I was in that awkward point between Christmas and New Year. That part of the year where you’ve not really got much going on. You just sort of laze around in an unemployed haze, not sure what to do with yourself and forgetting how to be a functioning member of society. To add to the uncomfortable feelings, I was at an incredibly awkward point of my life as well. That weird point in first year, where you go home for Christmas to see you family. You’ve not quite settled into your new city yet, but at the same time you’re drifting away from your old life. You’re stuck in a sort of perpetual limbo of an identity crisis, nowhere to go, yet nowhere to be.
I was all too familiar with these sorts of crises – I’d done it all before when I was 18. I didn’t move cities, I stayed in my home town the first time I went to uni. However, I regret to say that I dropped out, got dragged into a bad scene and lost touch with my parents for the good part of year. Without going into the intense details, I hit a turning point eventually (thank God) and made a mission to turn my life around and head of to Sheffield to pursue my dreams and study journalism.
My first uni experience was just a blur of parties and loud music. This time round, though, I was taking it seriously – I wanted to change my life. This is what started my little crisis. I was torn between two worlds. My old friends in Middlesbrough that I knew were dragging me down and a shot at success in a new city, with my parents growing ever more distant.
I hate to admit it, but during this time I was posting an emotional breakdown on Facebook. I’m sure you hate to admit too, but most of us have done it at one point or another. When you post a vague status like “I don’t know what to do anymore,” in an attempt to fish for advice and condolences from your virtual friends. I’d made no friends at uni yet and most of my “friends” at home were starting to look less and less real.
I was well connected in Middlesbrough online and off. Hundreds of Facebook likes and party invites everyday, as I drifted between subcultures and house parties. No one out of my circles went into further education. We were all unemployed or working in dreary retail and sales jobs, with no prospects in a depressing part of town. When you’re in the depths and renown in such a culture, though, it’s a shock to the system pulling yourself out of it. Especially when you’re put into the most expensive accommodation in the city with kids who went to private school.
I grew more and more isolated and estranged from the rest of society, whilst hanging onto to the past through social media. In a last ditch effort to get away from everyone and find my own path, I took the plunge and deleted my Facebook. Now, this may seem like a simple life-change, but I don’t think anyone realises how much of an impact this makes on your life. Especially if you were an obsessive newsfeed scroller like me. The sad part about it is, that you realise who you true friends are when you delete your online identity. Barely anyone spoke to me anymore and it made me feel even more alone, this launched me into a deep depression.
The next following weeks were way more emotional then they should have been. When you first delete your Facebook, you’ll find yourself constantly turning on your phone so you can scroll down the news feed. Then a strange feeling of sadness will fill you when you realise you can’t. This goes on for a few days, until eventually you get used to it. I felt like I had so much more time, yet still felt alone, so I took up live music photography to channel my pain into something creative. I don’t want to get too deep again, but nothing can explain the feeling of being at an event full of happy smiling people, when you’re mid-way through an identity crisis. Looking back, it was as if I’d forgotten how to connect to real humans, rather than just thumbnails. It was as if subconsciously, I was now studying these strange beings from behind my camera to try and re-integrate into ‘normal society.’
About two weeks into a social-media detox, you’ll start getting more clarity about your situation. You realise that Facebook isn’t as vital to your existence as you think it is. After all, we lived fine before Facebook. However, with the way the world is, you start realising that you need Facebook in order to function. It’s quite a sad fact, I know. But I needed it back for events and keeping in contact with people. Again, I took the plunge and reactivated my Facebook. Straight away I was greeted with hundreds of smiling faces and parties I’d missed. Being alone in Sheffield away from everyone, this should have broke me. However, being away from it so long, I had more of an awakening…
The Bigger Picture
Social media has become such a huge part of our lives we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and become too absorbed in the virtual world. Like I said earlier, think back to before we had Facebook, even before mobile phones. We weren’t all seamlessly connected to one another 24/7 as we are now. Generally, a lot of the human experience is spent alone, especially as we get older. People drift apart due to jobs and families and we don’t have the time to see those closest to us all the time.
This is all a sad fact of life that one eventually adjusts too. However, in my opinion Facebook has made us forget how to function alone. Every friend is just a click of a button away. A few messages during the week seems easier than a trip to the pub for some actual human interaction at the weekend. I realised this when I re-activated mine after a two week detox. Scrolling down my newsfeed, it all seemed a little fake and artificial. What we don’t realise when we’re peeking into our friends’ Facebook feeds is that we’re only seeing a very filtered version of their lives: people only post the good times and the highlights. You never see what goes on behind the scenes. We don’t see every persons personal struggle, only the good parts. This I think is what warps your perception of social interaction. We start comparing our lives with our friends apparent perfect lives on social media and ours seems less exciting.
It’s a replacement for real-life interaction
Needless to say, I was stuck in a sticky situation. I could see the negative impact that social media was having on my life, yet I still needed for the events function and connecting with people in my industry. I did next, what I thought was a smart move and just made a new Facebook, consisting of a very select amount of friends. If you’ve ever tried to de-activate your Facebook, the message Facebook gives you, is quite sinister and alluring…
Wow, look at all these people that will miss you when you go! The truth is, none of it is real. I realised at this point that I was nowhere near as alone as I thought I was. Facebook was just making me feel more alone. Look at the loneliest people you know, and I guarantee that they are the ones who post statuses the most regularly. That’s because when we’re not getting much real-life interaction, then we resort to Facebook for the connection. Rather than meeting up with someone in real life. When coming home from work, rather than going round a friends house we’ll just like a few of their statuses. This behaviour is so ingrained that we believe it’s real. This is what I think the dark-side of social media is. It creates an imaginary barrier between people, when we really should be spending time with one another.
It’s all about how you use it
This is when it hit me. It’s all about HOW you use it. If you detach yourself from the like system and social approval of the platform then you can use it purely for what it was intended for. That’s to connect one another with interesting content and ideas. This is why since I re-activated my old Facebook I now only use it primarily for sharing fun content, rather than as a social interaction tool.
If you sit there all day looking at a highlight reel of other people’s lives, then of course you’re going to start feeling a little lonely and depressed. However, you don’t have to use it like this. Fill your feed up with things that interest you, things that you couldn’t find without Facebook. After all, it’s called a newsfeed, not an ego-feed. Leave out the selfies and self-absorbed statuses and you’ll be set free.
All in all…
I’d recommend to anyone deleting their Facebook for a bit, just to have the experience. You’ll be amazed at how much it affects you. Like anything, Facebook is a tool and should be used in moderation. When used to connect one another on an extended digital level, it enriches our lives. However, when used as a replacement for real-life interaction it becomes a much more nefarious beast.
Just for the record… I got over my identity crisis and will now be moving on to second year. Hurray!
By Thom Anderson