Facebook for Letter Writing


I remember when I first left facebook about three years ago; I experienced withdrawal symptoms, as if it was a drug. Each time I’d finish checking my e-mails I’d been so used to going on to facebook that my body would almost shake at not having people’s photos and irrelevant updates and comments to read. I was soon back on it, having used excuses that it’s good for promoting business or keeping in touch with people, and so I stayed and wasted a lot of time and energy staring at the computer screen and reading about what some random person from my gym ate for lunch or see a photo of a distant cousin on the beach with his girlfriend; as opposed to doing things that bring me genuine joy and fulfilment. But I have finally got round to leaving for good and I am never going back and feel great about it.

The irony is that my decision to leave came from a meeting in Berlin I had with a girl I’d met in Morocco on a surf trip – after a brief couple of chats at a cafe we had added each other on FB and stayed in touch via FB. I was in Berlin for an acting course and I arranged to hang out with her for a morning before I flew back to London. We had breakfast and then went for a long walk along the river. We chatted about our lives, hopes, aspirations, about dreams, films, work, relationships, lots of things, as if were a real life version of Before Sunrise (although sadly without any kissing or shagging in any German park or riverside patch of grass). It was a really beautiful morning though, to walk and talk with this person I didn’t really know and who I’d met just one random time eight months before. The topic of FB came up and we both expressed how rubbish we felt it was. We chatted IN PERSON about how FB is an illusion, how it’s a false sense of security and social interaction. It’s a false way to stay connected to people and it’s a real cyber way to make false friends, if you can call them friends. If you do then it does realise some questions as to what the word ‘friend’ means these days. On top of that, sadly a lot of us instead of calling up our friends to see how they are doing, we look at some status they wrote or some photos of them at a drinks party and we may comment on it or make a joke and then we feel that’s it, we’ve connected and stayed ‘in touch’ with that person. Is that really what staying in touch means?

 If FB changing the nature of friendship and what staying in touch means? Do we really need to stay in touch with every single person we’ve had a nice conversation with one time. What does adding them to our list of friends gain us? Also how are you using FB to stay in touch? When I was on FB, instead of getting to know or seeing people in person I poked them (this is done by clicking a button which says ‘poke’ and then you get a message saying ‘so and so poked you’) then I’d smile because someone showed they were interested in me. But were they actually that interested? How much effort did it take to poke me? I know when I poke people I choose at random, and the thought lasts about two seconds, not to mention the fact that FB suggests people for you to poke so you don’t even have to think of them. I feel that FB is a social media tool which increased loneliness, as opposed to dispelling it.

It was created by a computer nerd (albeit a very clever one) who wanted to be friends with everyone. He wanted to be able to use a computer program to make sure that he was included in groups of important people of exclusive clubs, or so he could meet a girl he was probably too embarrassed to go and chat to in person. The guy who invented FB wanted the social scene to be on a computer, surely that says enough? How can connecting on a computer be sociable? What does sociable mean? What does connecting mean? I think it would not do any harm to sit down and contemplate that for a moment. So many of us go on FB to connect with our friends.

All your ‘friends’ can know what you’re doing and how you are because they can see your photos and status updates but how many people actually know how you really are? How many of these ‘friends’ have you seen recently and how many have you really connected with? I have a real friend I see in person and don’t speak to one FB who told me his flat mate spends hours in a dark corner of his bedroom altering his FB page, uploading carefully selected photos of him with hot girls on nights out and at parties so it looks as if he’s at a party every night. He carefully creates his own image on FB like a marketing or PR campaign. What my friend knows is that this guy hardly goes out and is actually quite depressed. So most of his ‘friends’ on FB think he’s this cool legend who gets all these girls when actually he’s sitting at home on a computer most of the time.  This is what I mean by how FB can actually increase loneliness. Who’s going to know who or how this guy really is? My friend in Berlin told me that she didn’t like people knowing what she was doing the whole time, or have people assume they knew who she was because they saw photos of her. I too had been deceived by her. She had put up a picture of herself with a small surfboard and a go pro camera attached to the top of it and I had assumed that she was an incredible surfer. When I told her that she laughed and said that was what she wanted people to think, but actually she’s only been a couple of times. How many of us are using FB to create a false identity, and how alienating is this? How many of us really connect to people? How many people do we really connect to?

On having this beautiful walk and talk (and real human connection) I realised that this is what I want to fill my life with. I want to have these beautiful random mornings spent with new or old friends, really getting to talk and go deep into who they are and who I am, and who we are together as we connect. I don’t want to poke people via a computer screen anymore, I decided. So in that moment as we strolled along the river on Berlin without stopping to take a photo to upload for all my friends to see, I decided I would leave FB the moment I got home. When I got home I went onto FB and I started writing goodbye messages to people, asking them to e-mail me, after about ten messages I realised writing three hundred and fifty six (or however many ‘friends’ I had) goodbye messages would be insane and I just decided that the people who are important in my life will have my number or will be able to contact me. If they didn’t have my number, all they’d have to do is google me and they’d find my website which has my e-mail. And so I left.

But before I left there was one person I felt guilty about leaving and again it’s ironic that we would meet and connect on FB. I met this girl through a friend who said we should meet because she thought we had so much in common. I think the intro was ‘Harry is a writer/director and x is an actor, there you are guys you take it from here!’ After about four months of the occasional ‘like’ or ‘comment’ we had a longer conversation on FB chat when we both realised that we both loved hip hop dancing, and then the next day we chatted again and soon each day we were having long chats on FB chat. These ‘chats’ were not the usual ones though, and they were quite deep (whatever deep means!). We both chatted on FB about FB and how shallow it is and agreed that our chats were not shallow but we also agreed that letter writing is a dying art and what a shame that is, so we agreed to write letters to each other.

I got the first letter from this lovely girl I’ve never met, and I wrote back and so started a little letter writing correspondence which has been very touching. The letters have taken me back to my childhood when I used to write to people. I have now started writing letters to other friends and am getting an immense amount of joy from writing and posting them. There is something so fulfilling about taking the time to write by hand to a friend, to go buy a stamp and post the letter; and there is nothing more exciting and moving than getting a letter, I love it! If everyone started writing letters again FB would be dead within weeks. I am so happy to have re-bonded with this beautiful ancient practice. It’s so heart warming. Anyway, me and ‘x’ continued to chat on ‘FB’ but the letters were so much more moving and significant. So after four months of chatting each day I was feeling guilty about leaving, but again I wanted to live a real life, not a cyber one, and I hoped that by leaving FB it meant that me not being on FB would mean that it would encourage x and me to meet in person. I wrote her a sorry note, that I was leaving given that we’d been chatting each day and said we should continue to write letters and hopefully meet in person. She said she was impressed by my courage to leave FB and then soon after that she told me she had booked a flight to come to London for five days. What I will say was that meeting her in person was absolutely awesome and I am thrilled that leaving FB prompted another amazing real life experience with a real human being – do we forget the people on FB are real human beings and just see them as pages or imagined characters? Meeting this awesome girl is proof of how wonderful life is when you move out of the cyber world and into the real world. I have also been so freed up by leaving FB, I have more time and energy for my writing, no longer getting jealous about some bloke who is in a club with five hot girls (when he’s actually in the corner of his dark bedroom clicking is mouse ‘poking’ people he’s had one conversation with), or getting bitter because someone announced they got a movie deal or whatever they got. I have more time to concentrate on my writing, letter writing, and other things in the beautiful real world and I also have so much more psychological space knowing that no one knows what I’m doing day to day, apart from my close friends who actually bother to call and meet up with me. I now also get letters from wonderful friends and have great joy in writing them back. I can promote my work in other more pro-active and direct ways and I can now print out photos and put them in real photo albums. It has enhanced my real friendships, and those people who were on FB because they wanted to be friends have got in touch and arranged to meet up in person, and the rest I don’t miss, which shows that the ‘friendship’ was empty anyway. I am so happy to be free from having to ‘request’ or ‘accept’ some person I met at a party or in the gym. I’m also much happier seeing where life takes me, see who comes into my life without me trying to control it on a computer. I think FB was a very clever invention and is very addictive which has an illusion of connecting people, but I think the real joy and connection is out there away from the computer. You may ask ‘but what if you meet someone and you really like them and you don’t exchange details? Without facebook you can’t see them again.’ Maybe it will make that meeting even more significant? You will appreciate that meeting for what it was, a beautiful connection in a moment in time, and if the friendship is meant to be you’ll meet again or you’ll be bold enough to ask for their number and meet again IN PERSON. Really, it’s so lame requesting a friend and adding them to your tally. Why not reduce the number of friends and increase the real human connection? I’m certainly loving doing it. Now I’m not on FB and this lovely person is back in their home town and I can’t stalk them on FB, I have booked a ticket to see them in person in a few weeks time. How much more magical is that, than browsing few some photos and writing a little note on a computer? Have a go. See what fear comes up on leaving FB and see what incredible real life connections and human interactions it brings into your life when you start writing letters and re-connecting with the world outside. I know,  it is ironic you’re reading this on a computer screen and either have or are about to check FB again.

Written by Harry