Late Night Thoughts on Being ‘Off the Grid’

It’s very hard to write about not being on Facebook without accidentally giving off an air of superiority… I’m not on Facebook, so I think I’m better than you

I do think I’m better than everybody else of course, but for other reasons.

If you’ve never been on Facebook people can quite reasonably tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. How they would tell you though is quite difficult, because nobody ever talks to anybody anymore unless it’s via Facebook.

But I have been on Facebook. And I didn’t quit because I wanted a sense of superiority— and again, it’s much harder to lord it over people when you’re not online. In fact the best thing about Facebook is the incredible number of opportunities for bold and arrogant claims to genius.

I didn’t quit because people were annoying me either, which I have done in the past— about a year ago. Facebook introduced a feature where you could ‘hide’ certain friends. I hid a lot of people, because most people are boring and my feed was a list of scores from online games, news articles I was allowed to read, and often passive aggressive complaints. But once those are out of sight and consequently out of mind they can’t annoy you, even if you know they exist.

I actually like most of the people I was friends with on Facebook. They were all quite nice to me when I said I was going to quit. It was a nice virtual community, full of cool and supportive people.

But the problem I have is I don’t really like technology. I own a suit and I’ve drunk martinis and I’ve eaten at fancy restaurants. But the truth is I’m a simple country boy who grew up in a relatively poor family when computers became big things. I was about fifteen when our family first bought a computer, and I wasn’t allowed much access to it. At school using the school laptops was a rare special occasion. I largely grew up without computers. Or a car. No-one in my family drives. And I was happy with that.

I didn’t have an idyllic childhood or anything. I grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea, and Bexhill-on-Sea is a bit shit really. But I had friends, and we had fun and we spent an awful lot of time playing football outdoors and walking to places other families drove to in a fraction of the time.

Most of my friends growing up would drive out to big supermarkets with their parents, like normal people. Every Sunday I’d walk to the supermarket with my dad, we’d buy our lower middle class food items, and we’d carry them back. I don’t want to sound like a misty eyed old fart looking back on a halcyon era through thick-rimmed rose-tinted glasses, but those Sundays were something to look forward to. It’s not like not having a car was a huge obstacle in our day to day lives. We were fortunate enough to live in a town where driving wasn’t necessary. It would have made life easier, sure, but it wasn’t something we were in desperate need of and not something I think would have improved our lives.

I feel the same way about computers and technology. I like computers and the internet, and I like having friends in far flung places, and I like being able to talk to them instantly and for free. That is very, very cool.

That’s the other thing I’m wary of— sounding like somebody who hates all technology. I don’t, not really. Sort of. I’m uneasy with the degree to which technology has become part of everyday life. I don’t think it can possibly be healthy.

Ultimately, if you have a good friend it is worth investing time in that relationship. In the physical world you don’t become somebody’s friend by saying ‘will you be my friend?’ unless you’re about five years old. You don’t maintain friendships by responding to most of what they say with a thumbs up, or short comments.

The best friends I have are people I’ve met one day, and then spoken to in person nearly every day since, gradually getting to know them better and better, developing a bond that, in some brilliant and rare cases, comes close to brotherhood.

Online friendship can’t compete with that, and quite possibly devalues friendship into something that is closer to a general shared agreement on trivial aspects of pop culture and/or appreciation of kitten-centric photography.

Facebook is a communication tool. It allows you to keep track of all your friendships but it doesn’t improve them. In cases it damages them, as more and more people are happy to just chat online than meet up. It isn’t necessary to be friends with someone— even friends in far flung places— on Facebook; it just a more convenient way of staying in touch. Convenience isn’t always healthy or beneficial— just look at convenience foods.

I guess what I’m saying is, I quit Facebook because I want to have more meaningful friendships. Also, because I spent a whole bunch of time on there wasting time, but that ties in with the whole ‘I think social networking may be detrimental to my quality of life’ thing.

I didn’t mean to write so much on this, and there is a lot I could write, and more that I could probably express better and with less typos.

Originally this post was just going to be a list of observations on being free from social networking, but there were only two things on the list.

The first was that by not being on Facebook I don’t check Facebook, and that has cut down the time I’ve spent online by over half. I don’t get itchy about getting online to see if I have any notifications— I already know that I don’t.

The second is that I feel better— not superior, but generally happier. There are various studies I read I could bring in but I can’t be bothered. This isn’t the New York Times… I’m online less, I’m reading more, spending more time with people, and feeling that I’m missing out on anything by being away from a computer.

 

If I was still on Facebook, right now I’d be on Facebook checking for messages and posting hilarious status updates.

I would certainly not have focused on writing a blog post. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not that is a good thing…

 

 

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About James D. Irwin

James D. Irwin is a writer/comedian.
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