For a desk bound procrastinator like me, Facebook had the gravitational pull of the Death Star.
Initially it was fun to reconnect with long lost friends. I liked receiving "likes" – even from people I didn’t actually like. I liked updating my status. I liked liking cakes, cats and cocker-poodles.
Three years later I was sitting on an electronic stockpile of 314 friends. Facebook had become a habit. Log on, "like", get back to work, log back on, look at cakes, log off and log on again. Repeat pattern several times throughout day.
Even though my head told me I was only seeing carefully edited highlights, my mind started to compare my life to others. Everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time while I felt boring in comparison, sitting trapped behind a screen like a loner compulsively watching everyone else’s exciting, exotic lives play out.
Slowly it dawned on me… Facebook did not make me happy.
I had health, a home, a job, a wonderful relationship and friends (314 of them). So why did I feel so discontent when I browsed Facebook? I Googled "facebook unhappy". 101,000,000 results bounced back. Words and phrases such as "alienation", "envy", "meaningless activity", "less satisfied" and "sad" kept reappearing. I was not alone. Millions of us were feeling disconnected by being so connected.
However I couldn’t bring myself to log off for good. Then, three simple things happened.
The first was a boastful status update from Karen. "I’m such an idiot for putting my Prada jumper in a machine wash!" I could not afford a Prada jumper. I was jealous.
The second was an email from Sarah. Not a PM, nor a scribble on a wall but a thoughtfully written essay. Sarah detailed her love of reading extraordinary stories told by extraordinary writers: Roald Dahl, Harper Lee, JD Salinger, John Irving et al. However the only things she was currently reading were status updates. Her essay finished with "So that’s that. I’m offline and I’m off to read" and Sarah checked out from Facebook.
I then got my calculator out. One and a half hours on Facebook a day x 365 days ÷ 16 waking hours = 34 days. I was horrified to realise that I was spending over one month of my life on Facebook every year.
So, with that, I deleted my Facebook account.
All that time reclaimed from Facebook results in a very beautiful garden!
Now when I meet up with friends their news is actual news. It’s wonderful to see a happy face announce an engagement or new job over a glass of wine. I react from the heart rather than with a half-arsed sense of "yeah-I-saw-that-on-facebook".
I also send birthday cards rather than hastily type "happy birthday!" on walls because I am told to do so by an alert on my wall. I receive cards too now.
It is a simple pleasure to receive something personal in the post. When my friend’s mum died I had the time to write a carefully considered letter. She wrote a beautifully written and deeply personal email back. We now email each other regularly where before we exchanged brief messages, written hurriedly on Facebook chat.
By disconnecting from a social network I have reconnected with my friends. I like every one of them. Really like. Not a cartoon thumbs up like.
I also like myself more now that I am no longer compulsively comparing myself to others. I do not feel flashes of envy for never having jet ski-ed in a bikini, nipped over to New York for New Year's nor worn "... Jimmy Choos – too tight. Ouch". It’s liberating.
And with all that reclaimed time?
Unexpectedly my decision to give up Facebook has led to a bigger life changing decision. Inspired by Sarah dedicating her Facebook free time to literature I decided to pick up an old hobby.
I took up crafting. It’s not cool but I don’t care about my status anymore.
First, I sewed a quilt for my sister to help make the chemo vaguely less unbearable. Then I stitched together one for my other sister so she knew that I loved her too. Soon "Friend Requests" were replaced by requests from friends for baby quilts. I made more quilts.
Quitting Facebook gave me time to spend time doing the things I love rather than comparing myself to others
After one year without Facebook I now have a very different life. I’ve chucked in the desk job and am starting my own business – sewing quilts.
I still procrastinate. Writing this has led to the garden being weeded. It’s also reminded me of another thing I vowed to do with my new found free time, mow our elderly neighbour’s lawn regularly. So I’m off to do that now. I hope they "like" it.
Maybe I have cracked the code of how to maintain a social network. Why don’t you log off and join me?
Words: Leonie Hutchinson