Feb 26, 2014

My casual dalliance with Facebook Free Fridays (FFF)

About a year ago I hit a wall. Of noise. It was my Facebook wall.

My FB community has served me in unexpected ways, from forging new connections with old acquaintances to exploring hobbies that would have otherwise gone unexplored. From being in touch with breaking news to gleaning insights on current debates. From reading heartwarming stories about the goodness still around us to cute kid stories from doting parents. From reading inspiring recipes to getting links to great web articles I would have otherwise missed.

Perhaps more valuable than all of the above has been the ability to engage in discussion, debate and musings with people who, if not real-life 'freinds', have taken on that mantle through meaningful FB interaction. In the midst of busy work days and hectic after-hours,  juggling home, work and parenting, it's provided an easy release. Escapist entertainment like reading or TV can only go so far as they require free swatches of time. But there are always free minutes lurking in-between tasks for instant 'conversation' and stimulation that is unparalleled in real life. I know that the dynamics of communication get permanently warped when diverse people who don't know each other can jump into the fray and exchange thoughts with impunity for the social graces. But it's uniquely liberating too. You won't have to see those faces at the water cooler the next morning or share a meal with them that weekend, so it's easier to be frank and speak your mind.

There's a learning curve to this too, in mimicry of Real Life that FB so ably recreates and sometime caricatures (yes, I'm  referring to the 'like' button and ubiquitous emoticons). If I learnt to bite my teenage tongue in school hallways where inadequate maturity lead to resentment, I re-learnt it on FB walls where willful misconstruction by tangential thinkers twisted my words. If I found out that my spontaneous comments were unformed, unsound and cost me peer respect in a school debate society populated by over-achievers, I was reminded of it once again on particularly erudite comment threads that my inadequate stolen minute of Facebooking mislead me to glibly enter.

At day's end though, FB enriches my life. All the lessons learnt about FB community and the way people interact on it, led me personally, to devise a system of FB groups that allows me to collect subsets of my FB 'freinds' per inclination and personality. Like in life, it works well to have different groups of freinds to pursue different interests with. My FB wall is dedicated solely to the occasional general commentary I feel is worthy of sharing with the network and cute pix of my son or funny observations from him. When I have lengthy musings to share - Blogger is my Friend - not the 300 odd acquaintances who are mostly interested in pix of how I'm aging, vacation shots or how fast my son is growing.

This paean, like all songs of adoration, has glossed over the negatives so far.
To me, the negatives are not the annoying Friend who irritates me via regular humble brags or that other one who shares self-important yet ridiculously misogynistic opinions. I know how to deal with them - I hide their feeds or simply skim through when reading and refuse to engage. It's really no different from ducking into a meeting room at work to avoid a garrulous co-worker or skipping a party because of the gossip-driven agenda the evening will inevitably follow. We do'nt have to love all our freinds, all the time....in real life or in it's refelction on social networks.

No, the REAL negative for me, is that FB engages me so very well. That very simulation in free moments of my day that can feed my mind and make me feel connected, can also rob me of, well.... free moments.

I've come to realise how important those are.
What I previously thought of as the equivalent of 'dead air' turns out, was important quiet time for my head and heart as I propelled full-tilt through what are often emotionally loaded days. A typical day can start with the early morning challenge of getting a grumpy kid out of bed. Though hubby does this with incredible grace, it comes harder to me when I am periodically called upon to fill his shoes. It's not easy to combat my own personal tiredness (I'm a poor sleeper and forever running on 'empty') and still retain the patience required to prod a sleep 7 year old into his clothes and through breakfast before school. I end up snapping most mornings when we start losing our fight with time and tears ensue, soaking up more of my limited time as I try to make amends. Then there's a carpool to coordinate and a train schedule to  adhere to in order to get to work on time. Then starts the day of juggling different projects which are all important and share deadlines, ego-laden people at the other end, communication gaps to bridge so I can tease out what people REALLY want so I can deliver it etc., etc. At days end, it all happens in reverse: a train schedule that rules my life again because there is school pick-up to coordinate with little wiggle room, then Home Work, chores, dinner, spending some fun time with the child and slide into the pre-bedtime routine. And some nights a week, there is an extra-curricular class (or 2) to fit into this carefully choreographed routine.

Not to say that's it's all a grind. I enjoy most of the interactions when I can keep my head on and often, even when I can't. My son is only 5/6/7 once and is an utterly charming, easy, interesting person to be around. He poses very few real challenges and I seldom lose sight of my luck in this respect. Besides, if I chafe at my minutely scheduled daytime hours, I also have free time after dinner and on weekends to make amends for it. And of course, there are always those stolen moments on FB for release so I can keep jogging on the hamster wheel that is my life.

But those free moments that feed me, were slowly leaching essential quiet time I need to just breathe. I wouldn't want them ALL back, but I realise that a few might be nice.

So one day, when I had been involved in 3 simultaneous debates on 3 disparate comment threads, I found myself slamming on the brakes. Not because anything had gone wrong, but because they had all gone so right. I had so many interesting, vibrant thoughts and discussions echoing in my head from FB that I felt a little deaf. On a whim, I decided to take Fridays off from FB. A friend had recently disabled her account in response to a similar storm of distraction and I wanted to make sure I would not follow suit one day soon. That would figure as a loss.

My first Facebook Free Friday (FFF),  I untethered myself by decalring on my wall that I'd be gone on Fridays, logged-out and took a walk on my lunch hour. I looked around, (really LOOKED), felt, breathed etc. It might sound overly-dramatic but I assure you isn't. When the cacophony of your own thoughts (half of which are to-do lists and reminders) is engorged by those from FB, you live in a cloud of 'noise'. The muting of half of it clears up a shocking amount of space. I attended to this long neglected blog after spending a quiet half an hour. Not from a sense of obligation but because the space and freedom to think and feel motivated me.

The next few Fridays generated more blog posts, some short-fiction and reading. All very enriching and conducive to feelings of 'high' and of having achieved something, though it wasn't entirely clear WHAT that 'something' was.

Then I hit a plateau. The novelty of having spare time and nothing 'to do' in it, wore off with time. There was no longer a cacophony to distract me but neither was there anything of interest in its place. At least nothing gripping. Once the novelty of having time was exhausted, I started yearning for distractions again. The need for 'quiet' concurrently faded.

So I started logging-in to FB again on Fridays.

I wondered if there was a loss, or failure, in this somewhere but failed to find it. It worked for me to disconnect until it did'nt. As simple as that. Now, sometimes I like disconnecting and sometimes I don't. I know it seems obvious that these options were everpresent but really, it did'nt feel like it until I made myself go through the motions of a regularly scheduled disconnect.

Now, just knowing that I can step-away (beacuse I have, ever so often) helps me do it from time to time. When I need to. Like slipping on a worn but comfy pair of old shoes. Practise has made it so. Friends have asked me - scoffingly, at times - why I feel the need to advertise that I'm taking a FFF (I post it as a status on Thursday night or early Friday morning). It's not from any overinflated sense of importance, I promise. I don't imagine for a second that people might pine, wither-up and die of broken hearts that I'm inexplicably unresponsive to their feverish posts to/about me. I'm not that important and I know it.

I declare my FFF because it helps me to cut the ties to FB and it makes me accountable. Harder to sneak back on for easy distractions in contradiction of stated intent. In fact, I've been called out for it when I have! But I don't take them as routine any more. In fact, I'm averaging only 2 FFFs a month lately.

The ones I do take are driven usually by a vagues sense of unease that builds up through the week, one associated with feeling overstimalted. My time away from FB can feel strangely quiet and sometimes boring, but 'boring' can be good at times too - it can make me really look and see. Or just simply rest my head. It makes me tend to things that would otherwise have gone untended; things ranging from closets that need to be reorganized to gazing pointlessly at a particularly festive Norway Maple in my backyard hosting about 6 golden-orange shades of foliage.  It helps me notice that strangely compelling bitter aftertaste in the Tonic water I often sip distractedly. It lets me pulls my son onto my lap as I nestle my cheek next to his, soak-in his still-sweet smell and watch him play Minecraft, inserting 'ooh' and 'ah' noises at the appropriate places as he startsup a commentary for me, allowing me entry into his magical world for just a few minutes.

It makes the rest of the week slip into order just a bit more.

Oyonisms: (almost 7)
After crying over a broken toy car for a few minutes -
Oyon: Hey! You can see the gears and stuff now. This is what makes it go.....Cool!
Me (relieved he won't be asking for a replacement): That IS cool. I'm glad you see it that way.
Oyon (wiping away his tears): I'm going to go smash the other toys now to see how THEY work.

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