Page last updated at 13:41 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 14:41 UK

Cold turkey for a Facebook addict

Caroline Hocking
Facebook became 'demanding and anti-social' for Caroline Hocking

It's become a daily ritual for millions, but what happens when you deactivate your Facebook account and go cold turkey? Caroline Hocking - a self-confessed obsessive - finds out.

I'd done it. My (virtual) life was over. After two years on the online social networking site Facebook, I'd taken the plunge and killed off my account - in Facebook speak, I was "deactivated".

It hadn't all been bad; we'd had some good times. I'd enjoyed a bit of snooping as much as the next person and found it useful enough as a way to check out potential love interests, flog unwanted stuff and organise the odd shindig or three.

As a newbie to online social networking, my first few forays into Facebook had been cautious and brief. It had been a guilty pleasure - an enjoyable escape which tapped into a basic urge to share and compare.

Facebook has an estimated 250million users worldwide

But over two years, I'd turned into a Facebook fiend, uploading over 30 photograph albums, posting countless inane status updates and acquiring hundreds of online "friends" (350, to be exact).

I'd got sucked into semi-stalkerdom and felt something akin to separation anxiety if I ever found myself offline for more than a few hours. What had been my favourite waste of time had morphed into a demanding and anti-social addiction.

The turning point came when I completely forgot about a long-planned reunion with a friend one evening because I'd been sidetracked by mindless Facebook mulling. This is ridiculous, I thought. Surely social networking was supposed to enhance my social life, not to trash it?

And the whole set-up had started to grate: so much pathetic posturing, fakery and careful cultivating of one's online "brand". People posted anything and everything, surrendering their own privacy and that of their friends. I didn't NEED to see pictures of strangers' weddings or the drunken holiday antics of mates' mates.


I told myself that I'd managed perfectly well pre-Facebook and resolved to return to simpler times. I would still keep in touch with people I liked. I had a mobile and I was perfectly capable of bashing out an e-mail or penning a letter. And so I decided to deactivate. It only took a few clicks and was pretty painless.

Facebook demanded to know why I'd left - it even gave me a helpful little list of possible reasons why I might have fallen out of love and suggested ways around them.

But my mind had been made up. I wanted to see if I could cope without - for at least a week. It gave me the option to return at any time and resurrect my account, but I felt liberated.

Is sending a letter really such a hassle?

One person, who thought I'd removed them alone from my list of Facebook friends, sent me an anxious text message, citing - and apologising for - all the things they had done which might have offended me and prompted a "de-friending".

Leaving Facebook was clearly seen as a BIG deal to them, indicative of something being "not quite right". I was flattered that people cared about me and felt a little ache for the ol' Facebook camaraderie.

Of course, not everyone worried about my departure - or even noticed. One of my flatmates was perplexed after seeing that their Facebook friend count reduced by one, but hadn't investigated who might have gone AWOL.

But one day into Facebook cold turkey and my fingers had itched to log back on. I felt bereft and out of the loop. I missed the online chatter of which I had become so contemptuous.


Sure, I could have messaged people direct, but that is the beauty of social networking sites - while they make spies/personal detectives of us all, they also cater to the lazy. They allow you to be passive, throwing information at you which would otherwise take time and effort to seek out.

Facebook had made one-stop communication so easy and many of my friends were devotees; some only communicated via the site. Would people invite me to events if it meant they had to send me a separate invite rather than include me in a Facebook scattergun missive?

I knew I could cope without Facebook - just

I thought I'd enjoy bags of free time in a Facebook-free life, but instead I've just reverted to other distractions, like trashy celeb magazines.

And, even though I couldn't be actively involved in its machinations, I still found myself gassing about Facebook. I might not have been frittering away hours browsing its pages, but the site - and my departure from it - became my favourite topics of conversation. What did other people think about Facebook? What did they think about me leaving?

I found myself leaping on any Facebook-related story in the news with disproportionate enthusiasm. It proved hard to let go completely. The break (up) was tough and eventually - well, after just 10 days to be honest - I found myself reactivating my account.

Person using Facebook
Caroline lasted just 10 days without a fix

My world hadn't fallen apart by going offline. I managed to stay in touch with the people I cared about, even if took a little more energy on my part (although I never did get round to penning any letters).

But absence had made the heart grow a little fonder. My package holiday-sized abstention reminded me how useful Facebook could be, particularly for organising and remembering events.

I confess my heartbeat had quickened a little when I logged in. When my homepage fired up, I'd felt a small surge of joy at being reunited with my long-lost friend(s). I was back and I was downright curious: what had I missed?

Not a huge amount as it turned out. It was like I'd never been away: acres of holiday snaps, numerous links to interesting news stories and YouTube marvels, and some funny/not-so-funny status updates.

I logged out within a few minutes. I've been back since, uploaded some pictures, dashed off a few messages, commented on a few links and acquired a couple of new Facebook friends.

But I no longer had the same urge to plunder the latest online goings-on and see what people are up to quite so regularly. I knew I could cope without Facebook - just. And if it all gets too much and I feel myself slipping back to my old ways, I can always take another break.

Below is a selection of your comments.

I 'disapperated' after just a few weeks on Facebook, because I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time following up on chatter I wasn't really interested in. I realised I was hooked when I came in from the garden just to see if someone had replied to a comment I'd made! Like Caroline I had several emails from people who took my departure personally. A word of advice for others; it maybe worth doing a farewell note explaining why you're leaving. The effects of departure aren't well explained. In my case, probably because I'd been a user for a much shorter time, within a week I'd forgotten all about it and I don't see myself re-activating.
David Hewett, East, Grinstead Sussex

It's weird how something like Facebook can take over your life. There are aspects of it that I really like, for instance being able to keep in touch with people who live overseas, arranging parties, remembering birthdays, posting links to people etc. I have over time become a little addicted to it but I don't see that necessarily as a bad thing. Mostly I use it to keep in touch with people. I don't have hundreds of friends - just the people that I know and like. I think it's about how you use it and whether you get sucked into all the crap on it. It can be very useful and fun if you use it properly.
Emma, Surrey

I've been using Facebook for a few months now, at the urging of my real life friends (as opposed to the folk I've acquired on my friends list now), as they basically couldn't be bothered sending a Facebook message to some people and separate emails/texts to me! It's been really handy for getting back in touch with people that I otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to talk to, i.e. old school friends who've since moved away, family living abroad etc. I admit that it is the lazy way of interacting, but as long as there's a balance between "social networking" via computer and also out in the actual world, it's really not so bad...
SuzieBlue, Inverclyde

Surely it would have been a bit more sensible just to remove the people whose updates you weren't interested in? To cut yourself off from, say, pictures of a friend's wedding, simply because you're too lazy to delete someone whose wedding photos you didn't care about seems a bit simply. A compromise seems better than totally removing yourself from a useful social tool. It's like being an alcoholic and then becoming tee-total. Better to do everything in moderation?
Tommy Long, Maidstone, Kent

People no longer ask us for a card or our number, they discreetly add us on Facebook. I too am guilty of this: almost every day I stalk certain pages, check out pictures and the new comments "mutual friends" have left. So, out of the blue I decided to cut the cord and quit my online presence. Myspace and studivz were easy, hardly anyone noticed I was a goner. But Facebook? The minute I clicked on the confirmation button that nullified all e-connections and links I had built up over the course of four years, hell broke lose. Astonished, I watched as GoogleNotifier pinged me with emails. 28 messages along the lines of "What happened with your profile?" "You deleted me AGAIN?" "Colleen, are you alright?" flooded my inbox within the next two hours. The world was freaking out. My global neighbourhood was in panic. What was happening? My leaving a social network suddenly left a void that became personal to many, and they weren't letting me off the hook.
Colleen Yorke, Berlin/Los Angeles

I tend to ignore the social networking aspect of Facebook as I'm usually playing the silly games that are a part of it.
Paul, Goole, UK

Never quite got why Facebook is so attractive, and addictive, to so many people. Never realised there's so many exhibitionists amongst us, either. Oh, and you can't really delete yourself either. Facebook patiently waits for you to re-offend. Spooky.
Vladimir Oka, Reading, UK

I hate it and I hardly ever use it. I just use it for staying in touch with a few people, like family abroad and ex-work colleagues. I don't add people I haven't met personally (why on earth would I?) I'm amazed that some people have so much time that they can post 10 or more things a day.
Rob, London, UK

Wow, this article has actually made me think. I'm going to deactivate my account to see how I do.
Dan, UK

I don't think people are "actually" hooked on Facebook, and I certainly don't believe that we should make a song and dance about leaving the social networking site. Essential it boils down to the fact that some people just can't handle too much of a good thing (aka the author) I still speak to my friends via text (and god forbid!) in person too, and this has been facilitated by the use of Facebook. I have made friends on certain issues I believe in through the site as well as enjoying the plethora of time wasting activities it offers.

I think there a big "hoo-ha" over nothing and people should just grow up and be responsible for their online usage, rather than making out it's a "drug" or something that is a pain to quit... Grow up, please?
Mark, London

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