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"The friendship fight that made me give up social media."

Are you constantly on Facebook? 

I used to be like every other Gen Y person, living my life through social media. I would write status updates and post photos several times a day. I was constantly scrolling through my news feed, whether I was at home our out.

My husband and I even received a Christmas card one year from friends, and it said, “I know we can’t catch up as much as we used to, but please keep making us laugh on Facebook!” That made me sad. It was as though reading and commenting on our status updates was enough to sustain the friendship.

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But the constant tensions that arose from my over-sharing on social media led me to take a break from Facebook for several months, and now, I hardly use it at all.

In 2013, things started to get messy for me on Facebook. The straw that broke the digital camel’s back was when I used my status update to make fun of a homeless person, which eventually offended one of my friends.

"I spent a long time that day thinking about my stupid online comment, and just feeling bad." (Source: iStock.)

Here’s what happened. One day, I was at my local shopping mall, and I was wearing my baby daughter Emmy in a Baby Bjorn carrier. She was only a few months old at the time. She fell asleep in the carrier, with her chubby face pressed into my chest.

A dishevelled man in his 40s approached me on the escalators. His face looked like it had actual dirt on it, his hair was matted, and his clothes were filthy. He smelled terrible. He came close to me and said in a friendly way, “Make sure your baby can breathe while she’s in the baby carrier. You don’t want her to suffocate!”

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As soon as I was home, I updated my Facebook status with something like this: “A homeless man approached me at the shops, and told me to make sure Emmy didn’t get smothered in the baby carrier. It’s official: I’ve finally received baby advice from EVERYONE.”

I thought this was a hilarious, witty comment, and most of my Facebook friends agreed, “liking” the status and adding similarly humorous comments. This is basically what I did on Facebook: post a running, sarcastic commentary on my life. (Post continues after gallery.)

Then, one comment from a friend, Rachel, stood out to me: “My brother is homeless, and he often goes to that shopping mall. He went to the local private school, but has mental health problems. That could have been my brother trying to help you. You shouldn’t judge others. You don’t know what they’ve been through.”

I felt terrible. I had no idea that my friend’s brother was homeless. The man who had approached me was clearly going through a difficult time, yet he still had the generosity of spirit to offer me some form of help. It was stupid and insensitive of me to make jokes about him.

And how horribly bourgeois of me, to assume that no-one in my circle of friends had been affected by homelessness.

"As soon as I was home, I updated my Facebook status." (Source: iStock.)

After much thought, I deleted my status update, and wrote a new one. It was something like this (I deleted the original posts): “I recently wrote a status update about a homeless man, in which I was trying to be funny. I realise now that I was being insensitive. I’m so sorry.”

Again, my friends “liked” it and praised me for being so socially conscious and sensitive.

I then sent Rachel a Facebook message, and I apologised to her. I also thanked her for raising my awareness of homelessness, and wished her and her brother my best. She was really nice about it, and we’re still friends today.

I spent a long time that day thinking about my stupid online comment, and just feeling bad. I talked to my husband about it at length. I had always tried to be a loving and kind person, but in my attempts to be constantly amusing on social media, I’d exposed some deep-seated prejudices.

"During my break, I realised how much I had been using social media to shape my daily experiences." (Source: iStock.)
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I know that my status update was supposed to be lighthearted, and that ultimately, this was not the worst thing that had ever happened to me. But I also knew that words can cut and hurt others, and I had hurt my friend's feelings.

Whether you sympathise with me or think I’m ridiculous, the main thing that struck me was this: I was spending a lot of time feeling bad about something which didn’t exist in a tangible way. I hadn’t seen Rachel in years. She hadn’t even met my daughter. Yet, I’d managed to offend her.

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If I hadn’t said anything on Facebook, none of this would have happened. In fact, without my constant updates on Facebook, none of my Facebook fights (of which there were several) would have existed. Hence, I could avoid these tense interactions if I wasn’t on Facebook.

This is when I decided to stop using Facebook. I wrote a status update that explained that I was taking a break from Facebook, and that if anyone needed me, they could text or email me. (Post continues after gallery.)

During my break, I began to see how much I had been using social media to shape my daily experiences. I realised that it was okay to just let my thoughts be thoughts. I didn’t have to turn my every musing into a status update.

I suddenly recognised how blissfully unimportant I was. There was no need for me to tell people what I was doing, or what I was thinking. I still existed, even if I didn’t have evidence of it on Facebook.

When I wasn’t using Facebook, I missed out on a few things. One of my friends had her wedding, and I didn’t see any of her wedding photos. But, I also wasn’t invited to her wedding, so why did I need to see the wedding photos at all?

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I’d catch myself looking at my husband’s Facebook over his shoulder, because I still wanted to know what was happening in our friends' lives.

Then I realised that I didn’t have to know what was ‘happening’. It was possible – and pleasurable – for me to live my life without knowing where everyone else was, and seeing what they were doing and thinking.

I also didn’t need to know what everyone thought of my latest meal, outfit or activity. Facebook had added “noise” to my life – a constant buzzing of opinions, thoughts and photos – and I wanted to spend more time in silence.

"Facebook had added 'noise' to my life, and I wanted to spend time more in silence." (Source: iStock.)

After several months, I eventually went back on Facebook because I started working as an online writer, and I wanted to share my work with my friends. I was also part of a mothers' group which organised our coffee dates via Facebook, and I needed to know when and where we were meeting.

But things have never been the same with Facebook and me.

I rarely write status updates, and nor do I comment very often. I mostly check my Facebook for work purposes, or to keep in touch with friends who are having difficult times.

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I think there’s a lot of positive benefits to social media, and I still love sharing photos on Instagram. Facebook has brought me many happy moments. And of course, I love the internet - I wouldn't have my dream job without it.

But Facebook was starting to take over my life, so I’m glad that I stopped using it so obsessively. I may not be as close with certain Facebook friends, and I may not know what their babies looks like. What I do have is a happier, more peaceful life.

I don’t have online clashes with friends, and I don’t have those pangs of anger, jealousy or grief from Facebook-stalking an ex-boyfriend or an estranged friend.

If you’re spending too long thinking about relationships that happen on a computer or smartphone screen, it may be time to take a break. Find out who you are, outside of the status updates and memes. You might be surprised at the peaceful, still person you discover.

Have you considered taking a break from social media? Or, do you not use it at all?