I have a confession to make:
Sometimes I think I am addicted to the internet.
And more importantly, addicted to the Facebook. You know the one. You've probably seen the site once or twice. It's shiny and it's blue and all your friends are on it? Yeah, that one.
A month ago, I had a friend tell me that I was addicted to Facebook, and I quickly denied it. I brushed it off, telling her that being addicted was "impossible." Then I walked straight by her front door and said, "mind if I use your computer real quick?" And there I was, inside someone else's house, checking my Facebook and ignoring the world around me. I'm not sure I even stopped to see her roll her eyes at me -- I was glued to the screen.
It gets worse. For two weeks, I would wake up in the middle of the night (usually around 2 or 3 AM), panicked that I had forgotten to reply to a certain email or a particular threaded comment on Facebook. You may be laughing, but I was dead serious. I'd get out of bed, open up my computer, check the update, reply to a few emails, and then close the laptop and go back to bed.
I'm not addicted, I told myself.
I'm just going to move my laptop to my nightstand because it looks better there. And then I don't have to get out of bed to turn on my computer.
And then the Facebook and endless swirls of internet browsing and other social networking tools crept into my work life. I added a google gadget to my homepage so I could "sneak a peak" here and there on my work breaks. I caved and started going to the full site to check out photos while I was at work (man I love those photos!).
It got so bad, I would switch over to the internet between saving massive files because I figured those 2 minutes for saving were lost time anyways. Instead of working better, I found myself working longer, later hours, trying to get everything done. When I finally did leave the office, I found that I was thinking in 20 word phrases when I was out supposed to be enjoying the real world. My mind frame on Baker Beach wasn't about the wind and the sand sticking to my arms, instead, I was thinking, Hey, when I get home, I'll post: "Sunny glorious day at the beach with @friend and @acquaintence, could this day get any better!?" My status-centric thoughts began to invade the present moment; excuse me, I have to ignore what you're saying because I'm in the middle of taking the perfect picture to upload to Facebook.
I've made so many Facebook posts, I'm sure all of my friends have hidden me by now. I'm that terrible person who clogs up your news feed and changes their profile picture incessantly. If I have any friends left, they are either my family, my poor grandmother who doesn't know what a "news feed" is or how to find "those picture albums!" or other people, like me, addicted, devoted, and stuck. And perhaps a few creeps who know far more about me than they should.
Then disaster struck: my computer broke. I got the ominous quiver of a screen going black, and then the screen gave out. I could no longer see anything on the computer. I tapped on the screen a few times. Hello? Is anyone there? I looked up from the screen, stretched my cramped back, and realized it was after midnight and I ought to be in bed. I blinked a few times. Now what am I supposed to do?
It was like going cold turkey. Jumping into a bucket of ice water, if you will. I got shakes and quakes and all that's associated with the withdrawal from anything that you crave and are addicted to. My mind started to think obsessively in status-related updates. Three sleepless nights ensued. If that's not an addiction, I'm not sure what is.
And then I broke free. I got home after a week of being computer-free (well, computer-free at home; I still have a computer at work). I made dinner, wrote on a REAL notebook with an ACTUAL pen a few drafts for future posts. I sat and read a magazine outside and found myself occupied by consecutive, related thoughts for over three hours. The broken blood vessel in my eye finally healed because I was no longer staring at a screen continuously all day and into the wee hours of the morning. I could read books and sit still for longer than 15 minutes.
Distracting. That's how my Facebook-centric life was.
The short (albeit unanticipated) break from my computer and social networking addiction gave me a chance to breathe -- and to reflect. Now I'm wondering why: why is an internet post to a random audience of two or three hundred people (most of who really just don't care) so important to me? Am I telling myself, hey, look how important I am? Check ME out because I'm having FUN? I certainly don't rant and rave about the trivialities about my life: you won't find me bemoaning breakups or glorifying parties or spending (too much) time talking about work (Hey guys, talked to the civil engineer for an hour today and we really nailed that cobble energy dissipater detail...that concrete is going to be washed, man, and the pH will be soooooo neutral). In fact, most of what I post on Facebook is just a tiny sliver of my actual life: I'm much more boring at work, sitting behind a desk (or as it happens today, in a coffee shop, writing) to warrant writing any post about my regular daily life.
Saturday morning? Slept in, and it was glorious. Didn't you want to know?
P.S. My shirt is purple.
The truth is, if I posted about my actual life -- and not just the happy-wonderful facebook-fantasty life that shines through on my rainbow-colored posts -- I would bore even myself some times. I work. I sit around. I run a lot. I eat food. Some of it's good, and some of it's bad. I try pretty hard to eat the good stuff. Which brings me to my first post-obsession observation: Most of what I say on Facebook is irrelevant.
My second observation was that anything in excess can be destructive. And those Twitter feeds, Gmail popups, Facebook status updates, and continuously updating internet content can quickly become overwhelming and time consuming. For me, the balance was off: I was spending far too much time on the internet. My work was suffering, my writing was suffering, and I couldn't focus on the tasks at hand because of my compulsion to be on the computer.
Third: living life in public is interesting -- and I'm not convinced it's the healthiest thing for all of us to do. Living online -- and putting information about ourselves online, shared with thousands of people -- can be highly damaging if we don't take some efforts to manage our public personas and understand how personal branding and networking can (positively and negatively) affect us. One only need to look at the results of the Live in Public movie experiment to see how quickly and drastically life online can change. We're quickly - and dangerously - learning lessons of personal branding, social networking, and making mistakes in the virtual public realm. Did you hear about the guy who married two women and his second wife posted it on Facebook? Whoops.
Living online should not replace living real life. And it shouldn't distract you from real life, either. There are wonderful, amazing benefits to having social networks, sharing information, and being a part of multiple online communities. But when life behind a computer screen inside a room replaces life outside in the world, you've got to wonder if the swap-out is a good trade.
But man, is it fun. And this post is not designed to de-rail the wonders of social networking: far from it, in fact. The Facebook is wonderful for many reasons (as is email, Twitter, Linked In, and many other social networking applications). You won't see me deactivating any time soon. I love staying in touch with friends, getting updates, hearing about new events, and seeing the beautiful, prolific photo albums of my friends on their travels. I'll continue to be a Facebook fan. Just not an addict. Because I'd rather be spending time hanging out with you (OMG, IRL?) in person. After, of course, I post this article. On Facebook.