“One friend, after reading my Facebook status saying I would be incommunicado for 24 hours, asked me: ‘What possessed you to commit this temporary suicide?’” — USA
- Facebook is identity: Everyone is “on Facebook.” (Facebook is growing in some countries by almost one percent a week; see the daily statistics here.) The consequences of that are two-fold: increasingly no young person who wants a social life can afford NOT to be active on the site, and being active on the site means living one’s life on the site – from maintaining one’s own image, to tagging friends’ photos, to gaming… or even “stalking people on my Facebook,” as one U.S.-based student noted.
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- The social web ensnares: “I’m so obsessed with checking my cell phone and my Facebook and the New York Times Web site, that I lose track of the people who are physically with me sometimes,” wrote one U.S.-based student. It wasn’t that students didn’t like the freedom that came with being unplugged, but they couldn’t see swearing off social media unless they were forced to: “I love the feeling of not being connected, and I wish I could bring myself to do this more often,” wrote another student. “Unfortunately, it’s kind of inconvenient for my friends.”
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- No such thing as parallel processing with Facebook: In the Unplugged experiment students reported that they came to realize that they weren’t great at parallel processing: Facebook running in the background of their computer or on their mobiles during class, meant that they had a diminished ability to write well or understand what the professor was saying.
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Constant connection: Facebook, most students reported, is a means of communication between friends and family who they see everyday, as well as those who they don’t get a chance to interact with on a daily basis.
Most students reported that Facebook is the way they keep up with their social group. To be off-line was to be in proverbial exile – out in the cold.
- Mexico: “The following day the first thing I did was to get in Facebook to check what I had missed.”
- Hong Kong: “There is no doubt that Facebook is really high profile in our daily life. Everybody use it to contact other persons, also we use it to pay attention to others.”
- China: “I love to visit social networking sites such as Facebook, Yahoo Plus…or some websites like that, to see what something new with my friends, what they’re saying, what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, or even to see some of their new pics.”
- Lebanon: “First up was drafting a list of things I needed to do before unplugging.
- Notify friends who are used to seeing me online daily of the duration I will spend offline on Skype (much more of an issue than with my cell phone),
- Notify some colleagues that I will not be checking my email,
- Ask politically-minded friends to continuously check the WikiLeaks DB for any new releases of cables from the US Embassy in Beirut (that’s what they call it),
- Ask a friend to log into my gaming account on Facebook and play each of the games I have installed so that I do not lose out on the daily bonus or the continuous game count,
- Print out all digitized material that I will need for two exams (I take notes on a tablet PC).”
- Chile: “I think that was like one hour and I wanted to turn on my computer and see what’s going on in Facebook and Twitter. Between 4 and 6pm it was horrible. I couldn’t focus on my study. Even in my dreams I see myself chatting, using Skype, Twitter, adding people on Facebook.”
Students also reported using Facebook to keeping up with their friends in other countries and what they’re doing.
- Slovakia: “Because I have a lot of friends from USA, the time difference makes it hard to talk to them on phone. And of course, my friends are on Facebook 24/7 because of their smartphones, so there is a lot of going on on Facebook when I wake up.”
Easy – and almost unconscious – access: Many students across the globe reported in their reflections that without access to Facebook they feel cut off, isolated and disconnected from friends, families and life in general. Because smartphones and laptops make easy access to Facebook and other social networks possible, many students reported that checking their Facebook accounts has become habitual – to the point that sometimes they don’t even realize they’re doing it.
- Chile: “How was I going to survive without my daily basics such as my cell phone, my laptop, Facebook and the news?”
- UK: “From my lack of social networking I had no idea what people were up to, no idea what was happening and generally didn’t know what to do with myself. I even often found myself thinking of status’s I could put if I was to go on.
- USA: “It was amazing to me though how easily programmed my fingers were to instantly start typing “f-a-c-e” in the search bar. It’s now muscle memory, or instinctual, to log into Facebook as the first step of Internet browsing.”
Unplugging: Facing the fact of ‘addiction’: Multitasking is the apparent simultaneous performance of two or more tasks; parallel processing is the ability to carry out multiple operations or tasks simultaneously. The difference is the word ‘apparent.’ Many students admitted that although they had been aware that Facebook had become a tremendous distraction, they hadn’t been fully aware of how much time they committed to the site and how poorly they actually were able to parallel process.
“I am ashamed to admit that it was Facebook I missed the most. I had never quite realized just how addicted I am to this particular site.” — UK
Students also noted that during the 24 hours that they went unplugged, they focused on their friends the “entire time” they were with physically with them, “instead of refreshing Facebook every 15 seconds.” Some liked the in-depth personal contact, others liked the unplugged experiment because they felt it absolved them from having to keep up with their Facebook friends. But no one swore off of social media as a result of the experiment – that would have been “social suicide,” as students said. “It must have taken me nearly three hours to catch myself up through my phone, email and Facebook,” noted one student just off the assignment.
- Mexico: “It was also interesting how much I did not feel the need or desperation to check out my social pages. In this regard it was very easy. I found interesting the fact that today it can be possible to dispense [with social networks], but it is very difficult because most part of the world connects and works based on this.”
“Everyone has on Facebook their alter ego and hundreds of friends. But these friends don’t care about me and honestly I don’t care about them.” — Slovakia
- USA: “I appreciated the break from technology because I got through my reading much faster without the frequent Facebook and email breaks.”
- USA: “Without the constant distraction of Facebook, texting my friends to meet them at the diner, or updating my fantasy football team, I was able to relax.”
Quotes may have been edited to regularize spelling and grammar.