Update- well hasn't the world changed since this post? Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic- facebook contact is really important to keep me in touch with people. It was good to have a break though. Keep safe folks, and wash your hands!!
An artist I followed on Facebook who had over 1200 ‘friends’ and kept us glued there by increasingly making bolder and more provocative posts designed to shock, announced one day ‘Heads up, tomorrow I am committing Face-icide.’
We were all shocked and upset, ‘But why Tali why?’ because she was the most interesting person in our feeds and we waited for what amazing crazy thing she would be doing in her life, like we were watching a drama series on Netflix with a box of popcorn.
Her answer baffled me ‘Because I just can’t keep up with wishing people happy birthday, giving encouragement and advice, likes and smiley faces and most of all because I am getting no painting done whatsoever. You can follow me on my blog. So long and thanks for all the fish.’ Or words to that effect, I wish I’d known how to screen shot the conversation at the time. I’d have printed it on cotton and made a dress from the fabric. I’d have called it the ‘FB F-off Frock.' I was very upset that she left us so blithely, and then after a week or two, forgot she existed at all.
This new year though, I did the same, I killed off my personal page of 350 odd friends and family.
Nine years of dedicated daily posts, and now I’ve gone from their news feed- if they ever saw me at all amongst the torrential algorithmic news, fake news, and relentless advertising. I put a much less attention-grabbing headline as a post, murmuring that I was going to take a break. A few people replied with ‘yeah right’ because I’ve said this before and then I’m back two days later. I have no self-control. Unable to just log in and out once a week, I suspended my account.
So why did I do this more permanent thing?
BF (before facebook) I have always been a communication junkie. I hung out over my fax machine back in the day, and before that hours on the landline. Mobile phones were a godsend with texts, so I could be always yakking. It was the thing I got told off for at school the most- talking. Even at home growing up, the catchphrase in my family was ‘Shut up Fif!’ so garrulous I am. My blog was the next tell-it-to-the-world platform on a weekly basis or more.
I’ve always had an opinion too, though now as I get older, I find myself like Prince Charles, in that Episode of The Crown.
Charles: ‘But Mummy, I have a voice’
The Queen: ‘Let me let you into a secret, no-one wants to hear it.’
Facebook for me started off innocently enough- a way to find the best photos of a band I was doing a poster for- my kids had to teach me how to use it, how to disable the pesky and abundant email notifications and how to connect with friends. Wow, what a cool thing it was- how easy to share photos with the family. At this time, I was also on The Good Morning Show, and connected with all the other presenters and crew. Then my tiny fan base wanted to be facebook friends too and I accepted. And my publishing editor, all the people I had ever met anytime at festival events, worked with, friends of friends, my kid’s friends and even a rabbit. I will never forget Tog, RIP.
Facebook is important for your work profile all our publishers say, you HAVE to market yourself. Because apparently that’s our job now, as well as creating all the content, we are responsible for selling it too. Things got awkward around election time. I couldn’t annoy my followers and colleagues with my views in case I lost a sale or a supporter, I also felt very uncomfortable seeing posts of a stranger’s family funeral, wedding or birth in my news feed. So I created a public page and gently moved the kind but unknown people onto that, and invited others to join me there. But many refused to change one page for the other and, like the situation when you realise you left it too late to say ‘sorry I made a mistake letting you into my personal life,’ I was stuck with the relationship.
I tried a policy of unfriending people who rarely posted and never commented- I broke up with them through a cheery private message, and got some really offended replies of ‘I thought this was where we could be friends but obviously you want me gone from your life!’ Note, these were people whose only posts or location alerts were about coming to my city for a holiday, yet never called to catch up for coffee. They would be entirely unreliable to help you in any personal crisis.
I tried restricting some people so they couldn’t see any of my posts, and that just felt mean, even though they only used your facebook friendship to promote their work. Merely unfollowing them means you don’t see their posts, but they can still trawl through yours if they've a mind to. There is nothing more unsettling to bump into an distant acquaintance on the street and them say ‘I hope you managed to get some work/new drains/bury your father/sort out the problem with your home loan’ and you realise ‘Fark, they are a facebook lurker friend!’ TMI, TMI everywhere.
And then there are work contacts who see you comment on a friend’s post about something that affects a community you are involved in, and they personally message you with admonishments and warnings. Basically saying, ‘You can only be vanilla, you can never be honest. How very dare you!’
I spent so many wasted hours trying to organise my personal facebook page into some sort of sense where I could have meaningful and fun interactions yet maintain some sort of privacy. Privacy and facebook of course are a nonsense, as Cambridge Analytica showed us.
All of this aside, the sharing of information even when you think you have it well locked down and the addiction to the little red notification flag, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming sadness I experienced over this Christmas period. Not long after the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, my feed was flooded with the heart-breaking Australian bush fire climate change disasters, road accidents and family violence reports. Then Trump bombed Iran and #WW3 was the end of Facebook days for me. That and people’s holiday snaps of their endless luxury holidays jetting away abroad, posting photos of their food, fiddling whilst the planet burns. I put my phone down.
Of course, like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. The minute I log back in with the password and username, there I will be, resurrected and 3567 notifications of activity I’ve missed, all my comments and posts back like magic. I plan to go in though, in the dead of night, rescue my photos, delete all but very close family and the handful of friends I can utterly count on to bring food and love to my family if I suddenly die and will help organise a funeral. I'm going to Konmari the feck out of it. Or push that 'permanently delete' button altogether.
In the meantime, the real me has found peace in choosing what bad news floods my way. I don’t have to look at other people’s seemingly fortunate wealthy lives and perfect families and have jealousy twist like a knife in my gut (my problem, not theirs). My husband says I’m far less grumpy now, but quietly wagering that Twitter will replace my addiction. I’m also sorry if I have put up aspirational posts in the past that make my life seem like a bunch of goddamned daisies. Nobody’s is, yet nobody wants to admit it in the highly curated life online. Yet we circle like vultures for a hint of weakness, or mistake made, ready to pounce and gossip.
Since quitting my personal page, I’ve had actual coffees and catch ups in person with people I like and care about, invites to stay and long walks along the wild coast of Wellington. I miss the banter from humerous like minded friends, but I don’t miss how utterly miserable Facebook made me feel.
Ironically, this post will also go up on my public page where I hope I don’t lose followers. Ah the duplicity...
Cheers, and thanks for all the fish, love Fifi xxx
Dear Fifi, I heartily agree with your observation of the shortcomings of Facebook. I have never been able to get the settings to satisfy my wish to keep in touch without relinquishing my privacy. I am one of those who read but never interacted - and will continue to do so with your blog if that's okay. Love your work and so like to know you are effervescing somewhere in the world. It brightens my day to be reminded there is a spot of creativity bubbling away out there.
All the best - Christine Dale
Thank you thank you thank I have been tempted to leave facebook and your post was so enlightening.I may just do it!Regards,Jo Duder
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