Or how I oscillate between freedom to be and validation on social media.
Every once in a while, I go off Facebook. I pretend I don’t exist. Or that the world doesn’t. I deactivate my Facebook account and willingly plunge myself into the un-wired abyss of nothingness. I am not on WhatsApp, and my presence on Twitter and Instagram defies every logic of signing up for them — so, by this single act of deactivation, I suddenly become friendless, memeless and existence-less. No, really, I do.
To give the devil its due, Facebook gives me enough prompts to reconsider my decision when it finds me hovering above the deactivate window. It reminds me of the groups that will miss my participation, my pages that will get orphaned and how that carefully built virtual identity would get wiped off. There are precious photographs and memories, it coaxes. Alright, maybe I could say a “yes” to at least receiving messages and friends from my dear ones?
I don’t budge.
Then comes the emotionally charged plea towards the end, barely one micro-millimetre away from the final click-me-unto-obliteration button: it shows me the beaming faces of my friends, all looking straight into my eyes as if to say, “Don’t leave us with one friend less in this world.” But I do. One firm click, and I dissolve into non-life.
So, what exactly do I do when I cease to exist? Inconsequential things, actually. I notice a little new curl coming up in my daughter’s hair or a new pimple on my son’s forehead. I feel the breeze hitting my face when I walk, or say hello to the others bent over their mobiles inside the elevator. I pick up the phone and call up people I have known forever and hear them laugh. I savour the pungency of methi in the mushroom methi and enjoy the drama in the sky without rushing to click–and-post it. I look at the twinkle in the eyes of the person I’m sitting with. I read books — real, thin and fat books, and every untrolled editorial in the dailies. And if I sit down to write, I write. These are small, ordinary things, not worthy of a grand online declaration. But they do bring on a quiet smile and an incredibly light, free headspace when I hit the pillow. I am in control of what I see, hear and think.
Unfortunately, these sojourns are always erratic and brief. Barely a couple of months into each, something or the other — mostly insecurities — pulls me back into the cauldron of bustle, all over again. The first time I did it, I seem to have missed my moment of glory online. Somebody posted a glowing review of one of my books, but I wasn’t there to publicly gloat over it. I learnt of it after several weeks. I promptly re-activated my account, hoping to bask in some more sunshine, as and when it came my way again. But when it did, it didn’t seem that special any more.
I did the disappearing act again, and enjoyed it until the day I realised, much to my horror, as the phone started beeping, that my husband had posted a most unflattering photograph of mine. When confronted, he said I was supposed to be incidental to the scheme of things in the frame. He had just wanted to show off his new bike. I whined. But the damage was already done.
Now, my friends didn’t see that photograph, of course, because you cease to exist when you deactivate. But his friends did. And a lot of my friends are his friends too. So, even when you don’t exist in the virtual world, you don’t quite not-exist. It’s complicated. So I logged back in to ensure more autonomy over how I choose to exist.
The next time I deactivated my account, I forgot my father’s birthday because, well, I was not on FB. And there were other misunderstandings; you won’t stop liking your friends’ updates without a reason, would you? I had no option but to come back and be a good friend again.
Facebook is, by now, too tired to keep track of my blow-hot, blow-cold affair with it. My slipping in and out goes largely unnoticed because I go away as quietly as I return to it. Leaving is easy; returning is always tough because when I get back to the madness, the world appears to have moved on while I am where I was. People may look the same, have the same spouse and children, sport the same selfie pose, but heck, there is so much that everybody seems to have done in the interim. The introverted appear more confident, the silent ones have strong opinions, the vocal ones are heralding a new era with their unassailable beliefs. It takes a while figuring out where I fit. Or don’t.
So what made me re-wire this time after a gap of two months? My dearest teacher and mentor from school was one of the recipients of this year’s National Awards for Teachers. But I did not know about it. She was in Delhi for a few days for the ceremonial felicitation but I wasn’t aware of it. My school mates cheered for her, they met and hugged and laughed. I did not know.
In the past, I have always had friends call me up if someone noticed that I was off the grid. But this time, the news had been doing the rounds for so long and on so many different forums, that unless one is living in a cave at the centre of the earth, there is no way to not know. Everyone assumed I did.
I did not. It hit me hard, this feeling of not knowing, of being left out and of having been forgotten. Mostly, of having been forgotten. And so, I promptly logged back in, lest I be unremembered forever.
This week, I am busy playing catch-up with the ever updating feeds. You will see me hanging around for a while, until the day my mind has made peace with being forgotten, too. That day, I will slip out again to wake up with a stretch and a smile, thinking of the day ahead and not of the notifications from last night.
It’s liberating, trust me.
Richa Jha is a children’s author and publisher at Pickle Yolk Books.