When I created a Facebook account back in 2010, I felt that I was already a social media pro. In previous years, I’d successfully navigated the waters of MySpace and Friendster. So I jumped into Facebookland with little fear and trepidation. Perhaps I should have been more scared.
It was apparent from the get-go that FB was more in depth than MySpace and Friendster. So in an effort to make FB a meaningful experience, I decided that I wouldn’t hold back. I’d be forthcoming about who I am. Blunt, even. I’d pour my heart out, bare my soul, strive for authenticity in an effort to bond with new “friends.”
My “friend” list eventually swelled to a hefty 800. I reasoned that it was fine to be collecting all these strange faces since I’m a musician and an artist. I was networking. But who really were all these people?
I eventually decided that having 800 friends was absurd. I wanted to get to know the people of my “friend” list, have some semblance of meaningful relationships. I slashed my list down to a more reasonable 160. Gone were the folks who’d never deigned to cough up a like or a “hey!” NOW, I thought, I can make this FB experience a substantial one.
Every day I’d peruse my newsfeed, glancing at posts like “here’s me here!” “Here’s me there!” “Here’s my dinner!” “Here’s my kid!” Here’s my book!” “Here’s my car!” and I’d throw my hat into the ego ring along with the others. This was how you Facebooked. Egocentrism being the order of the day.
Facebook Presents the Best and Worst of Humanity, Distilled and Distorted
The dinners, the drinks, the selfies, the new cars, the graduations, the birthdays, the deaths, the injuries, the illnesses, the rants all reduced to captioned pictures or links or a paragraph soundbite, coming at you steadily, 24/7. While a handful of people on your list may be family members or genuine real-life friends, the cold fact is that many posts in the average FB stream are by people who probably couldn’t pick you out of a police lineup if forced to.
I’d post a thought or a new photo of a scenic vista and wait with mounting anxiety for a response. Would my “friends” like my photo of last night’s sunset? What if they didn’t? Maybe I’m not such a good photographer after all? Maybe I’m wasting my time and should quit photography? I knew, on an intellectual level, that I was being ridiculous. That half the success of posts lay in the timing. Many of my “friends” would miss the post entirely. But of those who did view it, would they approve? Why did I care so much?
An alarming report from 2012 found that Facebook is as addictive as cigarettes of alcohol ( https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/feb/03/twitter-resist-cigarettes-alcohol-study
) helps explain why some of us might care so much about our social media life.
Back in the good old days, the 1990s, you could go days, weeks, months without touching base with friends or family. It wasn’t a bad thing. We all had breathing room, and a chance to have experiences or gain insights and wisdom, so that when we did finally connect with them, we had interesting new stories to talk about. Humans weren’t mean to be all up in each other’s business all day, every day.
That being said, I’m not condemning Facebook. I think it probably works better for the heartier of disposition, the extroverts and those with better impulse control than me. And there were times in my life when I was grateful for its presence, like the time when I was stuck alone inside my mountain cabin during a snow storm. It was reassuring to have the presence of the outside world in there.
As I see it, the overarching problem with Facebook is not with the users but in how it is set up to bombard you, your emotions reeling as one moment you’re reading about the death of one friends’ relative and in the next second glancing over a silly cartoon, then the next is a rant from an outraged Trump hater, etc. I fear how the day in/day out manipulation of emotions by social media may be rewiring our brains, affecting our relationships away from screens, distorting reality. Maybe if there wasn’t a newsfeed, only individual walls that you had to actually click over to in order to interact, it would be a kinder, gentler experience. Maybe I think too much.
2017 has been the most trying year of all for everyone on social media. Our hysteria levels are high. There’s so much to worry about – Trump, climate change, North Korea, etc. All I know is that the person I am in real life is strong and thoughtful, introverted and kind, if a little gullible and naive. I had fallen for Facebook’s sexy illusion of depth and intimacy. I’m now embarrassed by my soul-baring posts, embarrassed by how I indulged in narcissism, ego-stroking and vanity. Embarrassed by how I treated some people. I’m embarrassed that I wasted so much precious time putzing around on this one website. Time is life.
While it’s only been a week and a half since I quit, the anxiety that has been gnawing my insides in recent times has already ebbed considerably. And I now have two more hours a day freed up. My only regret is that I didn’t kick the Facebeast to the curb sooner.