It seems hard to believe that anything that went on in the 80s could possibly beat life as it is today. The streets smelled of dog shit and cigarettes, and children were wearing highly flammable and toxic materials that saw many a garishly-dressed young’un burst into flames just from walking by a 40watt bulb. We were restricted to four channels and usually only one TV with a broken remote per household. And a computer? No chance.
Yet here we are in the 10s where dog shit and cigarettes are outlawed, fashion no longer dictates that children should wear fluorescent crepe-paper tracksuits and we have more channels than we know what to do with. Computers are everywhere; in every room in our homes, at work, in our cars and in our pockets. At any given moment you are never more than an arm’s length away from computerised technology. It’s a marvel, but it comes at a price.
The price we pay for the pleasure of having all knowledge – some of it powerful, some of it pointless – at our fingertips is the gargantuan rise of Facebook. Never before have we known so much about people we barely know, and every generation that follows will never fully understand discretion and privacy.
It was a long time coming, but I knew I had to get off it. I tried cutting down at first. But that’s just like a junkie trying to get clean by keeping a stash of gear under their bed, just in case they need it. I removed the app from my phone, but I had my login and all my notifications still on the go, and do you know what happens when you’ve got an active Facebook account but don’t log in? It fucking stalks you.
Like a creepy dealer loitering outside your house and knocking on your door once in a while to check if you want a little bit of crack to take the edge off your withdrawal symptoms, every few days you’ll get an email from the bloody thing trying to entice you back. It’s a pretty lame effort of enticement, of course, things like “see what <insert name of person you worked with 8 years ago> has been up to”, “here’s what you missed! <insert pictures of people’s dinner from the latest news feed>”. Hardly the grade A gear your dealer might rope you back in with, but it keeps the dull curiosity alive in the background.
If Facebook is the dealer then being able to spy on other people’s pretend happiness is the crack. And it’s not that I resent their success and happiness. There is the undeniable urge to compare your own circumstances, shitty or otherwise, to the lives people choose to portray and it’s easy to become resentful of what you don’t have, but more than that I just don’t think posting the few seconds of pleasure we truly get in our lives is really necessary. Does having five people you used to work with “like” a picture of your face really make your face any more likable? Will tagging yourself and your mates in your local pub give your night out that extra zing it might otherwise lack?
As leaving the account dormant just encourages it to harass you, I decided I had to do the only thing that I knew would make it shut up and leave me alone: I deactivated it. And that was six months ago. It was blissful. You don’t realise the head-rattling racket that thing makes when you’ve got it on every device you own. You regain some peace and equilibrium that’s been absent since you began living your life through that website.
Not once have I looked back on my decision to depart with anything other than self-congratulatory pride. I haven’t missed those long, lonely hours spent grimly scrolling through the newsfeed. I haven’t missed that gut-churning feeling of dread following a night out when you reach for your phone, crusty tears dried around your eyes, as you’re bombarded with images of your sweat-drenched, ruddy face gurning into someone’s camera, every picture tagged so distant relatives will be able to see just how inappropriately you’re living your life.
I do believe in progress and I do believe in choice. The fact we have progressed far enough technologically to give people the choice to share every bit of their lives and to engage with people from across the world at the touch of a screen is something else. Something we never could have dreamed of 30 years ago when our noses were pressed against the screen on the hulking great box in the corner of our living rooms.
I still have a choice to make: I can entirely disengage with the online community by removing my account completely, following the arbitrarily painstaking process they’ve come up with to put people off from doing so, or I have to accept that progress has brought us to a place where our actions, words, geographical locations and drunken misdemeanours can and will be uploaded at any given moment.
Until that point, I may well be at home wearing a vintage piece of bin-bag inspired sportswear and walking perilously close to a naked flame. But the beauty is no one will have to know about it.