Candid confessions

If you are one of those who spends most part of the day on Facebook, living what amounts to a virtual life, it’s high time you took some time off to smell the roses and not worry about a status update, writes Rashmi Vasudeva

It was the third time I had done it and that was when I decided enough was enough. Out on an errand, I stopped in my tracks to drink in the beauty of the delicate lilac blooms on the Jacaranda tree near my house, noticing how utterly ephemeral their lives were — singing to the sky one instant and the very next, swishing to the ground, already withering.

Such a surreal moment and all I wanted to do was whip out my phone and update my Facebook status. I almost did; (Hey! First blooms of Jacaranda out people!) Thankfully, my saner self raised its sleepy head just in time and chided me for my genius in transforming potential poetry into dull prose.

I pinged a friend to ask whether it happens to her too. Does her brain also automatically start formulating status updates whenever there is an ‘aha’ moment in her real life? She not only said a feverish yes but also reacted with violent affection, confirming my worst fears, telling me that I was her ‘soulmate’ and she was ‘so glad’ to not be the only one suffering from this disease.

I strode home and in a rare burst of energy, logged on to my Facebook account, zealously searched for the deactivation button and pressed enter with a flourish — only for Facebook to go all puppy-eyed and plead with me not to go away. It told me tearfully that my friends will miss me, I will miss their activity, I will not be able to see their uploads... you get the picture. It made me feel all guilty, flustered and nervy. The temptation to simply activate again was immense but, I resolutely closed the browser.
It ought to have felt like a release. All I felt instead was withdrawal symptoms. Every morning, when I logged on to the internet, my hands would itch to type f-a-c-e-b-o-o-k. I actually used to open my inbox every day and religiously read the reassuring post-deactivation message, which told me kindly that I could revive my account any time and I would instantly get back everything!

Being a net junkie, I had no qualms about. My guilt pangs were all for the amount of time I wasted on social media — reading tweets of strangers, looking for weird hashtags, following up on responses to others’ tweets, stalking my favourite singers and film stars, not to mention my gallivanting cousins. There were even times when I spent entire afternoons obsessively refreshing my home page, reading and re-reading inane status updates of ‘friends’, distant family and acquaintances — people I would be hard-pressed to recognise if they marched past me in real life and once even navigating to the grihapravesh photo album of a friend’s colleague’s sister AND spending two hours browsing through photographs of strangers happy in their new house.

But I hadn’t deactivated for nothing and despite curious messages from friends and worried ‘is everything ok?’ looks from family members (and wildly enthusiastic Facebookers), I persisted in staying away. Slowly, the withdrawal symptoms wore out; I no longer opened my inbox and read that much-read mail. My brain began to register that it need not start thinking up clever sentences after every happy/angsty moment; and my sensory organs too felt happier that their pleasure is no longer curtailed by the urgency to share a piece of music or a video clip with the world.

Suddenly, it felt as if the internet was a huge candy store where there were gourmet chocolates to be had for free while for reasons unknown, I was stuck at the sugar confectionery counter. My virtual horizons began to expand; I found websites that actually entertained and didn’t addle the brain; I rediscovered the joy of online serendipity and was greatly bemused by my forays into small pockets of virtual worlds populated by online retards and chronic fanatics. I also stumbled upon forums where sane, intelligent discussions were possible; my FB-dulled eye began to look again at my immediate surroundings, which happened to be full of books — real wrist-hurting ones, some smelly, some dog-eared and many untouched. I went back to reading.

The de-addiction also had another curious effect. Like the teenage crush you get over and feel thoroughly silly about, I felt flush with embarrassment — the entire Facebook set-up had finally got to me. The posturing, the careful cultivation of an online image, the building up of the sexy persona-brand, the I-liked-your-status-and-you-better-like-mine fakery, the mindless jokes, the utter compulsion to surrender your privacy and worst of all, the false sense of confidence when the number of ‘likes’ to your pearls of wisdom went beyond 30 — everything had begun to grate. From itching to get back to Facebook, I had reached a stage where I itched to stay away. But there was more to come.

I stayed away for more than a month, during which time every second conversation I had with friends and family began and ended with my ‘disapparation’ from the holy land. Keeping in touch took a little effort and friends often wrote to me in a tone of mild complaint that they were being forced by my absence to go the extra mile to send separate emails to me instead of a common Facebook message. Consequently, I found myself constantly explaining about my grand exit. Though my offline life had improved greatly, my heart did a little jig every time somebody wrote about Facebook.

A new kind of addiction was taking over me insidiously. I often found myself wondering whether my 357 friends yearned for my presence, what they felt about me and whether I was actually missing out on vital stuff by staying away; I also read scholarly articles on Facebook addiction, the psychology of social connectivity, the pervasiveness of networking and such. It not only improved my general knowledge but also pushed me further on the road of the reformed addict’s new addiction. But this time, I was alert enough to recognise the signs. I wasn’t going to fall into another addiction trap. No, not so soon. I had hit upon the perfect solution. It was time to return.

With trembling fingers, I re-activated my account. It felt like a triumphant return journey. My homepage looked like home and my friends had not vanished away into nothingness. I confess I was terribly curious. What earth-shaking events had I missed? Turned out, nothing much. Just a few YouTube videos, some photographs of vacationing colleagues and updates about concerts and festivals. I commented on some, informed some close friends of my return, answered a few messages and logged out. It took me all of 10 minutes.

Finally, I had been cured. The unnatural urge to spend entire days refreshing the homepage and the distasteful curiosity for others’ online lives had vanished. The knowledge that I could stay away from Facebook and survive was like a torch held high up on my head — it revealed with great clarity the message on the wall — I could always step out and smell the roses without the fear of a status update.

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