engage in these moments of genuine friendship when there was an “easier” option.

Troubling as that behaviour was, it was the general (mental) space invasion of a social network  I’d never anticipated that really put ants in my pants. When faced with an “empty” moment like riding the subway, laying in bed, sitting on the toilet (yes, really and true for 86% of the population), even walking down the street, it had started to seem unproductive if I didn’t do something else. Distraction is the new normal state of being. Giving my undivided attention to someone, including my own mind wasn’t enough. These empty spaces of time and thought now wanted to be filled!  The perfect oxygen for Facebook.

Basically over the past year I noticed my ability to turn over ideas, to wander alone and together in conversation, particularly deeply, has been impaired. And worse, I didn’t really care.

This is my first blog post in over a year. A slightly awkward ramble but it is another reminder of how I’ve become a digital sloth. While Facebook has been steering me away from making things and connections deeper than likes on pretty photos, the net effect is a divot in personal development.

As Sheryl Turkle said in an interview last year “We are letting technology take us places we don’t want to go.”

And instead of dissing technology, I’m hoping by switching off for a bit I can better understand how technology like Facebook can lead us back to our real lives instead of away from it.

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29 thoughts on “The rush of the real. Facebook’s effect on my brain, senses and social ability.

  1. Hearty, sincere and slightly gushing congratulations! You just articulated what I have been thinking and feeling for a while now, except that you have expressed it far better than I.

    What a wonderful reflection!

  2. Bryony I love this!! In theory! Funnily enough back when Google+ first arrived on the scene a friend of mine Steve Colman and I decided we’d be ahead of the pack and quit Facebook. We proudly erected signs where our Facebook profile pics once stood saying “Gone to Google +”. It didn’t last and we’re both back (our G+ profiles are dormant!). Obviously your departure has nothing to do with being on trend (I think we were just being wankers actually) but getting back to real life conversations, connections and being more focused. And I love that, god knows I need it. But – the thing about Facebook is that it allows me to stay connected to so many people I probably wouldn’t stay connected to otherwise. As an expat living in New York City like you, that’s super important to me. Please keep blogging as we neeeeeed to hear from you more than once a year! I am also super interested in hearing about how this turns out and I’m wondering if there is a happy medium? If you need a pilot group for an experiment on this subject sing out! :)

  3. Thanks for posting this Bryony. I have often debated whether to stay on or off but then I think, “how will people contact me, or how will I know what people are up to?.” And although it has kept me connected to folks I have met around the world it also creates an enormous amount of frustration. You have heard me complain about this in the office but I end up just re-reading the most ridiculous statuses that make me question the intelligence of our population. That’s why I love riding the subway where my signal does not work. Gives me an opportunity to look up and notice the most interesting people that roam this city. As Luke mentioned above, I’m interested to hear your feedback on this because I also hope there is a happy medium.

  4. Great sharings Bryony, I would say hardly rambly at all !

    Would you say that your engagement with Facebook has distracted you from sharing longer, more thought-out blogs in the past year?

    I have had to deal with my own ebbs and flows in how much I use Facey… but now feel that its all just a matter of habit. For example, I write about a morning practice without it (and other digital distractions) on Medium:

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