Connecting with life by unfriending Facebook

The only real peace comes when you log out of Facebook, writes Eleanor Ainge Roy.A few weeks ago, I heard a rumour I thought was true. A bug in Facebook was causing it to post archived private messages on users' public walls.

My friend warned me at the pub, but I didn't quite believe him. How could Facebook make such a monumental mess-up?

At home I scrolled down the years of my wall, and sure enough, starting in 2008, a smattering of private messages had become visible to everyone.

They were mostly innocuous emails from friends; full of old news and no secrets. But how lucky they did contain no secrets, because there are certainly secrets that need to be kept.

Delete your account. It's hard to even find this option on Facebook, and when you do your friends' faces appear on the screen "Sally will miss you", "Andrew will miss you". They won't if they're my real friends, because we'll still have that old school option of socialising - real life.

A few days after I deleted my account, I was told the "bug" was a lie. A journalist from the website Techcrunch had investigated and found the private messages that had so alarmed users (and me) were in fact always visible wall posts.

A technology reporter from The Guardian newspaper confirmed Techcrunch's findings, and Facebook released a statement to the same effect.

But for me the damage was done.

This scare was the excuse I needed to log off - and join the five billion people worldwide who have never logged on.

The incident highlights how rapidly our Facebook habits have evolved, and how much more conscious we are of online privacy than two or three years ago. I still find it hard to believe some of the things my friends and I wrote to each other in a public setting, and how blithely ignorant we were of the potential dangers. Dates. Times. Home addresses. It was all available for anyone who cared to look.

A recent survey in Australia has found Aussies are turning away from Facebook in increasing numbers, sickened by the culture of "narcissism and self-absorption" it promotes.

The friends I have, largely, do not go in for this, and their status updates are accurate reflections of what's happening in their lives.

But if you are prone to narcissism, Facebook will amplify these tendencies, giving you an open platform to promote whatever version of your life most flatters you.

What sometimes gave me an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism was how much you can learn about people you barely know, and how easy it is to jump from looking, to judgement. Hello Kitty is her wallpaper?

Well I don't think we'll have much in common. And why is he drunk in every photo?

I don't like judging people based on their internet footprint, and I don't want to be judged in a similar way.

Ninety-five per cent of liking someone is how you interact with them in person, the jokes you share and the good times you have together.

If all I had to judge from was a Facebook page, I probably wouldn't like half my friends. Their charm is most potent in the flesh. If anything gets me back on Facebook, it is likely to be work.

Journalists increasingly use social media to make contacts, find stories, and keep their thumb on the pulse of "trending" topics. Working in features it isn't a part of my day-to-day, but I can see for news journalists it is an invaluable tool.

To deny the power and influence of social media in a professional context would be a foolish career move, and not one I - nor any journalist - could afford to make.

It's been over a week since I deleted my Facebook account and I don't miss it at all. I've even had emails from a few people saying, "Good on you - wish I could do the same". I'm away from home at the moment and I'd usually stay in touch with friends by chatting online. But we've transitioned seamlessly to a post-Facebook world, and are calling each other instead, or sending brief, how's your day going?

emails.

When an itch of boredom would usually have me turning to Facebook I pick up a novel instead, or start on dinner, or do a hundred other things that a half hour on Facebook would have delayed, or perhaps done away with entirely.

"Facebook" may as well be synonymous with "wasting time".

Whenever I logged on I had a vague sense of guilt, as if by signing into that culture I was betraying a set of values I vaguely try to adhere too. Reading over television. A news feature over a gossip magazine.

I used to log on to Facebook when I didn't want to think any more, when my brain needed a break. But that was an illusion. The constant "conversation" of Facebook can be deafening. And the only real peace comes when you log out.

• Eleanor Ainge Roy is a Dunedin journalist.

 

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