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I am Disconnecting

ghamadi profile image Ghaleb ・7 min read

Context

I have a problem with Facebook. I find myself, more times than not, habitually accessing it as soon as I open my browser or unlock my phone.

I don't think I have a surfing problem in general. I don't check twitter often, despite having an account. I don't get hooked to a never-ending trail of YouTube videos even though I have it on all the time to listen to my music playlists there. No, what I have is a Facebook problem (and maybe a cell-phone problem).

I tried tackling this issue before and I failed.

The main obstacle is that I realize Facebook's danger, but I also find benefit in it, so I do not want the solution that entails deleting my account.

When used with a small network of actual friends and family (or even actual acquaintances) Facebook indeed enables a rewarding experience of shared memories.

Despite the benefits, however, this Facebook problem must be solved, so I am starting an experiment to be rid of it without being rid of my account. I will allow this experiment to run for a year. If it fails, I am committing right now to deleting my account permanently.

Dissecting the Problem

Perhaps the reason I failed the first time I tried is that I did not accurately identify the problem. After some thought, I think I can boil it down to three issues:

  1. The Rabbit-Hole syndrome
  2. The Last-Word syndrome
  3. The Bell syndrome

Now let's clearly define each problem so that we can clearly identify a solution.

1. The Rabbit-Hole Syndrome

The reason I mechanically check Facebook every time I have some device that can access it is not that I want to check on my friend invites, or the most recent comments on my latest, popular post. I do not share often on Facebook and I do not have a vast network of friends.

The magnet that hooks me is the home-feed.

I cannot remember a time when I opened Facebook and did not scroll down the home-feed. Or a time when I did not finally stop to view a post and scrolled down to read the comments.

Sometimes I scroll down because I am interested in what I see, other times it is because I am not. It's like I need a fix so I keep scrolling until I find a post to check.

It is incredibly rare for me to read something on Facebook that is useful in expanding my intellect, but it is not rare for me to read something on Facebook.

2. The Last-Word Syndrome

Sometimes, when I read posts or comments, I have this utter discontent that burns in me from what I deem to be absolutely ridiculous. Most times I cannot resist responding. I know – deep down I always know – that there is absolutely no gain in responding to comments, but I just do it.

I almost always end up not sending the response, because I know there is no benefit, but I almost always waste time typing the full response. I articulate all the reasons why something is stupid, and then I delete them.

There are occasions in which I do respond and then dwell into controversies that heat up and lead to me regretting the whole situation and deleting my comments.

I think I'm easier to talk to face-to-face; I piss off people much less than I do behind a keyboard. Words come out better when I speak them than when I type them, I think. Or maybe they don't, I don't know. πŸ˜…

3. The Bell Syndrome

When I am not spontaneously opening Facebook for no good reason, you will find me opening Facebook in response to a notification. I cannot – I literally cannot – ignore the notification sound on my phone (for any app in general) or the red bell icon on my Facebook page.

The notification sound is solvable by silencing the phone, which is often feasible. But how do you counter the burning urge to click/tap the notification bell, when you constantly - and mechanically - open Facebook?

Another problem is that I like my posts to get reactions, so I keep checking if they do. Ironically enough, this worsens my habitual access in a positive feedback loop fashion. I hate that about myself. I do not normally find my self-worth in people's opinions, but for some reason I detest seeing my posts ignored. It's as if my personality is different on the social network.

The Plan

I have devised five phases to overcome the problems above. I call them phases because I like the word, but they are not necessarily in separate timespans. I begin todayβ€”October 12, 2020.

Phase 1: Disconnect

Like with every addiction, the first phase of rehab is cutting out the drug from one's life until the temptation fades. Consequently, the first step is to deactivate Facebook. That, however, will not be enough.

Disconnecting is the best way to tackle my Rabbit-Hole and Bell syndromes, which are not strictly related to Facebook. It just happens that Facebook attracts me more than other networks, but if I am ever to use Facebook in a healthy fashion, I need to tackle the root of the problem.

It is not enough to deactivate Facebook and mute other notifications, I will need to filter out all the electronic non-essentials and control the essentials.

In essence, I need to practice living productively without relying on notifications. In other words, practicing a life where I am not constantly reacting to triggers.

Here's what's going to happen:

  1. I will exit all non-essential chat groups. That leaves me with only class-related chat groups which I will mute. These groups are only useful to ask questions, not to read people's chats.
  2. I will unsubscribe from all news and email feeds. I will pick two programming-related blogs and one or two newspapers to read periodically. No more responding to feed notifications or scrolling through random posts.
  3. I will remove the email clients on both my phone and computer and set an hour (or two half-hours) every day to check my personal, work, and school email accounts through their web clients. No more bells driving my actions.

Phase 2: Read (a lot)

Starting October 12, I will dedicate gradually-increasing time every day to two reading sessions from two different books, with one being fiction and the other non-fiction.

This will help create a habit of reading, and the fiction part will help turn reading from a chore to a delight. I always enjoy a good story and I'm actually quite easy to please in that aspect.

Reading will also include articles. Newspaper articles and programming articles but, as explained in phase 1, it cannot be done in reaction to any notification or by scrolling through random feed. It needs to be from predefined sources that are visited at predefined hours.

Phase 3: Blog (with or without an audience)

I am a post-30 Computer Science student. When I hopefully graduate next June, I will have earned two undergrad degrees and taken my first step towards switching careers.

Being post 30 (aka late to the game), a successful programming career will require an online presence with a portfolio and a blog. This makes now the best time to start blogging. Blogging will endow me with all its innate benefits and, importantly, provide an alternative to sharing on social media. This will allow me in the future to keep Facebook strictly for moments with family and friends.

This is a tough one, though, because I still don't know much about writing and I have no blogging topic in mind. If progress stalls in this phase I will attempt journaling as a preliminary step.

Phase 4: Indulge in offline activities

I am not an outdoor person. But I am a parent, and kids need outdoor time. So I will make use of the deliberate approach of this experiment to deliberately spend more outdoor, disconnected time with my family.

Being a programming enthusiast, I will also include creating pet projects that I do for fun or profit. Coding should not be a practice disturbed by frequent internet surfing. It should be done with a "Deep Work" mentality. Considering that I cannot code without googling (or StackOverflow-ing), I need to practice being disconnected from the distracting part of the internet, not necessarily the internet in general. So maybe "offline" is not the best term here, but oh well.

This year should be a good point to start practicing fully-focused and prolonged coding sessions. Perhaps the first pet project could be building a personal webpage.

Phase 5: Reconnect (carefully)

By the end of the first four phases, I will have developed:

  1. A resistance to surfing and an appreciation for dedicated reading time.
  2. Some experience in writing and blogging.
  3. A portfolio of small (or big) projects.
  4. Better time management skills.
  5. Higher emotional intelligence. I seriously need to stop being easily provoked into commenting.

At this point, if things go according to plan, I will have two choices: either reconnect with Facebook and unfollow everything unnecessary there, or ditch Facebook.

Even if I reconnect, though, I will probably not install the app. You see, apps attract taps (no pun or rhyme intended, I swear) and I will never outsmart Facebook's engineers. The whole point of this experiment is to use social media consciously, not in a reactive fashion; so uninstalling the app is most probably permanent for me.

Conclusion

So why am I sharing this publicly?

Well, for one, because I do not want to post about it on Facebook πŸ˜….

On a more serious note, I want to get the feel of writing a blog post and, most importantly, I want to hold myself accountable.

This may not be a Facebook post, but if you are reading this, then you're either a dev.to user or I have shared the link with you directly. No one wants to fail publicly, so I decided to commit publicly.

Discussion

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