Yesterday I wrote about my thoughts in response to the Paris terror attacks. Twenty-four hours later I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and made some changes to the layout of this blog. The three things aren’t entirely unrelated. I figure I might get asked ‘Why?’, so posting the answer to that question here, seems like a fairly sensible thing to do.
The Paris terror attacks have reminded me how much I occupy social media. I use it for self-promotion as well as keeping up with friends. But in times of crisis I tend to retreat from it. And in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks France has endured, I found myself doing the same thing and then some.
I made reference to the rush to solidarity in my original post but hesitated from sharing it on my Facebook feed because I knew that many of my friends wouldn’t necessarily share my view.
Late last night I posted about Facebook’s two digital endeavours launched in connection with the attacks. The first, a ‘safety status’ service for people who have geo-tagged themselves in an affected area. The second, a profile image overlay depicting the French flag.
I’m not a big fan of the latter. It does always leave me feeling cold, especially when I knew having logged into my own Facebook feed that as a user I was being actively encouraged to ‘try the profile update out’.
At that stage, a number of friends had updated their profile images with the French flag. When I posted about it late last night people were understandably quick to explain their reasons for doing so. I understand it was an act of solidarity for many people on social media. I respect that. Everyone is entitled to that.
But in that moment I experienced three quite unpleasant thoughts. The first was how different I felt from most other people on my feed (Note: I don’t consider myself better, rather just slightly disconnected.) and how lonely an experience that felt. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I want to care in a way that is meaningful to me personally – updating my profile picture with a click of a button felt rather trivial and inconsequential and empty. When I began to realise that this wasn’t a common view then I began to feel quite lonely. I knew I was hurting (in as much as I can given that Paris hasn’t been my experience) and I also knew I wanted that to be something private.
Second, how I didn’t want friendships, perceived or otherwise, to be damaged by a network of people who are all in their own way grappling with the barbaric acts that occured in Paris on Friday night. And third, how it seemed that my thoughts about Friday had been eclipsed by something rather domestic and embarrassingly unimportant in comparison.
That’s when I started thinking that Facebook probably wasn’t a good place for me to experience my friends. It is a platform which for better or worse gives permission to people to say what they feel in a way which can cause offence to others. I’m as much a part of that as everyone else. The reality is that if we were all in the same room together, that apparent misunderstanding wouldn’t have occured.
And so I woke up this morning and deactivated my Facebook account. My first day of the ‘trial month’ has gone well. It’s a little weird to think that relationships need to be re-established in real life, but there is a reassuring sense that a whole pile of worry doesn’t need to be dealt with because I’m not feeding a digital addiction.
And to mark this momentous occasion, I’ve adopted a new theme on this blog. No other reason than to change the decoration just a bit. Something simpler. Clearer. More straightforward.
A little update, a week later. I’ve reactivated my account to post the following message.
“A few people have messaged me over the past couple of days asking why they can’t find me on Facebook, wondering whether I’ve unfriended them or gone a bit doolally.
I de-activated my account a week ago (though have reactivated to post this) because I was struck by how much I had taken it for granted. It enabled a network of communication, the style of which wasn’t especially healthy for me personally.
One week on, I feel a good happier having temporarily disentangled myself from it. I can’t recommend the action enough. I wouldn’t say FB is evil but it does more often than not, fuel anxieties rather than reduce them.
I’m going to stay reactivated and see whether I can just ignore it. That seems like a happy, far healthier medium. Should anyone like to get in contact via more ‘traditional’ means, my mobile is X or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”