Over the past few months I seem to have fallen out of love with what has become a mainstay of my existence: Sadly I am not talking about a fellow human being, I am talking about a social networking site: Facebook. But, like the breaking down of a human relationship the change in me hasn’t happened quickly, I didn’t wake up one day and think “I don’t love you anymore”, it has crept up on me slowly, a quiet voice in the back of my mind telling me I am losing myself in something that has ceased to be productive, a chipping away at the person I want to be, a nurturing of all the very worst traits in myself until the person I see reflected in the newsfeed is not someone I like very much.
It’s a funny thing Facebook; it seems to be in every area of corner of our lives, with the advent of smart phones we have it on tap 24/7. It is possible to stay ‘connected’ to our Facebook family wherever we are, and whatever we’re doing. I can update my status from the airport, from a remote loch in Scotland, from the goddamn toilet if I want. I can post photographs of fun nights out while they are happening, I can tell people where I am and what I am doing every hour of the day.
But I wonder when the novelty of this wears off, just whether all this instant access is a good thing. How many times do we interrupt the real business of living, of participating, to take a photo to post on Facebook? How many times does the pretend world encroach on the real world? I see kids doing this a lot, being so preoccupied with telling everyone on Facebook how much fun they are having, while they are having it, that they forget about actually having the fun, forget about actually doing whatever it is they are doing, in order to get the perfect profile picture.
Facebook allows us to create the perfect version of ourselves and project it into the world. It is the fantasy of the school reunion where we rock up in our BMW, sashaying in skinny and successful, past all the people who once bullied us. It gives us a forum to be commentators on life, to post micro-stories that say so much about who we are and what we think, to vent our spleen when we are angry and frustrated without comeback, without repercussions in any real way. But how healthy is this? The vanity of the endless search for the perfect profile picture, the arrogance of the smug status, the bitterness of the cyber rant.
When I first joined in 2007 I thought it was wonderful. Because it offered the opportunity to (virtually) catch up with people I hadn’t seen since school, to glimpse what had become of them through a tiny window in the ether. That appealed to the voyeur in me. Yet in a way that is also where Facebook has been my undoing. Because fundamentally I am a nosy person. I can’t help it, I’m a journalist, and it’s in my genes!
So I had great fun snooping through other people’s photos and reading their info and statuses, finding out about their lives at the click of a button, without actually having to participate in anything. But what exactly has this taught me? A type of emotional laziness where I don’t actually have to foster real friendships because I have over a hundred pretend ones?
I remember when everyone first joined Facebook and the constant gloating about “how many friends” they now had? Grown men and women boasting in the office that they now had 200 friends, or 500 or 1000. I mean seriously, how many is enough? We all got sucked in didn’t we? Even for a moment, feeling the thrill of our swelling ‘friend’ lists. And this is what I fear about social networking, that it regresses us into an adolescent state, a state where being popular and pretty is all; the news feed is like a playground, an arena for boasting and gloating, and bullying.
What social networking sites offer is a forum for debate where we are never wrong, because we can Google our responses, edit and re-edit what we say. It gives the illusion of making us much cleverer than we are in real life. And everyone likes to be clever don’t they? Everyone likes to be right. But sometimes what we say behind the safety of our keyboards we would never dream of saying in real life. And sometimes it is good for us to accept that we are wrong.
How many arguments have been started on Facebook because, buoyed with the Information Superhighway at our fingertips, we just haven’t been able to let a thing go. And others can be rallied to the cause, they can jump to our defence with equal abandon and what started as a bit of banter between two people can soon become a verbal witchunt as more and more people jump into the feed. So debates flare into feuds and friendships are lost. Sometimes real friendships.
The ultimate termination of a friendship of course being to ‘unfriend’ or even to block. In the days where we had real conversations you would just talk through a row with a friend, but now the ultimate social insult is to be ‘blocked’ on Facebook. And ‘blocking’ is almost a symbolic gesture, an action that implies that this person is so dispensable they can just be erased from reality. One click of a mouse and ‘poof’ they are gone. Somehow there seems like something is pretty wrong in that picture.
And then there are the lifestyle exhibitionists, I myself have been horribly guilty of this. Posting all the positive things about my life, projecting that image of myself as I’d like to be with an infuriating smugness: “Look at me, don’t I have a lovely house, great car, amazing job, cool friends, hectic social life”. But it is not until your life isn’t so lovely anymore, and you are confronted by the loveliness of everyone else’s in the form of continual updates and pictures, that it really hits home. And then of course another ugly character trait kicks in: Envy.
I mean seriously, what am I trying to prove? Who am I doing this all for? A bunch of people I haven’t seen since school, and am unlikely to ever see again. That I really only know as posts on a newsfeed? Does every profile picture have to be pretty to show my ex-husband how well I am doing, and how great I look and how much fun I am having. Does every status have to be clever to prove how witty and articulate I am? Who am I trying to prove all this to? My ‘friends’ or myself? And if it is myself, is it working? Does spilling every detail about my life validate me? Does it make me more complete? More connected?
No. No it does not. Because it is all smoke and mirrors. It is an illusion. I am more than my Facebook profile, and if anything it makes me less connected, because the time I spend interacting with the Facebook world could be spent with my actual friends, could be spent on real self-development doing almost anything else, reading, writing, playing with my daughter, getting therapy, living. I could be pushing myself in ways of enlightenment that will truly lead to happiness, instead of seeking sanctuary in a pretend self, in a pretend world, with pretend friends.
I can count on one hand the people I know that do not have Facebook accounts. For a long period of time I thought they were crazy. I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to share every detail of their life on a social networking site. But now I am starting to get it, and as the realisation dawns, my respect for them has deepened. Because they are too busy living their lives to post continual updates about how great they are. They are just being great. Having fun. Loving, laughing, without feeling the need to update everyone about it every 5 minutes. They are secure enough to live a life that does not require constant validation from a hundreds of people they don’t really know.
And there is some sort of quiet integrity about that. Some sort of dignity about keeping your triumphs and heartbreaks private. Again I have been terrible culprit of this, emotionally haemorrhaging all over the newsfeed when times have been tough, and again, why? Why not just hurt, and heal, in private? Who am I trying to get to save me? Would I walk out into the street and start telling complete strangers about my marriage break-down? Would I feel the need to place an ad in the local paper announcing our separation? Would I start sending my real-life friends photographs of the minutiae of my life in the post, every day? Of course not, yet somehow Facebook makes me want to do these things. Facebook makes me feel like I am justified whilst eroding my integrity, and my self respect.
Now it is not all bad, because Facebook has got me back in contact with some dear friends, who I would probably never have seen again were it not for the social networking site. And for family living overseas it does offer the best opportunity to keep in touch and for them to feel connected to my daughter, which is a good thing for them. And professionally, it can be a chance to reach a wide audience (this blog being a case in point). And there are some people that use it like responsible adults, that don’t leave themselves emotionally naked, or engage in petty rows, or one-upmanship or pointless debates to boost their own self esteem.
But me, well I don’t do any of that. I’m a hothead, and written communication is my medium, and I’m nosy, and I’m insecure. And what Facebook does for me is feed into all those bad traits and makes fertile the soil for more to grow. It makes me envious, it makes me smug, it makes me vain, it makes me arrogant, it makes me attention seeking, it makes me behave with a total lack of self respect.
I guess in a way it is like alcohol, it is not the problem in itself, but it is the potential it holds for trouble. Some people can have a drink and be fine, and some people turn into complete arseholes once they’ve sunk a few. I am in the latter category. Just like alcohol, Facebook seems to bring out the worst in me, because being an extreme personality type, I just can’t seem to use it responsibly and before I know it that persona I’ve projected into the ether, well its staring right back at me in the newsfeed and too often I don’t actually like my reflection.
I want to be a person that is free from those emotional shackles. I want to be a person that is happy and well adjusted enough, and comfortable enough in my own skin to get on with the business of being alive in a real, meaningful way. I have actual friends, and if, without the aid of Facebook, I don’t hear from people, well I guess that means we’re not really friends.
I want to be a person that is able to have experiences that don’t continually need to be validated. I want to be a person that can just let things go, shut the fuck up and walk away when I don’t like someone, or they don’t like me, or a relationship is not working. Because sometimes it isn’t about winning, or having the last word. Sometimes a quiet, noble silence is better for your soul.
And I want to be a person that doesn’t boast, or gloat, or whinge, but instead shares my triumphs and tragedies with those I love over a coffee and a cake, rather than a newsfeed. The world doesn’t actually need to know my business, and I need to quell the urge to keep telling it. In short I want to be authentic. I want to be a real person, with real friends, and a real life.
© Laury Jeanneret, 2013.