On My Facebook Fast

Before, I never gave Facebook too much thought. I didn’t really understand how people found it addictive, as I found the interface terrible, the advertising annoying, and its more self-absorbed users to be overbearing.

But people change, and shockingly enough, I’m no exception. Over the past few months, I was becoming increasingly—and uncomfortably—aware of the amount of time I was spending on Facebook. It went further: it brought out a side of me I didn’t like, a side I didn’t like to acknowledge. I started to experience sadness, jealousy, and loneliness far more than I felt content and connected with others. It was just a tedious, energy-sucking tedium I could do without.

And then Ramadan came. I could quit Facebook and be virtuous about it! So I proceeded to do so.

It wasn’t as straightforward a process as I would have liked. I was the administrator for a group and for this blog’s fan page, and I had to hand privileges to trusted friends and colleagues. I missed out on a couple of event invites, but in two cases the hosts were gracious enough to make an extra effort and email me about them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit disconnected and out of the loop at times. However, that was alleviated when friends bemoaned the fact that I was missing, even for a short while.

What this Facebook fast really reconditioned me to do was not instinctively open it every time I opened my browser. That habit had become automatic, for I was used to firing it up in my browser without thinking about it. When I deactivated my account, my brain felt a little puzzled at not being able to do that anymore, so it found alternatives. I fixed up my LinkedIn profile. I followed worthwhile people and organizations on Twitter. (The effect of Twitter is nothing like Facebook because, based on how I’ve curated my ‘following’ list, I am informed far more than I am entertained.) I (gasp) even checked the news. I watched documentaries, managed to do some writing than I had done in the past few months, finished reading an epically amazing book—you get the picture, I had a swell time.

I’m back on Facebook, and I’m too refreshed from that break to go back to my old habit of being plugged into it all the time. Ramadan always leads me to improve my eating, sleeping, and praying habits, and I’d like to think that this time, that tendency extends to my use of Facebook as well. Now, I’m planning on being next to inactive, for inactivity means minimal notifications, and minimal notifications mean less of a reason to be glued to it.

I now also have this romantic notion of a life that is untethered to Facebook: outings, trips, and thoughts that are mine alone, that exist independently of there having to be an account of it online. I like to think that I have reclaimed my life events and thoughts as mine, not what they appear to others.

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A Writerly Duaa for You

The end of April 2012 marks my blog’s first anniversary. I don’t tend to make big fuss on my own birthday, but I’ve developed a ritual for completing an annual a writerly duaa to meditate on what’s happened in the past year, where I am, and what I aspire towards and hope for.

I thought it would be fitting to do such a prayer on my blog’s birthday as well. This time, it won’t be for myself, or even this blog, but for the readers who have tuned in with it, once or consistently.  Because click by click (currently it’s reached over 9,000 views), comment by comment, following by following, readers such as yourself have been the ones who have given back to me. Some of you stepped in for the space of one post, left a courteous comment, and left. Some went out and spread the word about the things I am saying here. Others became deeply cherished friends. I’d like to think that I have started building a community here; a community of people not necessarily brought together just by being Muslim or liking what I say, but for taking it seriously.

Last term, I took a course in which we attempted to undertake a diplomatic analysis of nontraditional documents such as websites, blogs, and wikis. We learned looked at such dynamic documents in light of genre theory, in which genres defined as being rhetorical actions that are responses to recurrent situations. One of the actions of a genre (such as a blog) would be community building.

It’s fair to say that this blog is one of the responses to the recurrent situation of Muslim spiritual displacement. However, you don’t have to feel displaced to read it and identify with it. You don’t even have to be Muslim. One of the most illuminating things I learned from that class is that a community is not about consensus and agreement, but ongoing dialogue about a subject of pressing and great interest. As far as I am concerned, if you’ve clicked through to this blog even once, you have become a part of its community. If you have taken it seriously at all, you are a part of this community. And let me tell you; no matter who you are, it’s a joy to have you here. I wish for you to accept this post as a sincere expression of my gratitude.

I read somewhere once that the secular counterpart of prayer is hope. So I ask the readers who are more secular in their beliefs to take what I’m about to say below as something  I hope for them.

Ya Allah (Dear God),

My readers come in all stripes and colours, and I ask that you accept these prayers in light of what is best for them.

I ask that their affairs be made easier for them, and the good things they seek be granted to them so that they become fulfilled, generous, and content.

I ask that they triumph in their endeavours and that they become proof of the valuable potential of these strange times, not a victim of them.

I ask that they become productive people who are certain of their lives’ purpose.

I ask that their prayers and hopes be heard and addressed, if not then granted.

I ask that their struggle to understand their purpose is met with meaning and reward to give them fulfilling, blissful, enriched lives.

I ask that whatever learning they engage in and whatever experiences they have be a source of much baraka, or bounty.

In the cases where they have been generous enough to accord me respect in the form of their comments, following, and support, I ask that they be given back something multiplied in manifold.

I ask that their families be protected and nourished and be a source of comfort to them.

For those who are lonely, I ask that they form connections to worthy companions.

For those who have companions, I pray that their relationships become better and a source of good.

I ask that they all cultivate a sense of gratitude and greater awareness of their place in the universe.

Ya Allah, give them communities that are a source of good to them and to this world. You have made us social beings–help us connect with others in the most enriching and affirming ways.

Ameen.

On Social Networkation: Twitter

Twitter is so much noise.

What Twitter should be is a continuous, ongoing roundup of little glimpses of what’s out there on the Internet, and one’s “following” list should really be a highly curated and cultivated list of interests that she is interested in staying current in. The inevitable result of this noble ideal would be an ongoing, deafening chatter regarding a thousand matters, usually all important in their own way.

I’m so glad for the people and organizations I discovered through Twitter, but I’m deeply troubled by the larger-than-life personas that emanate in a way unique to this medium. (Including my own. My tweets can be smoldering. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) I have no problem going up to someone at a party and telling them I love their blog or podcast or video blog. But introducing myself as a Twitter follower? Bleurgh. #dweebiness

However many thousands of followers one has on Twitter and “likes” one has on Facebook, it’s not the account itself that should constitute the person’s presence. And the more one remains in awareness of this, the less likely they are to get sucked into the “social media as an endgame” fallacy. It’s not a consciously preached fallacy, but the message does get internalized because the process of using social media can get so addictive. And just because it is addictive doesn’t mean we should lose sight of what we really signed up for.

Content discovery is always good, but not as good if the medium is becoming yet another a means of superficial social engagement. And when one’s happiness meter (okay, my happiness meter) is gauged by the number of new followers one has, what more is it than the horrifying self-anesthetized dream in the artificial world of liking that Jonathan Frazen describes so aptly?

Maybe there’s some magical ideal ratio between the amount of time spend on Twitter itself and the amount of new content a user discovers. Perhaps I can discover that magical equation and then tweak my Twitter use accordingly.

Challenge accepted!

I shall report back on this, but probably only if I succeed.