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Charles Lewis: It was time to break free from my Facebook habit

  • March 17, 2018

On Ash Wednesday I gave up Facebook. I wanted to give up something that had been part of my daily life for years and that I thought I would miss once cut off.

The word “miss” doesn’t quite describe what I expected to feel. I think I went on FB at least 10 times a day. I was compulsive — though I guess “10 times a day” is the definition of compulsive. 

Mind you all of this was done at home because I don’t own a cellphone. If I had a mobile device I probably would never have turned FB off.

By today’s standards that would have not been considered abnormal. But I don’t want to be normal by today’s standards. To be so immersed in non-physical reality seems the equivalent of secular Gnosticism. Facebook is supposed to replicate the idea of a community yet what it really erodes is notions of our true community — the one of flesh and blood people standing right before us.

I admit to having a lifelong suspicion of new technology. But I come by it honestly. In the mid-1980s I met an engineer who told us what was changing in his business.

“We always made things that people needed,” he said. “But now we make things and hope we can convince people they need them.”

When I was the managing editor of the Financial Post, we had the heads of BlackBerry in for an off-the-record discussion about the future of technology. I wanted to know whether there was any concern that people were becoming more alienated from each other the more time they spent with their phones. The response was a candid yes. That was 13 years ago; fair to say we’ve become even more isolated.

I made the plunge into FB during a long illness and then painful recovery from surgery six years ago. For the first time in decades I was not in a crowded, noisy newsroom. My wife worked. My two cats were good listeners but crummy conversationalists. I was alone and bored.

FB was at least a place to “converse” with others — to discuss ideas and the news of the day and even books and music. I was careful to cultivate the right kind of people. Though I was to find that even being selective assured nothing in terms of intelligent back and forth.

What got me hooked at first was validation. As a newspaper reporter I got that several times a week by seeing my name in print. I got it from the compliments of colleagues and friends. I felt like I made a difference. And to suddenly have that yanked from me felt catastrophic.

After a while I realized it was always the same few people on FB who were the ones who had liked what I had written. We thought almost exactly alike on everything. Which after a while becomes boring. … especially for a combative fellow like myself.

So I expanded. I hunted around for places to write something outrageous. That worked for a while until I realized I was in death-spiral conversations with people I wouldn’t share a cab with.

I often used my Roman Catholicism as a foil because when you want to get a reaction, nothing works better than admitting to being a card-carrying papist.

What finally began to destroy the experience completely was Donald Trump. 

Anytime someone put up anything supporting the president I’d swoop in like a fighter pilot. I could list off every one of his moral failings. I would pull apart his lies. I could even appear righteous because at the same time I could slam Hillary.

All of this was exhausting. I would go to bed angry over something someone wrote. Then I’d think of what I’d write tomorrow.

Then I finally asked, “What does this have to do with real life? What does this have to do with living my faith in a positive way? What does this have to do with healing differences rather than creating them?”

This is not to say that FB is entirely bad. Nor is Twitter, I suppose. The Internet has opened great vistas in terms of finding knowledge that used to be inaccessible to the great mass of people.

For me it’s also a trap. It’s a way of hiding from true reality, from my fellow man and God. Will I go back? I pray not.

(Lewis is a writer in Toronto and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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