Last week, after a lengthy discussion about time wasting and procrastination with my roommates (this discussion served as exactly both things), the three of us decided to take a facebook hiatus. We passed our computers to the right and changed each other’s passwords to obscure Ja Rule lyrics (hope this doesn’t give anything away, Marielle) and agreed to log off for a certain amount of time. I did this once last year, deactivating my account for a week during winter quarter, but I wanted to try it again this time not so much as a let’s-see-if-i-could-go-without-it-for-a-week kind of thing and more of a lifestyle change kind of thing.
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with facebook. It serves many useful purposes– you can connect with people who are far away, publicize local events, and there are a couple important pieces of news I am mildly embarrassed to say I found out about first on facebook (sorry bout it, Bin Laden and Gaddafi). But maybe the actual usefulness ends there. My roommates and I agreed that if all anyone ever did on facebook was send messages to faraway friends and become aware of important events, then it wouldn’t be so bad. But half the time what happens (at least for me) is you go into this terrifying state I like to refer to as the Facebook Haze.
The Facebook Haze can manifest itself in different ways–sometimes its as basic as sitting down to write a paper and not actually getting a word written until you’ve put in a good hour of browsing/trolling/stalking. Other times, it will be when I realize that I have multiple windows of facebook open at once, hiding behind each other on my desktop without even knowing it. But sometimes, I experience what I like to call the “blacking in” effect where I suddenly “come to” at profile picture 45 of someone I barely know, have to shake myself, and close out of the window immediately in shame and confusion. Because seriously, what am I actually doing with my life?
I decided that I needed to log off. I had started getting this nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach after too long of a session on facebook, similar to what one might experience after casually killing half a package of oreos or taking down an entire bag of skittles. Needless to say: not good.
Sometimes I actually start to feel claustrophobic when I think about how much digital and social media has encroached on our every day lives (I of course say this while using a type of digital media that will be sent out over two forms of social media). But in all honesty, it has made everything around me, all the time I spend on these types of things, feel strangely artificial. You can’t touch any of it, you can’t feel any of it, all any of it is is words and images on a screen, something so apart from actual, visceral life.
I spent this past Saturday in the Forest Grove preserve in Western Illinois chopping and clearing the invasive species buckthorn with the awesome organization CommuniTyler, founded in memory of my friend Tyler Lorenzi who died last spring. We woke up at the crack of dawn and drove an hour to Forest Grove, and quickly began hacking and sawing at the buckthorn that littered the snow-covered area. This all occurred on a 25 degree day, at an hour that usually passes by unbeknownst to my sleeping body, but I haven’t felt so good in a long time. Not to just be with a group of people who knew Ty, spending time in the woods that he loved so much, feeling like he was all around us, but also to be outside, doing something physical, interacting with people and with the earth. No phones, no computers, just trees and people and air. (Here is a wonderful video of the event).
I can’t help but feel that in a world that seems to be inexorably careening toward intangibility of all things, that it is even more important to spend time doing things with our hands, with our feet, with our lungs. To move around, to be outside, to do something physical, to talk to people, spend time with people. To read actual books and articles, to write by hand, to unplug.
I have been off facebook for over a week now, and I have to say I don’t miss it. There are occasional moments where I forget that I’m off it and go to check something or look up who someone is, but most of the time, I just feel freer, healthier. It feels good to use time I would have used on facebook to do other things– to call someone on the phone instead of messaging them, to read a book instead of my newsfeed, to sit and listen to music or talk to my roommates or take a walk or a run. When I think about the things that are actually important to me, that actually make me happy, that actually matter– none of them have anything to do with facebook or twitter or any of that. So as of now, the hiatus is going to last for the foreseeable future.
I leave you with one of the most amazing videos I have ever seen, something that I think really encapsulates what makes me feel like I’ve just eaten fresh fish and vegetables with a tall glass of water rather than a chipotle burrito and package of oreos. Whenever I feel like I’m concentrating on something small or petty or in the grand scheme of things insignificant, I think about the immensity of those mountains, the the vast sky teeming with stars, the endlessness of the open space.
Stop looking at your screens, and look up. Look around. Look outside.