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I was a Facebook addict
03 Nov 2011

IT’S been over six months since I deactivated my Facebook account. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do because it had become a part of my life, and every ounce of my being revolved around it.

I’d wake up in the morning and the first thing I’d do was update my status. Of course, there was nothing wrong with this at first, until I realised that my fixation was unhealthy.

Facebook is a social networking site which has about 800 million users worldwide. It was created to connect everyone and anyone, bring friends together and enable us to share information about ourselves.

But it had turned me into a monster who craved attention.

I say this because most people don’t know the distinction between sharing information and obsession.

I get a little embarrassed to realise that I used to belong in that category.

My fame and cool factor was determined by how many comments my status updates had generated in a day, and I’d get very frustrated if they went unnoticed.

There was always a need to outdo my previous status, which meant I constantly had to update and comment to generate a long conversation.

The first and last thing I would do each day was log on to Facebook and spend hours on it. I’d often go to sleep very late.

I became antisocial. I would be chilling with my friends or family, but my fingers and all my attention would be fixated on my phone and chatting to people, 80% of whom I didn’t know but who were my friends because they liked my profile picture or were a friend of a friend.

Every person I truly loved became second best to my Facebook friends.

But, hey, I loved the attention.

It became a drug that I couldn’t live without.

An hour without Facebook was an hour wasted. Even if it meant that I was unproductive at work.

Last year, while I was working at Vaal Weekly and Fairlady magazine I’d still find time in-between tasks to chat to five other people, all at once.

Between finding sources, trying to construct a story and chasing deadlines, I still couldn’t stop making sure that I replied to my friends promptly.

I shared too much personal information, and poured out my soul to my 400 friends.

I let them into my personal space because I had to broadcast every intimate detail of my life.

The more friends and pictures you have — the more hip you are, or at least that’s what you think.

Constantly on your friends’ profiles and checking every move they make becomes your daily bread.

Until I became drained. I got fed up when people asked me questions about something I had shared on Facebook. I got to a point where I was tired of people knowing every move I made.

But above all, I hated the person I had become — the one who craved attention, was inattentive to what was happening around her and ignored friends and family.

So one morning I decided to go cold turkey and deactivate my account. It wasn’t easy.

I’m a journalist and Facebook has become a vital source of our daily happenings and news that we read or write about. It’s a necessary tool that one needs more than ever in the social media-conscious world.

However, for my sanity I had to do what I thought was best for me.

In the words of Dr Adele Romanis, a Johannesburg clinical psychologist, we live in a world of instant gratification, where we expect answers and responses in real time. Facebook and MXit make this possible.

“Our friends are at our beck and call, responding to messages during important meetings and during work, etc. We have forgotten what it is to phone somebody and leave a message if they are busy, and wait for them to phone us back,” said Romanis.

People have become more and more demanding and disrespecting of boundaries and space.

She said the majority of the clients she has seen with an addiction to social media are teenagers and young adults in their early twenties.

The psychologist said people who are constantly on their phones and chatting online miss out on what is actually happening around them in real life, and they can get left behind.

“People become so attached to their phones that they start living in their heads. A person’s social skills and social confidence can start to deteriorate if their obsession continues,” she advised.

While not everything is doom and gloom, it’s important for people to have structure in their lives to create a sense of familiarity as well as of their role in a specific context. With social media, some of these boundaries have been broken.

“Social media is still a new form of communication, and it will naturally have a significant impact on how people interact. However, it will also level out with time,” Romanis said.

My rehabilitation is working and my life is now more orderly. I feel free. But don’t judge me when I reactivate my account one day.

OF approximately 4,2 million Facebook users in South Africa by August 2011, only 3,2 million had visited the site in the year to date.

“This is partly a factor of many users moving on once the novelty of the site had worn off, as well as a result of the fickle nature of the youth market,” says Michal Wronski, managing director of information analysts Fuseware and co-author of a new study released last week by Fuseware and World Wide Worx, titled South African Social Media Landscape 2011.

“Once BBM picked up significant traction in private schools, for example, many teenagers who had previously flocked to Facebook, opted for BBM’s greater immediacy.”

The report found that South Africans have embraced social media as a core pillar of Internet activity in this country, along with e-mail, news and banking. MXit and Facebook lead the way in user numbers, while Twitter has seen the most dramatic growth in social networking in the past year, and BlackBerry Messenger is the fastest growing network in the second half of 2011.

The study found that there were 1,1 million Twitter users in South Africa in mid-2011. This is a 20-fold increase in a little more than a year.

As in the global environment, not all Twitter users are active users, with only 40% tweeting, but probably as many simply watching, following and using it as a breaking-news service.

MXit remains the most popular social network in South Africa, with approximately 10 million active users.

Consumer research analysed in the report revealed that future intention of usage of most social networks is strongly related to age. The younger the user, the greater the intention of usage.

“This is only one of many micro trends shaping social networking,” says Arthur Goldstuck. “MXit, Facebook and BBM statistics illustrate, for example, that as social networks become more mainstream, their penetration within all age ranges deepens. This, in turn, will result in the continual flattening of the age curve as social networks mature.”

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