During lunch with my daughter the other day I found myself discussing Facebook. Again. It seems that everywhere people are checking their status or talking about social networking in general and Facebook in particular.
For me, Facebook is a double-edged sword. I'm an avid Facebook user but I've been taking a more in-depth look at Facebook behaviour - and it's not pretty.
Seven years ago, back in the heady days when speaking to people in person was still popular, I logged onto Facebook for the first time. Within minutes I had two 'friends' - my daughters. When I checked again a week later - imagine that, a full week later - my brother had 'friended' me as well as some old school pals. Facebook level one. The lovely, mutually appreciative Friends Level.
It was eleven months before I had my first Facebook dilemma. I woke up one Monday morning and logged on. I glanced at my screen to find I had been 'friended' by an ex. I'd spent the past ten years trying to avoid him now he was asking to be my friend.
Our painful break-up replayed and I was caught up in wondering exactly why he wanted to add me. I was hooked in Facebook level two. Why? Level. I was immersed deeper into a world that suddenly needed more vigilant monitoring. Why did he want to see what my life was like now? Did he want to gloat, pity? Why, why, why had he friended me?
The only way to find out was to look at his profile and try to work out why he wanted to hook up with me again. Albeit digitally. So I looked at his friends list and found that he had people there I knew. My ex-friends. So I added them. Onwards to level three. Selfie Level. I changed my profile picture to a natural looking selfie just after I had been to a health spa and had a makeover. Nothing wrong with looking your best. By now I was logging on every day and I had googled how to take the best picture of myself - from above to avoid all the chins.
Selfie Level lasted many years and I was exhausted by my efforts to record every single aspect of the fantastic parts of my life. I ended up with over three hundred 'friends' which included two ex-boyfriends and people I didn't even know, as well as family and actual friends. I was hooked on statuses and comments, blocks and follows, pokes and likes. Then, quite unexpectedly, came the ultimate challenge. Truth Level.
I was suddenly confronted with a status that I couldn't ignore. I don't know what happened that day, but something cracked I wrote a 'comment'. This wasn't just a 'What's up, Hun?' comment. This was an opinion. And it was the direct opposite to the poster. Who I'd never met in real life. I was very angry. I had quickly progressed to Hysteria Level.
Over the next two days I was constantly logged into Facebook, checking for new comments or contradictions. The cyber-argument with people I hardly knew had raised unfamiliar feelings of outrage and resentment.
I felt shocked and confused but not really surprised. I'd already noticed that I'd started to feel envious of the snapshot lives of 'friends' who I had never met, and started to think very carefully about my status posts, making sure that they didn't expose on microsecond of the reality of my mundane life. Because what would people think? Paranoia Level.
So I conducted an experiment. One week without Facebook. I almost self-sabotaged but in the end I logged off. The first few days were the worst. My daily routine of checking my Facebook app was immediately disrupted. Life felt strange. Kind of lonely. It seems that Facebook doesn't end with a logoff, it has permeated our everyday lives.
But I had much more time. And more focus. I was no longer caught up in a maze of never-ending clickable links. Instead I was working faster. By day three I was so bored that I was seeking out conversations with actual people.
I was under the impression that Facebook extended my world, gave me ideas. I was worried that I would not be as creative. But I was. I was more creative. After five days I stopped craving the blue screen logon and started to crave the blank page.
Now I'm approaching Recovery Level. I'm back on Facebook now, but with a strict rule. No matter how much I want to 'comment', I resist. I'm not quite there yet; I still feel the urge and even type out the 'comment', quickly erasing it when I realise the consequences. But one day soon I'll spend a full day without Facebook. Voluntarily. Probably.