When I finally decided to put a stop to it, once and for all, I was left with thequestion bothering everybody: Are you ever truly removed, once and for all?
– Zadie Smith
On September 14th 2010, 15:26, I committed suicide. For the first time.
Digital suicide. I eliminated my virtual avatar to return to the gritty heaven of reality. Nowadays this includes the realms of the Internet and the Inbox. But Facebook is a different domain, it is the Republic of social networking where friends multiply daily and people one hasn’t seen in years have the audacity to “poke” one. Becoming a citizen means gaining virtual immortality. Suicide is transient; you log out for a while and see if you can life without or outside of fb. If your friends of blood and flesh are many enough friends, good enough friends. If you can go for a day without shouting your status update from the rooftops. If you can find pleasure in a photo that you haven’t uploaded yet.
Yes, I can. I have been digitally dead for eight weeks and counting. I deactivated my facebook profile to re-experience how life used to be before Zuckerberg’s ultra App upgraded society from 1.0 to 2.0. But my avatar remains in the I.C.U., personal data and pictures vegetating in an anonymous data center, awaiting that one specific click.
Why did I finish myself off? For one thing my Zuckerbergian existence had been exacerbating a condition that most screenagers have been suffering for years: Clickitis, the obsessive-compulsive clicking from one page to the next for hours, for no good reason. If facebook has had any part in my death then I believe it started with this: killing my time. And, perversely, making me the murderer. The vexing paradox of our times: attention, say the Internet gurus and Work-life-balance consultants, is the most precious resource and yet the Apps that absorb it most efficiently often feel like a perfect waste of time :s To a certain degree then my facebook auto-da-fé was an escape from this paradox – I was tired of my half-life as a clickitic zombie.
The second reason was purely narcissistic: my status updates on which I was wasting so much mental firepower were not generating as much feedback as I was expecting… or needed. Facebook is perfect for succumbing to the Reality TV fantasy that there is always an audience to play to that will reward one’s fancy stunts. Instead of a carrot and a stick there is the comment function. And so poor me felt I was not getting enough attention, which I suspect is what most people secretely feel.
The third motivation was to conduct a social science self-experiment. The standard reply to the question: Are you on facebook? Is A) “No”, followed by a display of incredulity by the facebook member or B) “Yes”, which is the more socially approved response. But never have I heard “Not anymore, my friend”. I wanted to experience this new status, the post-facebook existence.
What initially surprised me the most was how long my impulse to enter status updates survived. For six or seven weeks these little, non-sensical statements kept popping up on the inside of my closed eyelids and I found myself saddened by the demise of my fb avatar. Was my experiment really worth having all these micro-epiphanies go to waste?
The second surprise, a blowtorch to my styrofoam-crafted ego, was that only one or two people made any inquiries about my departure. It seems that the social networking platform exists in a curious middle-distance: once one has vacated the fb premises the close friends have other channels to know that one is alive and kicking, while the mere acquaintances indeed do not care. So going AWOL on Facebook is at most a petite mort, a little death.
I am in week seven or eight now. What hasn’t manifested yet, which I had fully expected, is a sense of disconnectedness. That it would feel bad about not to be up-to-date on what is going on in my friends’ lives on a daily basis and that I would begin feeling removed, isolated. Drifting away from 24/7 social interaction.