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Commentary: Breaking My Facebook Addiction

By Stephen Whitley

Dallas, TX –

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to update their Facebook status, has it really happened? While this notion is of course absurd, I had become so addicted to Facebook that I started to believe I didn't have a reality outside the confines of status updates and photo uploads. What started out as a fun way to reconnect with people became more of a problem than a solution. How did someone like me who had previously shunned social networking, become a slavish follower of the new millennium's equivalent of a fern bar?

Last year I migrated to Facebook from MySpace because many of my friends my age were on Facebook. It was fun connecting with members of my high school graduating class, seeing photos of their families and catching up with their lives. At first I didn't spend any more time on Facebook than I had on MySpace, less than 15 minutes every two or three days. The turning point was when I downloaded Facebook to my Blackberry and started updating my status several times a day. I suddenly found a new way to wax poetic and share pithy thoughts with a whole new audience.

If an addiction is defined as being enslaved to a habit or practice, the cessation of which causes severe trauma, my behavior on Facebook fit the definition. Facebook eventually became one of the focal points in my life. Several times an hour I would look at my friends' status updates and I constantly checked my Facebook email. Even then I had an uneasy relationship with Facebook. Merging two or three different groups of my friends in one place was uncomfortable for someone like me who had successfully compartmentalized his life for many years. One friend who lives in Uptown made a snide comment about Frisco, which upset my sister who lives there. Another friend, who never seemed to mind having his picture taken and posted ad infinitum on other people's Facebook pages, asked me to delete a photo of him I had taken at one of my parties. I realized the same inadequacies I felt in real life interactions with people existed for me on Facebook as well, only now those neuroses were on the internet for everyone to see and comment on. It was the High School Cafeteria writ large. I tried several times not to log on, or to delete the application from my Blackberry, but I would always go back. Despite the inner conflicts I had surrounding Facebook, its pull was too strong.

Eventually the pain of continuing to define my social life through a website became too much. I kept comparing my life to other people's lives and mine always came up short. I didn't like the person I became through social networking. It was time to quit.

Breaking the addiction was not easy. The first few days I didn't sleep very well, and one night I even dreamed about Facebook. I felt a sense of isolation and disconnectedness even though I was surrounded by people. Much like an addict I bargained with myself. "I will log back on but I will only check it two times a day." That was the most frightening aspect of breaking the addiction. After about a week the obsession diminished and I began to feel almost physically sick thinking about Facebook. I knew then its hold on me had been broken.

I did eventually reactivate my account, but I have drastically curtailed the time I spend on it. Facebook is not all bad. I now see Facebook for what it is, a tool to enhance connections rather than define them.

Because life is what's happening while you're updating your Facebook status.

Stephen Whitley is a writer from Dallas.

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