This February I fasted from Facebook. I’d had an inkling that pictorially focused forms of social media can be challenging for minds (like mine) that are very emotionally sensitive to images and I wanted to see what would happen if I conscientiously abstained for a bit. I was also interested in exploring what creative shenanigans I might get up to without the boredom relieving distraction of face crack.
My primary issue with regards to image sensitivity is with the FB feed and the fact that the food (advertising, friend posts, pictures etc) FB chooses to feed me is out of my control. A secondary issue, relating to the creativity that flows from boredom, is concerned with my own undisciplined lack of control when it comes to switching off the screen when I begin to become emotionally entrenched in something which is not occuring in my immediate world (i.e. cyber space).
I’m sensitive to images more than the printed word. I’ve always found TV news distressing. With the exception of the human interest story in the wrapping up segment where the fox-terrier up the tree rescues a pelican with a broken wing I’ve found that watching the news can make me feel overwhelmed and preoccupied with events which are not occurring in my immediate world. I’ve also always struggled with watching violence in movies or video games because I feel such strong emotional responses to what I see and can be haunted by the images for a long time after the event.
Now of course, FB isn’t all stress and violence. It’s also advertising and promoting. AND, of course, it’s also about the wonderful connections we have with other people in our lives (or who used to be in our lives). A friend of mine said she understood what I meant about not liking the face book feed because of the racist hate stuff that popped up on hers around Australia Day which caused her to go on a deleting spree. Her comment made me feel pretty grateful because I haven’t had that problem. Most of the stuff that pops up on my feed is amusing like this cracker…
And when such posts appear they can make me think of lovely friends and I often have corresponding feelings of joy, love and appreciation for the lightness such people bring to my world. And that feels great.
Then there are other things that pop up that make me reminisce and with reminiscemasing (def: nostalgic remembering; the kind you do around Christmas and when you think about friends and family who are not near you) I begin an emotional journey that I never intended to set out on when I first sat down and started typing in my password.
A university friend posts something about their job and I feel anxious, wondering about whether I’ve made ‘good’ life decisions, another posts pictures of a new baby and I being wondering about babies, having babies, not having babies, feeling confused and annoyed, jealous and relieved all at once. Then I wonder about how long it’s been since I’ve seen my friend who is now a mother and feel sad at how connections can fade away so easily. A picture of grown up kids from my high school appears and I reflect on how I didn’t fit in then and how they all still seem so tight. Images of other peoples worlds, not mine. Worlds that, in real life, I’m too busy to bother thinking about.
The lingering effects of viewing images which stir a strong emotional response in myself are what I wanted to explore the most. Or more accurately avoid the most. I told someone recently that I found it harder to sleep when images from facebook flashed through my head and she at first understood this to mean I was on searching away on until the wee hours. Nope. I may have had the screen on for five minutes and turned off the computer at 5pm but if something has really riled up my brain up it may still be humming along late into night.
And then into my dreams.
I’ve noticed a correlation between things that popped up in Facebook world and people who popped up in my dreams. Now this is often fabulous. I love getting to hang out with friends from around the world in dream land. Other dreams can feel more traumatic. However it made me realise that FB may be making it harder to let go of aspects of my past.
I also knew I was wasting time which could be better spent exploring creative possibilities. The trouble with having all of my friends around the world hanging out inside my computer as well as having epic amounts of information stashed away in my phone is that I never have to get bored.
And that feels dangerous.
In a world where there is the option of not doing nothing- where we can truly relax our minds with total boring nothingness- what becomes of daydreams?
Daydreams are the playrooms of creativity and boredom could very well be its mother. Boredom may have an important function in allowing the magical potential stashed in the deep recesses of our brains to become more energized as it has space to stir and drive us towards actualisation.
So what I wanted to explore in fasting from FB was;
1) Are these feelings that arise when I see images related to a past I haven’t let go of?
2) If I reduce my exposure to fb will I be in a stronger position to let those old memories and less relevant ties that can unnecessarily bind go?
3) Will I engage in more creative activities and pursuits as a result of not spending time on FB.
I gave a week or so warning, pestered people to contact me via email, post, phone and skype (I don’t want to be out of the technology loop, I just want to interact in ways that feel meaningful and safe to me) and clicked on ‘deactivate’.
What I experienced over the month of February was;
*Having a designated break from FB was fun. I felt a lightness at being ‘disconnected’ from visual images and I was right in perceiving that it was interfering with the quality of sleep I was having. I felt that my enjoyment of ‘real-world’ experiences was heightened because I didn’t get lost in the past, present or future of other peoples worlds.
* I had more time for reading.
* I spent time having long beautiful phone conversations with great friends, received a beautiful letter in the post, spent time with quality friends, had dreams with people from my past. I still felt connected.
* The day I deactivated FB I picked up a guitar that’s been inside a case, up on top of a wardrobe in our house for the past two years and discovered it is perfect for me. Small and with metal strings (most beginners use nylon but my rock climber fingers are tough and it sounds so much better) it has a lovely sound and inspires my fingers to get strumming.
*The internet is AMAZING for learning guitar.I may have ditched one internet hobby for another- but at least this feels more fun. I love that with the internet I can think of songs I love (not boring beginners songs I was subjected to as a teenager), google them, google chords I don’t know, search for youtube lessons for chords in the too-hard-basket and generally have at her.
* Facebook is a seductive tool and while I’m strongly encouraging friends to email me rather than posting/messaging me things on FB, I will ‘miss out’ occasionally if I chose to avoid using it completely. I had to log on a couple of times to get addresses from friends who had written them into messages and I realise that it is a primary tool of communication for many people these days.
* I feel more empowered to make better choices about how I use Facebook. Having a good break reminded me how much FB has crept up it’s intensity and influence upon my daily life. Choosing how I interact with FB is part of making choices that contribute to feelings of well being and reduces stress in my life. Like eating good food and exercising, choosing what I feed my mind is important for my emotional health.
I intend to immensely reduce the amount of time I spent on FB (I used to check it almost daily, even if just for a few minutes) limiting it to almost never or just when I have to in order to contact someone. This intention is because I’ve had the chance to see just how much other stuff, other thoughts, other emotions, other hobbies I can experience when I’m not using it.
Over all, despite having written 1500 words about the experience, it’s really not been much of a big deal. If I use FB or not it’s just what I’m doing. It’s neither good nor bad. In many ways Facebook has helped me to consider areas of my life and past which I would like to address and explore. Anxious memories, feelings of detachment, desires to belong, needs to be liked and accepted, sensations that I have wanted to run from- these are all sensations that I can learn from.
Reminders of the past, when addressed constructively, can be positive benchmarks of self development. Which is why I will pop onto facebook, now and then, to check in on others and check in on myself.