Confessions of a Former Facebook Addict
By Lissa Carlson
Maybe you read the headline to this story and a part of you related. Or maybe you thought it was tongue-in-cheek humor, silly to suggest someone could have a legitimate addiction to Facebook. I assure you, it’s not; I had one.
In the spirit of owning those parts of our past that haunt us, and in the hope that it might make other parents more aware of a potential problem, I’ll tell you the story.
In late 2007, a colleague told me to check out Facebook, this new thing she predicted would be big. She also mentioned LinkedIn and recommended I get on both. I did, considering both of them professional platforms. My first profile picture, once I actually uploaded one, was a head shot from work and there was only a handful of people I knew on Facebook, most of them folks who graduated high school with me. I remember the idea of having 100 friends seemed laughable, and reaching 100 Facebook friends was monumental in those early days. I don’t even think there was a “like” option back then.
For many years, Facebook wasn’t much more than an occasional outlet for posting pictures of my kids, sharing new music, or attempting to be clever. Then, in 2013, I hit a rough time in my life, harder than any other I’ve experienced. But that’s a completely different story; what matters for this one is that I found myself triggered into using Facebook with greater and greater regularity.
On the bright side, I felt support from the friends in my Facebook community. Soon, though, I found myself crafting posts and taking pictures solely for the purpose of sharing them on Facebook. I thought in Facebook status updates as I went about my days, writing what I’d post in my head or stopping to pose for photos at times when I would have just enjoyed the moment, pre-Facebook.
I’m sure I’m in somewhat good company so far, but it gets worse. I became obsessed with figuring out Facebook’s analytics, conducting my own crazy, convoluted studies. Eventually, I even found myself Facebook stalking friends of distant friends, strangers, really. It was an experiment of sorts to see how much I could learn about someone just by visiting their profile. Before I knew it, I’d burned up sometimes as many as six hours going through old photos of people I didn’t even know.
I consoled myself that I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself – these people had no way of knowing what I’d done, and I had absolutely no interest in harming them. I was just interested in someone else’s simpler life for a while. It was an escape, and Facebook not only made them accessible to me, it sure made their lives look easy and more exciting than mine.
I knew it was an unhealthy activity, but didn’t everybody do a little Facebook stalking? I mean, isn’t that kind of the whole point of social media? I’d heard more than one friend admit they found themselves “down the rabbit hole” on Facebook (two of them used these words verbatim). Is excessive and abusive social media use really as bad as drinking, or gambling, or doing drugs?
Yes. Part of determining if something is an addiction is whether or not the activity, substance, or thing has disrupted your life and relationships. And this is where my biggest regret lies in my time as a Facebook addict. It’s one thing to fail to be fully present for your kids because of screen use, but I struggled to pause long enough to do basic things that needed to be done for my family. Several nights, my children would come to me to ask what we were having for dinner, snapping me out of my escape long enough to realize it was often closer to bedtime than suppertime. “Just one more thing and then I’ll log out,” I’d tell them. “You’re always on your computer,” they would say.
A good friend told me not to beat myself up about it, to give it time; perhaps the turmoil in my life had created the perfect storm for this addiction, and as the turmoil passed, so would it. And she was right. Time heals all wounds, and I found my obsessive use of Facebook tapered off slowly but surely, to the point that I now feel anxiety and a slight repulsion when I log on, which is every few weeks these days.
In fact, it’s as if there has been a mass awakening to the perils of social media lately. Everywhere I look, someone is condemning the psychology behind their platforms and the compulsive nature of smartphones. An October article in The Guardian, “Our Minds Can Be Hijacked,” by Paul Lewis, revealed that Justin Rosenstein, creator of the “like” button on Facebook, had his assistant install parental controls to restrict his ability to download apps to his phone and limit his use of social media. In November, Vanity Fair published “The End of the Social Era Can’t Come Soon Enough,” by Nick Bilton, who writes, “…the biggest reason why people are abandoning the platforms: the promise of connection has turned out to be a reality of division.”
Certainly, the psychology behind social media and smartphones can make it tough to practice moderation. At one point during my most addictive streak, I tried to take a month-long break and inactivated my Facebook account. However, I was surprised in the course of four weeks how many accounts I had set up using my Facebook account, forcing me to activate the account to use these other tools and applications. And to sneak a peek at my timeline, of course. Now, I establish new accounts using an email address.
While I never sought help for my Facebook addiction, I would encourage others who find themselves in similar straights to consider it. If you Google “what to do if I have a social media addiction,” you will find plenty of advice and resources.
And trust me, the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m suggesting more screen time to combat overuse of screen time. There is no doubt that technology has brought us many positives, including placing information literally at our fingertips (never again will anyone with a smartphone have to wonder who played Mouth in “The Goonies”), but be honest with yourself. If your use is affecting your ability to be the best parent you can be, it’s time to logoff.
While Lissa Carlson is happy to report she has gained effective control over her Facebook addiction, she worries a bit about the secret thrill she feels every time someone likes one of her book reviews on Goodreads.