‘I had started stalking my boyfriend’s exes -that was the last straw’ — Mayuri, 26Mayuri knew her relationship with Facebook was in the gutter when she’d come away from a session fighting tears. “I noticed the change a few years ago,” says the 26-year-old from Delhi. “I started detesting people for talking about the better B-School they’d gotten into or the better job they’d secured, and yet I couldn’t stop myself going back to Facebook and reading these posts.”
Thirteen years ago, Mayuri moved with the tide, surfing every social media platform — Orkut, hi5 and of course that blue planet we all inhabit, Facebook. “Back then, it was largely a mode of entertainment, and an alternate means of talking to friends. Then it grew to keeping in touch with extended friends and people no longer part of your immediate social circle. But a couple of years ago I started realising that I’d stopped using social media to have personal conversations with people and was using it to talk up my life instead,” she says.
She felt that everyone on Facebook was gloating about places they’d been to, restaurants they were dining at, and the fun they were having. “Their lives seemed cooler than mine and it added to my insecurities,” she says. She came to the conclusion that social media glorified the good parts of one’s life and made no mention of the lemons, making it seem like everyone was constantly swilling champagne. “Conversations were not personal anymore, they were simply information dumps,” she observes. “In the pre-Facebook days I would have probably met up with an old friend and realised from our conversations that while she did have a great holiday somewhere, she had also broken up with her boyfriend, something she may not have shared publicly on Facebook. You don’t see both sides of a person’s life.” You don’t feel so wretched about your own life when you see another person’s life in full perspective, she believes.
Another worrying behaviour she noticed while on Facebook was her growing obsession with the lives of others. “I started ‘stalking’ people,” she says, referring to her unnatural interest in the lives of her boyfriend’s exes. “Earlier, when you were dating someone and knew they had an ex, there was not much you could do with that information, but now you are tempted to try and find out more about that person, especially if you’re insecure about your relationship.” It could not only ruin one’s peace of mind, but lead to misunderstandings and allegations. “I’d have fights about small things like some girl liking his Instagram picture,” she confesses.
Mayuri quit Facebook — though not Instagram — a few months ago in an attempt to “improve” herself. “I still like Insta because I look at it as an outlet for creative expression. I’m keen on photography and this acquaints me with the work of other photographers and allows me to share my own images,” she says. Facebook withdrawal was initially tough. She would reflexively reach out for the deleted app while on the train, but then retire her phone. “I now read or listen to music or sleep. So maybe I don’t know everything about my not-so-close-friends anymore, but it gives me time to concentrate on myself.”
According to the institute in Copenhagen, giving up social media for just 7 days boosts happiness and reduces anger and feelings of loneliness
‘It’s amazing how much time I have got back’ — Ranjini Iyer, 40
I started using Facebook in 2008 to connect with old friends,” says Ranjini Iyer, a leadership development specialist from Pune, who taught at the Symbiosis Institutes. “But then I started having students trying to befriend me. For me, Facebook was a personal space and I didn’t want everyone invading it. I didn’t want to accept many of the ‘Friend’ requests I was getting.” When her students started asking her why she hadn’t added them to her virtual social circle, she explained she reserved that space for her friends. “But when I started working for corporates, I couldn’t say the same to them.”
In a world where personal and social boundaries are expected to be elastic, it’s a downright dilemma having to signal to people, particularly work associates, that you don’t wish them to know more about your life than what the job demands. To save herself from worrying how her denial might be perceived, she switched off social media altogether two years ago. “I’m not on any social media platform save WhatsApp, and that’s for the convenience of messaging colleagues, friends and family,” says Ranjini, who now works for Amazon.
People are surprised when she tells them they won’t find her on FB. Apart from trying to safeguard her privacy, what bothered her too was the need to see how many people reacted to pictures she had uploaded, and the frequency with which she’d check for updates. Ranjini also felt Facebook was a misleading platform. “The number of pretty pictures and soppy testimonials about people’s lives started getting to me. Nobody has that kind of life. I started feeling there was something unreal about it.”
Habitually checking for updates on social media can also be disruptive and distracting she feels. “In the middle of meetings at work I’ve noticed people checking their social media feeds,” says Ranjini.
“I don’t need Facebook to feel connected,” she says, “and the time I have recovered is amazing. I feel unique and contented. The time I would have spent checking social media, I devote to my daughter, or to reading a book.” Interestingly, Ranjini’s 16-year-old daughter, Sanviti, is not on Facebook. When she was 10, she’d asked her mum if like her friends, she too could have a Facebook account. Her mother suggested she wait till she was 13. But come 13, Sanviti decided she spoke enough to her friends on the phone and in person, and didn’t need to have extended conversations online. Says she: “If they were real friends I’d connect with them offline.”
Can’t quit? This is why Research by Cornell University found that there are three main reasons why social media users can’t unplug
1. You think it’s addictive: Most users log on to Facebook as habit and believe it’s a thing they must do every so often
2. You care about impressions: People can’t quit because they care about what others think, or they simply like to influence others’ thoughts with their photos and status
3. You’re feeling blue: Those who are feeling sad are prone to get sucked into social media platforms