– I came across this very hilarious, though true piece somewhere, read on, its super fun !
When I finally decided to put a stop to it, once and for all, I was left with the question bothering everybody: Are you ever truly removed, once and for all?
– Zadie Smith
On September 14th 2010, 15:26, I committed suicide. For the first time.
Digital suicide. I eliminated my virtual avatar to return to the gritty heaven of reality. Nowadays this includes the realms of the Internet and the Inbox. But Facebook is a different domain, it is the Republic of social networking where friends multiply daily and people one hasn’t seen in years have the audacity to “poke” one. Becoming a citizen means gaining virtual immortality. Suicide is transient; you log out for a while and see if you can life without or outside of fb. If your friends of blood and flesh are many enough friends, good enough friends. If you can go for a day without shouting your status update from the rooftops. If you can find pleasure in a photo that you haven’t uploaded yet.
Yes, I can. I have been digitally dead for eight weeks and counting. I deactivated my facebook profile to re-experience how life used to be before Zuckerberg’s ultra App upgraded society from 1.0 to 2.0. But my avatar remains in the I.C.U., personal data and pictures vegetating in an anonymous data center, awaiting that one specific click.
Why did I finish myself off? For one thing my Zuckerbergian existence had been exacerbating a condition that most screenagers have been suffering for years: Clickitis, the obsessive-compulsive clicking from one page to the next for hours, for no good reason. If facebook has had any part in my death then I believe it started with this: killing my time. And, perversely, making me the murderer. The vexing paradox of our times: attention, say the Internet gurus and Work-life-balance consultants, is the most precious resource and yet the Apps that absorb it most efficiently often feel like a perfect waste of time :s To a certain degree then my facebook auto-da-fé was an escape from this paradox – I was tired of my half-life as a clickitic zombie.
The second reason was purely narcissistic: my status updates on which I was wasting so much mental firepower were not generating as much feedback as I was expecting… or needed. Facebook is perfect for succumbing to the Reality TV fantasy that there is always an audience to play to that will reward one’s fancy stunts. Instead of a carrot and a stick there is the comment function. And so poor me felt I was not getting enough attention, which I suspect is what most people secretely feel.
The third motivation was to conduct a social science self-experiment. The standard reply to the question: Are you on facebook? Is A) “No”, followed by a display of incredulity by the facebook member or B) “Yes”, which is the more socially approved response. But never have I heard “Not anymore, my friend”. I wanted to experience this new status, the post-facebook existence.
What initially surprised me the most was how long my impulse to enter status updates survived. For six or seven weeks these little, non-sensical statements kept popping up on the inside of my closed eyelids and I found myself saddened by the demise of my fb avatar. Was my experiment really worth having all these micro-epiphanies go to waste?
The second surprise, a blowtorch to my styrofoam-crafted ego, was that only one or two people made any inquiries about my departure. It seems that the social networking platform exists in a curious middle-distance: once one has vacated the fb premises the close friends have other channels to know that one is alive and kicking, while the mere acquaintances indeed do not care. So going AWOL on Facebook is at most a petite mort, a little death.
I am in week seven or eight now. What hasn’t manifested yet, which I had fully expected, is a sense of disconnectedness. That it would feel bad about not to be up-to-date on what is going on in my friends’ lives on a daily basis and that I would begin feeling removed, isolated. Drifting away from 24/7 social interaction.
Instead my departure from facebook feels like a natural distancing act: no more fretting about comments on my status, no more checking if I am tagged in an unfortunate picture, no more mysterious friend requests. If we want to stay in touch we do it old-school: write an e-mail, make a phone call, go for a drink, even skype. After all, a certain degree of separation is necessary to build a sense of individuality. Jason Lanier, the person closest to being an Internet prophet and author of You are not a gadget, states this concisely:
Different media designs stimulate different potentials in human nature. We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.
Trying to figure out my own facebook-less afterlife I read Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent The Revolution will not be twittered and Zadie Smith’s Generation Y. What started looking more and more suspect was the basic description itself: social network. The question I finally arrived at is this: is facebook really social? Isn’t the Republic of facebook where the social comes to die? Did I kill my facebook self to avoid this digital death in life? At times I fear that a 500-million-faced Leviathan has cannibalized the meaning of social: hundreds of passing acquaintances, people one would not even say hello to in public, are clicked into friendship; a living individual is reduced or compressed to a set of data and pictures; if one is not careful one’s personal data becomes a tradable commodity on a vampiric advertising market; there have been lawsuits due to cyber-bullying, one 15-year old UK teen even committing suicide and trolls have been known to upload pictures of dead people. Of course these outcomes are nothing that is inherent within the facebook’s technical infrastructure but it seems that the ease of connecting and presenting which it enables, ends up encouraging human beings’ less virtuous traits: superficiality and a lack of consideration. Gladwell has remarked on this trend towards superficiality:
“Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.
Society is about connecting, yes, but it is not about connecting for connecting’s sake, it is not about establishing as many connections as humanly and digitally possible. Having too many connections these thin bonds become spears on which any healthy sense of self is impaled.
Facebook is good for maintaining one-on-one relationships but society, the social is about more than friendships and staying-in-touch, it is also about assembling collectives, about movements, about people in the streets and in public places. The groups on facebook, everybody knows, are a sham. As Gladwell summarizes it:
The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still [1950s, Southern USA] lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.
It would be foolish to deny that facebook when used sensibly can be a social glue of sorts: it helps re-discovering a long lost friend, staying in touch with those particular facebook friends that are actually also friends in reality, inviting people to a real-life social events, etc. Zuckerberg is neither a savior nor a heartless demon as portrayed in Fincher’s movie but his Republic can be a force to connect people.
Yet personally, I do experience my facebook departure as beneficial: I have the freedom to imagine, perhaps nostalgically, what my friends are doing at present, without being force-fed the hard facts, I am more aware of who I stay in touch with and how, I actually do spend my time more sensibly and I feel a bit “more natural” because I feel no urge to tinker around with a profile that anyway will never be capable of representing me adequately as an individual.
But this is not a declaration of definitive digital death. After all, even my own ressurection is just a single click away.