I deactivated my Facebook account last Sunday. On Monday morning I started panicking about whether I could still log back as the e-mail address I’d signed up with had expired (I was more worried about not being able to return in order to permanently delete my account than about missing out on status updates). I logged in to find that Facebook really wouldn’t make it hard for anyone to come back – although they try make it hard to leave, claiming that a few random people you’ve barely contacted in the last five years “will miss you.” The rest of the week’s been completely socia media free*, however, and I’m happily surprised that I don’t even slightly miss the stressful information streams and people I barely know being constantly able to contact me and getting annoyed if I don’t reply immediately. I’ve managed to engage with the real world, spend time outdoors, do some writing and cook proper food. Not that social media alone is to blame for the fact that I don’t do those things on most days, but starting a day by forcing your brain to process short bits of information in large numbers does kind of screw up your concentration – even ten minutes of social media first thing in the morning can be enough to make sure you can’t produce a coherent paragraph for the whole rest of the day (in my experience, at least). Also, a rather nice thing happened yesterday: an event organiser who wanted me to perform poetry at her show, when she couldn’t message me on Facebook, actually made the effort to ask around for my e-mail address. While I don’t pride myself on being “hard to get” and making people chase me up, this shows that when someone really wants to contact you they’ll find a way, and a social media break can be a way to weed out acquaintances who wouldn’t go out of their way to get in touch with you.
* (My blog posts are set to automatically post into Twitter – I’m not logged in, I swear!)
I’ve also compensated the reduced social interaction by increasing face-to-face contact with new people, and for a socially awkward nerd like me the best way to do this is attending book clubs. In fact, I’ve been to three different book group meetings this week (lucky I’m a fast reader). The latest was this afternoon, an existentialist group discussing Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The book being as short as it is, the discussion branched onto the wider context of its themes – mainly the fear of death. The story’s protagonist is an intelligent and successful but essentially simple man who goes through life seeking wealth, pleasure and acceptance of social circles, never reflecting on meaning, morality or depth of relationships – even his wife and children seem irrelevant to him, apart from being too demanding and getting in his way. It is only when lying on his deathbed that he realises his own mortality and is terrified. His main reason for resisting death is that he feels he hasn’t spent his precious time on earth “the right way” – he has been selfish, his marriage is unhappy, no one’s shedding tears by his bedside.
In the book group discussion we also touched upon people who do all they can to extend their lifespans, design technologies to prolong the human life or save money all their lives to have their bodies cyrogenically preserved. We came to the conclusion that such a compulsive need to prolong life is a symptom of the fear or living fully: quantity of life becomes a compensation for quality. If one has led an authentic life (a major concern for existentialist philosophy), done things that make one happy and had meaningful and deep relationships, then death is nothing to be afraid of and there is no need to forcefully increase the quantity of life. On the bus home I had a good think about this and I realised that I spend most of my time doing things either on autopilot (routine; mindless netsurfing etc.) or because I’ve been told to (by the boss at work; implicitly by social norms) and as a result, I’m not even sure which things make me happy and which don’t. I started exploring this by making a list of things I spend a lot of time doing and rated how happy I feel doing them on a scale of 1-10.Of course no one can live a meaningful life doing ONLY things that make them happy, but writing a list like this is the first step in ensuring that your life won’t be unexamined like Ivan Ilyich’s, and a step towards living a more aware and authentic life. Surfing the Internet and social media scored quite low on my list, by the way, so I think I’ll stay off Facebook next week as well.