Cleary: Gasp! A week without Facebook and texting improved my life


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A bit over a week ago, I was jumbling a column together moments before deadline. As I rambled on about the evils of social networking, cracked-out on coffee and running on an empty stomach, I stopped periodically to refresh my email, check my phone, and read the "7 New Stories" generated since my last Facebook visit. The article probably took me double-time because of the constant distraction of the web.

And so, I had decided, in fear of being a hypocrite, to leave the cyber world behind for a week. If I was going to talk the talk, I damn well better be able to walk the walk — or at least try. After seven days with no web-based communication, here I am.

I logged onto Facebook at 12:37 this morning. For a moment, I actually thought I deserved a pat on the back. I had arrived at the end of my social networking-free week almost by surprise, having nearly forgotten that I'd taken up the — albeit measly — challenge in the first place.

Strangely, I didn't miss it a bit. And to be honest, I shouldn't have. After day one, I had forgotten about online communication. So, one might say I was a lousy guinea pig. Maybe this whole thing was like Lance Armstrong making a New Year's resolution to get into shape. But it was an empowering feeling, knowing that I wasn't as attached as I though I was, knowing that I wasn't completely "lost."

However, the sole concern wasn't necessarily the question of whether, in retrospect, I missed being "live" online, but more importantly, why what I did mattered. Sure, I didn't exactly take up the gauntlet — this was no marathon, and I don't think I possess the gumption to pull of an ambitious stint like Reilly's, but I learned a few things about myself.

The biggest advantage of the one-week experiment was also the most obvious one: Time. For the first day, not instinctually typing in "facebook" upon flipping open my computer was a challenge.

But quickly, I caught on, and with my avoidance of email and social networking, I discovered a subsequent, almost immediate decrease in overall computer use.

I realized that about two-thirds of the time I considered opening my laptop, I actually had no real reason to. As an English major, all of my classes revolve around reading — that is, physical books.

With no real motivation for logging onto my Mac, it became a temporary relic on a dusty countertop. Over the course of the week, I maybe opened my laptop five times.

With all this free time, I found myself spending an increased amount of time reading, conversing, and staying active. With my computer out of the question, day-to-day life became a much simpler game. Eat, exercise, learn, converse, sleep. It soon became apparent that Facebook hadn't been keeping me in the loop; it had been throwing me out of it. Routine was no longer spliced and fragmented by status updates or inbox surveillance. My days were fluid — uninterrupted by the insignificant ramblings of old dorm-mates, the complaints of long-lost friends, or the vibrations of bass-heavy mashups.

The weirdest part of my week? I started calling people again. It's almost as if I had forgotten that I didn't have to type words to friends and family. I actually had the option to hear their voices.

As I began to use my phone more frequently for calling than texting, I started to realize how bad we all seem to be at talking to each other in person. Muffled grunts in the gym somehow translate to, "No, I'm not using that bench, go ahead and grab it, good sir." Head nods say, "Hey, pal, good to see you."

As I stopped reading and typing words, I began to see that they weren't a huge part of my life. As humans seemingly dependent on technological means of communication, it seems that we truly have forgotten the value of speech.

The only downside of this week was also the most disturbing indicator of a real problem. I didn't feel like a part of the world. At least, not the one in which I currently reside. I saw my friends, I chatted, I went to class, I discussed. But it constantly seemed as if the world knew something I did not, as if some thing was brooding behind the surface level of every interaction.

Did everyone else know something I didn't? Was I out there, pants down and drooling in some drunken photo, tagged two hours ago by Every Giddy Girl With a Cannon Powershot? Is that kid talking smack on my wall again? Did Ochocinco get a new Lambo?

The very thought that I felt subtly alienated was an unsettling notion. As a physical being, I was whole and completely human. Yet, somehow, I seemed alone, cut away from the world. I guess the only question for me was, do I really care? To be honest, that's a tough one.

I thought I did care. At least, I was telling myself to care. But when I stepped back, I realized that the rationale for wasting my energy worrying about what I was missing in some false, fabricated world was just as bad as being a part of it. Cutting myself off physically wasn't necessarily a success until I had also detached myself emotionally. And that was the hard part. No matter how easy it was for me to abstain from logging on, perhaps it was my very consciousness of the endeavor's temporary nature that permitted me to accomplish the task without difficulty.

So my mission now becomes the eradication of impermanence. Starting now, I'm going to take a day off from social networking, every week, for a month, and I would encourage others to do the same.

Twitter, Facebook, email — these things obviously aren't going anymore. These modalities of communication are becoming increasingly (and sadly) necessary to function and flourish in both the professional and personal worlds.

But, at the very least, it is our responsibility as intelligent beings to be conscious of the systems that can own us. We need to create time in which we can function without the restraints of these communicative systems which seem to devour so much of our precious time. The result, undoubtedly, will be clarity and purpose.

Think of it as a vacation, an evening in a primitive mountain cabin, away from the humdrum babble of everyday life. Reflect, revel, and rejoice in being loosed upon the world, if only for a moment, free from wireless imprisonment.

Being aware that we are controlled might be the closest to liberation that we'll ever get. We are pawns in a sick game, or so I feel, but let us play willingly.

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