I’ve been mulling over the implications of Facebook recently. Actually, I must give credit to a friend who approached me in June, wondering if I’d considered writing a piece on the social media site. She mentioned how much going on Facebook stirred up jealousy for her, especially seeing those friends who were getting married, having kids, etc. I could empathize. There are times when being on Facebook just brings up my insecurity as a single person. “Really, she’s married?” “Seriously, he has kids?” “Why them and not me?” I find myself quickly falling into a pit of dissatisfaction in life. Now, I want to be careful in not blaming Facebook for my dissatisfaction. I bring my own “ish” to the table undeniably. But I do find that the site has a way of hitting a nerve in me.
On the reverse side, I realize that I present the best parts of myself and my life on Facebook. I determine the image I want to project. And somehow it always has a smile on it. Or a delicious looking piece of food. If I were to look at my photos on Facebook, streaming from Instagram, I’d see the story of a fun-loving woman, who frequents interesting restaurants, museums, and other fun locations. There is truth in that. However, if I compare that to what my story actually has been this year, it would be completely different. This last year has been unbelievably lonely. For every photo of me having a great time, there were 10 moments of me sitting alone at home, vegging out on Netflix. There has been a shift over summer, which I’m grateful for, but the majority of my year has not felt “Social Media worthy.”
This week I knew it was time to write about Facebook when I came across this study, from the University of Michigan and this video on loneliness and social media. The study found that college aged students feel worse the more they use Facebook, while the video beautifully illustrates the nature of loneliness in the western world and how social media adds to the loneliness. To be honest, the findings from the study didn’t surprise me. I mean, my first paragraph shows two people coming to that conclusion based on their own experiences. Yet, why do we still go to Facebook when it can make us feel so terrible? The video seems to answer that question. We want connection and social media allows for connection on our terms. However, it cannot allow for real conversation. There was a moment in the video when it felt as though the narrator was telling my story a little. I’m specifically struck with the idea of editing. The video explains that in a conversation, one cannot go back and edit what’s been said. Through technology, we can choose what we want to show and how we will show it. There’s a danger in this editing. One of my professors used to say “We can only be loved to the extent that we are known.” So, if I am offering limited aspects of myself, the best-of/top ten, there is much that goes unheard and unseen. That leaves much unknown and thus unloved. Now ideally, we are engaging with others in real life and allowing ourselves to be known more vulnerably, but if a majority of our relationships play out online then there’s a big risk of fuller alienation.
I don’t think that Facebook is this evil thing, but I do believe that it has the potential to isolate and dissatisfy. There is a riskiness to social media that we often don’t consider. I know I don’t think twice usually before engaging online. I rarely stop to think, “Is this good for me?” Conversely, I don’t think the answer is necessarily becoming an open book online. I’m sure we can all think of times when a person has over-shared or participated in “vaguebooking” (“An intentionally vague Facebook status update, that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or is possibly a cry for help.” Courtesy of Urban Dictionary). It’s tends to be awkward and uncomfortable, and usually has some passive aggressiveness attached. There are also some who need to be careful what they say (i.e. therapists) and must censor their social media presence. All this to say, there are layers to the Facebook issue. And these are worth exploring.