Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Facebook-free: Mustafa Ascha

Facebook-free: Mustafa Ascha

The Guardian recently published this article about a study done in Denmark, in which half of the group of Facebook users had to quit cold turkey for a week. Their results found that those off of Facebook felt 55% less stressed than the control group.

At the end of the article, one of the researchers mentions that she'd like to see what would happen to participants if they quit for a year. Well, today's Facebook-free interviewee, Mustafa Ascha, is going to tell us what it's like to be off of Facebook for over two years. Over to you, Mustafa!

The basics:

Age: 26
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Passion: Clinical and translational science
Length of time with FB account: Age 17 to 24, on and off
Amount of time since leaving FB: Two years, give or take three months

Walk us through your decision to leave. Was it planned? Spur of the moment?

It didn't benefit me enough to justify keeping it. Constantly checking Facebook, as if I depended on my online friends to feel fulfilled and satisfied with my sociability—it began to consume even the real-life parts of my social life.

Humans are inherently social, and Facebook is an immediate fix for our desire to be with others. Just like refined sugar/concentrated fats become addictive due to their immediate physiological reward reinforcement, so does the immediacy of Facebook intensify our social reward pathways—without any of the necessary content to deeply satisfy human needs.

Obviously, the argument against my perspective is that Facebook is meant to augment sociability, not replace it. Again, I think the analogy to sugar is apt. Facebook is refined sucrose/fructose, where we're liable to eat dessert first if we don't pay enough attention to ourselves. To take an analogy too far, we might end up nutrient deficient, yet obese, and with metabolic syndrome.

Finally, whether or not someone is able to constantly consume sugars and stay healthy, having Facebook makes me both easily identifiable and verifiable. I prefer to have singular control over what people can know about me, even if it sounds paranoid. I can imagine a future where textual analysis allows identification of a person's writing with a high probability. It sounds dystopian, but we're also on our way to such technology.

So, yes, it was planned. But only in the sense that it was usually in the back of my mind. I didn't have a set date when I would cancel it. Instead, the weight of the arguments against Facebook tipped the scales, one day, probably when I noticed myself shirking other responsibilities so that I could refresh my wall.

Main reason for leaving (in one sentence):

It took too much attention, distracting me from enjoying my life on earth, and scared me to know people could find and identify me at any given moment.

Tell us what it's been like since leaving. 

I had a period of maybe two months when I would reflexively try to check my wall or messages or whatever. After that, having one less thread running in my cognitive background helped me focus on other things that I enjoy. Of course, it's only to a certain extent, but the increase in executive function was definitely there. Summed up, it became one less distraction from other important parts of my life.

What other social media do you still use, and what have you left? 

I'm on Twitter and LinkedIn, but I don't really use them. I think I avoid social media to a fault, actually. I'm pretty sure there's a lot of cool data/medical type stuff on Twitter...yeah I should do that.

How do you socialize now?

I keep in contact with people by phone and email, but if I really feel like I need more social interaction, I volunteer at a nearby hospital or go to my uni where I'm sure I'll find someone to hang out.

What would you say to someone who's considering leaving FB? 

You might have to leave for at least a month before getting used to it. Being social is so innate, so necessary to our survival, it is written in our genes—we even have several terms for people who don't care about others, both in common language and the clinic. Good luck!

Facebook has changed a lot since it was first released. Do you have any predictions about what it'll become in the future? 

I could easily see Facebook becoming a de facto standard for communication and identification, at least in non-healthcare or government contexts. We might end up with Facebook-subsidized phones, using voice-over-IP tech once phone lines become deprecated or restricted to government/emergency use.

Thanks so much Mustafa! I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us!

Have you (or has someone you know) left Facebook? I'd love to feature you (or them) here! Please get in touch with me: @rebewithaclause or rebewithaclause [at] gmail [dot] com.
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  1. Glad you're safe. I looked on the map as soon as I could to see exactly where you live. Miss you and love you :)

    1. I know what post you meant this to go on—thanks for your concern! <3 :)