The Startup
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The Startup

Life after Facebook

I’m a bit sh*t at doing nothing these days.

It never used to be the case. I clearly recall a (not-so-distant) past life in which I was quite capable of spending 5–10 minutes sitting idly on the john without entertainment. Heck, that’s how I learned my times tables back in the day.

Flash forward 15 odd years, and the idea of being alone with my own thoughts has become foreign and disconcerting.

Increasingly, alarmingly, I catch my itchy fingers scrabbling for my phone while waiting in supermarket queues. As soon as friends excuse themselves to use the bathroom. As soon as I sit down to use the bathroom.

At first, each idle occasion seemed to present a precious opportunity to feed my FOMO. There was so much to keep up with. Friends’ engagements and weddings. Fake news scandals. B-grade celebrities getting butt implants.

Inertia seemed like a waste of perfectly good tech-checking time.

But each FOMO-feeding-frenzy only augmented the addiction. Like any other junkie, the more I used, the more I needed to use.

Something had to give.

So three weeks ago, I deleted Facebook from my phone. Not my account — just the app. And almost immediately, some astonishing things began to happen.

1. Quality of conversation

Lacklustre conversations suddenly began to regain their sparkle.

And little wonder. Previously, in the midst of intense debates about conspiracy theories and A.I. turning on us and taking over the world, my eyes would repeatedly flick down to my phone. Checking for I don’t even know what.

And as much as I tried to convince myself that I was a ‘good multi-tasker’, there was no denying the reality. My brain was simply unable to meaningfully contribute to conversations while simultaneously perusing or posting.

In post-phone-Facebook life, my social media access has become much more intentional.

Now that I have to physically get off my bum, walk to the other side of the room, open my laptop and log in, there are a lot of barriers to overcome before I can check my feed. Most of the time, I’m simply too lazy to rise to the challenge.

So instead of incessantly monitoring what my distant acquaintances are up to, I’ve settled for having quality conversations with people I actually care about.

Not a bad substitute, really.

2. Reclaiming my attention span

There’s no denying that social media had, over time, been slowly but surely grinding down my capacity to focus.

The scrolling systems had me flicking through feeds at a far more rapid rate than my brain could actually process. My eyes and brain would skim but not really take in the (predominantly banal and irrelevant) content. Which, in hindsight, was probably reasonable (given that it was predominantly banal and irrelevant).

It wasn’t such an issue that I wasn’t fully processing what people I hadn’t seen in seven years were having for brunch. But it was an issue that my attention deficit was affecting other areas of my life.

Concentrating on high-brow conversations had become hard. Reading full news articles was a challenge. Reading actual books? Forget it.

And so, instead of reading material that would actually expand my mind, I would check my news feed, where the bite-sized posts were just so much easier for my distracted brain to handle.

Since deleting Facebook from my phone, the rebound in my attention and concentration spans has been almost miraculous.

Over my three Facebook-free weeks I’ve read my way almost two full books and un-distractedly consumed multiple podcasts. On occasion, I’ve even actively listened to my partner’s prolonged rants about the sodium and potassium channels within nerve cells.

There’s no question that Facebook had been holding my attention span ransom. And now that it’s been released and we’ve been reunited, I won’t be quick to let it go again.

3. Innovation

A while ago I wrote a blog about the importance of inactivity. About how new and creative ideas spring from periods of complete mental blankness, which allow our minds to wander into previously unexplored territories of thought.

(Remember — it was during a peaceful bath that Archimedes realised the relationship between volume and buoyancy. And it wasn’t Isaac Newton’s apple device that caused him to hit upon the laws of gravity.)

But idleness is something that social media has worked hard to eliminate.

Indeed, with Facebook on my phone, I rarely found myself waiting for anything without it close at/in hand. The stimulation seemed necessary. The notion of idleness? Almost inconceivable.

Over the past three weeks, I have learnt to stand in supermarket lines with nothing but my own thoughts for company. While waiting for friends to arrive, I sit quietly and observe the world around me.

Granted, I’m yet to concoct any Nobel-prize worthy theories. But I’m only three weeks in.

Who knows what could happen.



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