Last week, I wrote about some realizations about myself I came to while fasting from Facebook for a month. Today, I conclude those reflections.
Lessons from a Gambling Addict
For my Facebook fast in January, Facebook allowed me about a week of inactivity before it started sending me emails. I know it always notifies you when you’ve been tagged, but did you know that if you stay off Facebook for a while, it will start notifying you about literally everything?
I got an email when a friend from college posted a photo. I got an email when a random acquaintance commented on another random acquaintance’s post. I got an email when someone I don’t know at all commented in a group I was part of! The subtext: “Don’t you want to see what they’re talking about? Don’t you want to continue in this circle of friends? You’re missing important social activity!”
What’s more, when I actually did break the fast (shhhh!) to see the college friend’s photo (SHE WAS HAVING A BABY OKAY; I WANTED TO SEE THE BABY), Facebook started sending me more notifications about her specifically.
Duhigg’s Power of Habit, which I mentioned last week, actually gave me insight into this phenomenon as well. In the final chapter, Duhigg relates the story of Angie Bachmann, a gambling addict who lost millions, including her inheritance, at Harrah’s.
Bachmann called off gambling at one point, even moving to a state in which it was illegal to get away from the habit. But during a visit to her old town, she and her husband went back to Harrah’s, I guess just for old times’ sake.
The employees there remembered her and subtly moved in for the kill. Their staff acted like they cared, asked what had been going on in her life. They found out she had moved, learned her new address. The company started making her offers she felt she couldn’t refuse, like VIP privileges, or even paid vacations to different Harrah’s locations–resort hotels included! They offered her things that would make even a non-gambling addict feel guilty to turn down!
While not as extreme, because Facebook doesn’t have as much money to gain from me simply lurking on my friends’ profiles as Harrah’s does from a gambling addict, it was interesting and disturbing how much their emails reminded me of Harrah’s stratagems (Harrah’s’? Harrahs’? Apostrophe anxiety is a thing). They wouldn’t pay for any vacations, but they kept dangling those addictive dopamine-rush notifications to make me want that small rush of pleasure. They kept promising the rewards of community, of being in the know, to get me to come back—though they don’t bother when they have me firmly in hand and I’m checking them multiple times a day.
Moral of the story? I’m actually not sure; I just thought it was interesting.
I didn’t stop craving Facebook until January 20. It took 20 whole days of cold turkey to break its hold on me!
One of the moments I realized I stopped missing it was during a breakdown from my three-year-old. Following my realization about cues (shared in the last post), I knew that I normally would run to Facebook at this time. I also know that this particular child acts up a lot when she needs one-on-one loving. So instead of withdrawing from the bad behavior, I told her she needed a quiet activity and she needed to sit in my lap and play with our Melissa & Doug reusable stickers. Normally I would set her up on her own and then make my escape. This time I sat with her and engaged fully.
She loved it. My little scatterbrain concentrated harder than I’ve seen her focus on anything in a long time. And I, rather than senselessly seeking the false-productive feeling of multitasking that Facebook gives me, just enjoyed it with her.
Living in the Subjunctive
I took a Nature Writing class in college, which I didn’t enjoy much at the time, but which I do remember fondly the more I look back on it. The authors we read were seemingly obsessed with “being present,” “living in the present.” I realized that I was doing that with my three-year-old, and wonderfully, it was helping her to do the same. My presence helped her flighty little mind have more ability to stay present.
On the other hand, Facebook stops me from living in the present. It’s not living in the past or the future, though. If I may use a grammatical term, for me it’s like living in the subjunctive, the “hypothetical scenario/what if” tense. “What if I have a new notification?” “What if I could go on a vacation like hers?” “What if I miss out on some big news?” “I wonder if my parenting/marriage/home measures up to hers?”
My three-year-old behaved better the rest of the day.
In the end, that’s how the Facebook fast always helps me: being intentional with my time, my life, my kids. I want to spend more time pressing in when things get hard and less time selfishly trying to escape to an online world where everything looks perfect. I want real pleasures, which take time and effort, not surface-level pleasures from the clicks of a button.
Hindsight is 0/79
Here’s some perspective for you: when I logged back on to Facebook at the beginning of February, I was actually reluctant to do so. Once I stopped the addiction-like craving for it, I didn’t even want it anymore. (But I do want to stay in touch with my friends. So there I am.)
I had 79 notifications when I logged back on. And despite being desperate for notifications on a normal day, I realized that none of these were important enough to backtrack through them all. If they’re not important enough to backtrack for… they’re not as important as my day-to-day mind rates them.
I don’t write these posts to say I’m better than people who just sit and enjoy Facebook without worrying over it. I write these posts because I feel its addictive pull, and I want to put the brakes on–not for anyone else, but for myself. I don’t want social media to have such power over me. So I write these reflections on my Facebook fast, not to convince you, but to convince me, to solidify the rebel thoughts that too often come fleetingly between long and pointless newsfeed scrolls.