In July, more than a decade after joining Facebook, Mumbai-based event manager Jason Menezes decided to delete his account. It was a big move for the 30-year-old because, like most people in his generation, he got on to the social network bandwagon in his teens and spent a chunk of his life there, broadcasting his first love, his first job, breakup and several parties to a multitude of friends.

Over the last couple of years, however, Menezes had been feeling overwhelmed by the way the network required his attention. He would log on multiple times a day, check notifications during most of his breaks, comment on most posts, engage with people, put down his thoughts at least twice a day. He felt obsessed, almost like the platform had taken over his life. He wanted to quit, but, each time, a notification would take him back, and he would end up scrolling endlessly. “Time flows differently in the virtual world," says Menezes, “as there are multiple things that happen simultaneously, a multitude of people saying things. You find interesting facts or information and before you know, your whole day is gone. I was addicted," he says.

A study published in December in the Journal Of Behavioral Addictions established a parallel between symptoms of substance use and behavioural addictive disorders to symptoms of excessive use of the social network. “The social network uses various behavioural techniques, like building up a need to validate through likes, fear of missing out, and making your status temporary—all this to create a need for you to return quickly to the network to keep engaging," says Venkatesh Babu, consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru. The result is that it’s hard to quit, and, when you try to, you face withdrawal symptoms and often relapse into scrolling despite your decision. “If the network makes you anxious, irritable, or you miss out on your work or spending time with family, take it as a warning," says Dr Babu.

Hard to quit

A survey by Tufts University, US, published in December in the journal PLOS ONE, found that Facebook users would require an average of more than $1,000 (around 70,000) as an incentive to deactivate their account for one year. That’s the value decided by students who were interviewed.

Though it took him multiple failed attempts, Menezes is glad he left the network. “I have more time in my day and a much larger sense of peace as I control the amount of information that comes into my life," he says, adding that leaving the network has reduced the stress and anxiety in his life.

What Menezes felt was echoed in a 2017 study that was published in The Journal Of Social Psychology. A lot of people find the endless supply of social information on the network taxing, and even a five-day break from Facebook can reduce stress levels, according to the researchers of the study. “We are driven by the fear of missing out," says Dr Babu, “forcing us to use Facebook to overcome our anxious states and creating pressure on us to respond quickly."

Apoorva Kulkarni is worried about personal information being misused.
Apoorva Kulkarni is worried about personal information being misused.


The urge to constantly update himself about others and being unable to control his reactions made Apoorva Kulkarni, a Delhi-based teacher, quit Facebook earlier in 2018. “Facebook is a tool for legalized voyeurism and I was just tired of reading what’s happening in other people’s lives. I didn’t want my life dependent on others," says the 36-year-old, who followed her husband in quitting the social network owing to information overload. The other thing that worried her was the use of her personal information.

Privacy is the key

Over the last few years, Facebook has been in the news for the insidious ways—the latest being the 10-year photo challenge—it has been collecting personal information about users and sharing it with third-party advertisers, leading people to rethink the information they share with the social network. A survey published in September, conducted by Washington-based Pew Research Centre, found that 54% people have adjusted their privacy settings recently, while 42% of the 4,594 respondents said they took a break from checking the platform for several weeks or longer.

Concerns about private data sharing have made Mumbai-based travel writer Vishakha Dinkar Shirke think about quitting Facebook too. “I’ve started with less engagement and spending less time posting and commenting. I’ll quit the network in the first half of this year," she says. What makes a lot of users like Shirke, who work in creative fields, hesitate when it comes to quitting is that the network is an important tool for their careers. Shirke says she discovers what people are talking about or what the latest trends are through the network.

Kulkarni acknowledges missing out on updates about colleagues. “I’m not great on the phone, so I don’t get updates on the lives of colleagues and my loved ones, like I used to on Facebook. I sometimes feel out of place in social gatherings as everyone knows things that I don’t," she says. However, the gains for her—less stress and a feeling of calm—are much more valuable.

Menezes says he can focus more on his work. “The network was a powerful way to meet people from work, school and college. I won’t be able to get in touch with them any more since I’ve lost their contacts. It was also a great way to reach an audience and find new people for various projects," he says. These are things he won’t be able to do any longer. However, the benefits of leaving the platform are more important to him.

“I can focus on my work more and control my visibility and presence in social occasions. I feel in control," he says. When he feels the urge, there’s always Instagram, which he feels is way less intrusive for millennials. For one, as you don’t need to interact with people there—also, your parents have not yet discovered it.

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