Maybe, maybe not. Whatever. Lately, there have been quite a lot of articles, such as this one on LinkedIn, warning of impending mental health doom as a consequence of social media. It’s not all good, apparently. Naturally I read many of said articles, since they were being spoon fed to me and Liked by many of my friends – how could I resist! The thing was they resonated with me. I was thinking only the other day how distracted I was feeling, wondering how I was ever going to get anything done when I could so easily waste an entire morning filling out a form, with one 10-minute job on the computer and turning into the best part of an hour, still with nothing accomplished, and social media was high on my radar as the source of this growing frustration. The final deciding factor, the push I needed, was a few days of emotional turmoil during which James was pretty clear about having lost all patience with my attachment to my status updates and all the groups I was busily interacting with. Apparently it’s been going on for a while, I’ve not been present, I’m always on my phone (blah, blah, blah, right?) and he’s sick of it. I went off the deep end at the suggestion (of course I did, I’m an addict!!) but after staying up late in a strop but also having a good think about it, I decided he was right (darn) and I definitely needed to take a break from it, if not give it up completely.
Social media, eh? How can something that was supposed to be so good be so bad!?? It wasn’t meant to be this way. It was supposed to be about keeping in touch with friends, staying connected to people we care about, but – after a heated discussion forced me to think more deeply about it – I realised most of the time I was spending on there I was “talking” to people I didn’t know and would probably never meet. And that was the problem. My concern with “quitting” was that I would be missing out – that my entire social calendar was organised via Facebook and life would fall apart, I’d cast myself into social oblivion by turning my virtual back on my virtual world of social connections. To some extent that was true for a while way back when, since my mountain bike club was mostly Facebook-based, as were Team Glow (another cycling club – spot the pattern, folks), NW MTB Ladies (er, same same). Those groups were my lifeblood before having kids and I think it was true to say then that, yes, everything was organised on Facebook. But things have changed alot since then.
For one I am no longer go riding with those folks. Obviously now I’m in another country, which makes it particularly tricky, but before we moved I’d switched nights out on my bike for never-ending newborn nursing sessions, a new “hobby” which brought with it new interest groups on Facebook and an overbearing need to stay connected to my pre-child friends via their ever-dwindling Facebook updates; a desperate need to feel like I was still in the loop, still connected to those old ways, old friends, favourite pastimes that I just couldn’t do any more because now I was a mummy tasked with keeping a small and desperately needy human alive. What a shock to the system that was! To soften the blow of the huge identity crisis this brought with it, social media enabled me to still “hang” with my old buddies, virtually, at least. I needed to be there, active in the groups and so on, so that even though I was at home with my lovely, sleep-proof baby, my friends and all the people from my old pre-baby life wouldn’t have the chance to forget me!
Then, when DS arrived, having by then given up all hope of ever rejoining my old social cycling networks and having reconciled my present as being quite different, for the time-being at least, to my past and therefore being barely a distant memory in the lifecycles of the cycling clubs I used to participate in, I found myself tandem nursing – a strange and not altogether common experience – so I sought out new child-rearing-related groups to hang out in, most recently the Wild Schooling group (which I love!) and a Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond, which I can credit with helping me to stay sane (just) on the many nights when nursing both a newborn and a demanding toddler (now preschooler) were on the verge of being waaay too much.
As life settled down around in our new home far from our old home, I started to become a more active member of these various online communities and contribute to discussions. Why not!? I was now a veteran breastfeeder. I actually had advice for new mothers – I wanted them to succeed! If I could add a comment that would make a difference how could I not!? And this is where the problem started because, with over 2,000 subscribers worldwide, this was quite an active group. Add into the mix the oh-so-inspiring Wild Schooling group – 20,000 subscribers worldwide! – and that’s a lot of posts, updates, questions, discussions to distract an ordinary and slightly bored and disconnected woman who is four years into nursing with no end in sight. Oh, and did I mention living in a foreign country having left all my friends behind!? And this is how I felt it crept up on me. It’s really hard to concentrate, to focus, while nursing two small wriggly and sometimes also slightly fighty small beings. It’s not like I can concentrate on anything work-related or do anything that involves one or both hands, so I can’t program Anki with new words or grammar; I can’t even revise my Anki cards because for that I have to be able to speak and to play audio, which might risk waking one or both of my non-sleeping perpetually breastfeeding children. Which also rules out Duolingo. And anything else that involves audio: so no podcasts, movies, videos. I can’t speak to anyone, obviously (noise!), so no phone calls. Speaking to an actual person generates noise as does speaking to an app. Which reduces me to reading. So I’ve been reading, reading, reading: interesting threads on Facebook groups mostly, along with blogs, and news articles (links from my Facebook feed or the the Guardian, because I like the format of the app as much as anything else.) I’m also pretty good at tapping out posts one-handed, which is why I think Facebook (and maybe other forms of social media) are places that many women, especially mothers to small children, go to hang out. We easily find a tribe there because the world-over there are slightly bored women nursing children, lying still and quiet in the dark, with one free hand hovering over a smart phone, reading about the woes and wonderments of other women the world-over, and so it goes on.
That’s part of my story. I don’t deny there are benefits. It has definitely served a purpose but now the scope has started to creep to the extent that my virtual life, chatting with virtual friends about real-life problems (theirs and occasionally mine), was getting in the way of my real life simply because I had the best part of 22,000 “friends” – so that’s a lot of chatter! I learned some new stuff but a lot of the time it was not stuff I actually needed to know.
As for my real friends, well they’re hardly ever on Facebook these days (probably because they too are buried up to their necks in comments and conversations in other Facebook interest groups!) so the old days where it was all photo of a cat or kid doing something cute were long gone. Since that was my main justification for staying on it, I was basically unable to justify to myself the time I was spending there when I asked myself the question, how much time to do I spend engaged with my actual real-life friends?
So what am I missing? In short, nothing at all. I’m still logging in for 10 minutes here and there to check the items I have listed on various selling pages, as I do need to keep clearing out and those are quite active, but I’ve put some blocking software on my PC to prevent me going over time. (It’s called StayFocusd and it seems to work well.) I’ve deleted it off my phone and the iPad, so I can’t be tempted to just check in now and again and I’m deliberately not carrying my phone around like I used to. Thinking about it now it’s actually pretty strange that I carried my phone literally everywhere with me. Sneaking off to the loo to check Facebook isn’t addictive behaviour, right!?
Since taking the Facebook-free plunge I’ve been making much better use of my time, for sure. Within the first 24 hours I felt like I could think straight again, make plans, have ideas. In short I was already less distracted within the same day of turning it off! James came back from the school drop off and as well as getting DS and myself dressed I’d also done the washing up. Hurray! (He cooks, I clear up, if you’re wondering about division of labour.) This week I’ve managed to get a tonne of things done – little admin jobs that I’d probably have been too busy checking Facebook or replying to someone having trouble with their three-year-old nursing to sleep to focus on for long enough to actually finish.
(“Will my three-year-old ever stop nursing to sleep!???” Short answer: no, it will feel like probably never until they stop. They do stop, right!?)
I’ve also thrown myself back into my language learning, starting to build my Anki deck again, revising the list of neglected cards from my original deck, and also listening to podcasts, trying to read a bit online, and signing up for a new community called iTalki to try and build some interaction (beyond actually being in France and having to try and talk to my neighbours!) into my learning experience. I’ve also felt more present generally. Absolutely there are benefits to this Facebook-free lark.
That’s not to say it was – is – all bad. I really, really enjoyed the #naturehackchallenge I’d signed up for and was so inspired by many of the ideas in the Wild Schooling group. I do think there’s value to engaging in things like that. And then there are the selling groups, which are pretty handy and also tend to be busy. There are some really useful groups out there, able to offer advice and support on anything from bike maintenance and sewing pattern advice to multiple miscarriage and domestic abuse (not my problems but I’ve read some pretty incredible posts that have quite literally changed lives!) In that sense it’s a bloody revelation. In moderation though. And when it’s driven by need rather than a compulsion – and I think that’s where I’d got to with it.
So that’s me. Facebook free for over a week and enjoying the newly focussed, status free me. Luckily I’ve never “done” Twitter, so that just leaves me and my blog, which I plan to update as regularly as I can. So far it feels a bit like when I stopped smoking: basically, I have time on my hands again and the main aim, for the first few days at least, is to stay well away from the biscuit tin!