It’s well past lunchtime on Thursday, December 27 and I’m still in my dressing gown. Isn’t Christmas great? Tea and biscuits beside me, I’ve just submitted my first Mayo News column of the year (toxic January diet culture, I’m coming for you next week), and am remembering, as I do fortnightly, how much I enjoy writing and how little of it I do for fun, these days.
I’m now in my sixth year of writing for the Mayo News and I will never not be grateful to the team there for the opportunity they gave me in 2014, particularly Edwin McGreal, Michael Duffy and the late Neill O’Neill. Somehow they thought that the ramblings they spotted here and on my various social media platforms were worth encouraging, and as a result, for over five years I have had a reason to sit down and do what I enjoy more than anything else. It is a privilege and one I never take for granted.
The turn of the year is always a time for reflection and also, for forming new habits and ditching some old ones. My attempts at new year’s resolutions are usually pretty feeble, but there is a common theme every year, and that is to attempt to spend less time online. Earlier in 2018, I made the decision to mostly quit Twitter in an attempt to claw back some time for other stuff. It is a decision I have not regretted, despite sorely missing the interaction and learning I had enjoyed on the platform for years. I still use it to auto-share blog content there, though I rarely engage.
But online addiction does not relinquish its hold easily, so it’s time to cast off some more of the chains, and this time, it’s Facebook that needs to go.
2018 has been quite a year. It was a watershed year for women, and in Ireland, the repealing of the Eighth Amendment was one of the most historically, socially and politically significant events we will ever encounter in this country. Much of it played out on Facebook. Eight months after the campaign (mostly) concluded, its effects are still being felt on a social level, but also on a very personal level by many. World politics has been more tumultous than ever, with the Brexit storm raging, Trump breeding hate, and wars and genocides on enormous scales that barely merit a mention in the mainstream media.
Closer to home, social media is once again playing a strong role in raising awareness of social injustices such as evictions, and providing a platform for right-wing reactionaries to hijack people-powered movements. Closer to home again, outrage on local issues often trumps logic or accuracy of information. And always, Facebook plays a pivotal role by providing the platform but absolving itself of all moral obligations or responsibility.
Personally, it was a challenging and relentlessly busy year. Yet I’m pretty sure that had I not spent considerable amounts of my spare time, scarce as it was, scrolling through my phone minding other people’s business (or being typically unable to resist a good argument!) I might have have felt a lot better mentally for it.
The conversations that take place on these platforms are simultaneously informative and misinformative, passionate and vicious, progressive and regressive, enlightening and worrying, but always mentally taxing. Alongside the nuggets of learning and food for thought, the mundane is celebrated, and most terrifyingly of all, crimes against grammar continue to mushroom. And still we scroll, and scroll, and scroll.
This year I will revisit the New Year’s resolution I make in some shape or form every year. And that is to put my time to better use, by creating, writing, volunteering, spending more time with loved ones. Planning rather than drifting, and re-introcuding some discipline. So the scrolling needs to stop. The biggest casualty of my online addiction (there is no point in denying this reality) has been my ability to focus and concentrate. In 2018, I read three books. Three. Yet I probably scrolled about ten miles on Facebook using my thumb. What a miserable tally and what an absolute waste of time.
A bit like diet culture, Facebook now feels toxic.It breeds negativity, gives a platform to liars, promotes division and judgement of others, and it thieves hours and hours of time that could be put to better use. I have always advocated the power of social media as a learning tool (and without it, I would not be in the job I am today, nor I would I be lucky enough to know a lot of brilliant people), but as of December 31, I’m done with the Big F.
I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg will lose much sleep over this, but I am far from alone in deserting the platform, when people who bought so much into these platforms and embraced the technology early are leaving in their droves, it says something. I am tired of implicitly supporting the bad behaviour and moral bankruptcy of these tech giants by maintaining a presence. I am also tired of having my private data commoditised – something that never bothered me in the past, but I am getting quite elderly, odd and cantankerous now, so he can sod off.
I’m well aware that many people quietly depart the platform without feeling the need to write about it, but it was my friend Nick McGivney who inspired me to actually bite the bullet by posting about his own departure, and maybe this will provide food for thought for others too. Also documenting something like this means that you have to stick to it and I need all the help I can get to keep my resolve.
Inspired by Nick, a group of us plans to write a letter or two to each other throughout the year instead. Anyone wishing to stay in contact can get me by emailing email@example.com. For now, I’ll continue to man a feeble attempt at an Instagram account, though given the narcicissm on that platform, I doubt it will be for much longer. And of course, anyone that knows me can pick up the phone or knock on the door. Because no matter how useful technology is, nothing will ever beat the warmth and civility a face-to-face conversation.
Thanks for the memories, Mark. Now, here’s to making some 3D ones instead.