Jan 28, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

I almost did the unthinkable last week. My fingers hovered over the “delete your account” button as I contemplated taking a break from Facebook land. For good? Temporarily? I wasn’t sure. But those guys at Facebook are good—they know how to pull at the heartstrings. “So and so will miss you,” they reminded me in a last desperate attempt, producing a slew of photos of people I’d wave goodbye to if I cut myself off. I contemplated, mulled it over, and in the end, I decided not to pull the trigger.
For the past several years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Having moved out of state and back, it’s been a great tool for me to keep in touch with friends near and afar. I’ve celebrated with friends around the country as they posted first photos of pink little newborns and cried with others as they grieved a loved one or expressed having a bad day. I’ve been able to share my own life’s journeys, triumphs and difficulties as well. Facebook has provided ample opportunities to network, connect and converse. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve scored sporting tickets, a new table, a great lasagna recipe, free workout tips, great jokes, new music suggestions and parenting advice. And I cannot forget that it was a kindly stranger on Facebook who generously donated to something near to my heart two years ago. So what it is it about the social media site that makes me cringe sometimes?
For starters, it is the sheer concept of vulnerability. Is there not something a bit intimidating about putting ourselves out there for the world (or at least our 600 plus Facebook friends) to see? I will be the first to admit I’ve started to update my status and then quickly erased it for fear I will be misunderstood. I admire those who can bare their souls completely, and though I like to think of myself an open book, there are times it’s just easier to post “Having oatmeal and a banana for breakfast.” Why? Because I don’t really want to share what’s on my mind. Because I know some will understand but others will scratch their heads and wonder if I’ve lost my marbles. Because my post that was supposed to be construed as funny will not be, and the post that was meant to be thought provoking will be overlooked. To be misunderstood over coffee is one thing, but to be misunderstood in a land where our words disappear into virtual thin air is another. We may not be in junior high anymore, but there is something about Facebook that sometimes makes us feel like we’re 13 again, hovering beside our locker in our fake Guess jeans and bad perm, asking the question we all long to know: “Do you like me just the way I am?” It is because of this that we sort through our photos and post only the best of the best, the ones where our hair sits just right and our lipstick is on and our stomachs are sucked in and our cellulite has been disguised. It is because of this that we feel a bit bummed if no one comments on our photos and a bit pleased if 90 people do. Or is that just me?
Secondly, what we see of someone on Facebook is only a fragment of who they really are. For instance, though I have a deep faith in God, I don’t feel compelled to post Bible verses every five minutes or interject spiritual things into every online conversation. It’s just not who I am. On the same note, I actually do have very strong opinions about political ideas, but you’ll be hard pressed to see me post much about our president, gun control or other White House shenanigans. I believe Facebook was meant to be a glimpse into our lives, an opportunity to give others a taste of who we are, yet somehow along the way, it seems we’ve let it define us—all the way down to the number of “friends” we have on our page. I suppose that if someone were to browse around my profile, they’d conclude, based on my status updates and photos, that I was a rather clumsy, endearing goof who always finds herself in a pickle and likes to make others laugh. What they may never know is the other side of me, the one that feels a bit like a misfit in life, that constantly wonders if she is good enough, wondering if she’d even find herself qualified to work at Burger King should the need arise. The one who spends ninety percent of her days in fuzzy socks and baggy pajama bottoms but slips into a nice dress when she heads out for the night. The one who posts “having fun” pictures with her kids, all smiles, but sometimes keeps herself awake at night wondering if she’s doing anything right as a mom. This is why I must conclude that, while Facebook is fun, it is not a substitute for real life. Real life is tears and laughs over cappuccino at Starbucks; that’s where we reveal our true selves in entirety.
Thirdly, there’s that whole idea of feeling left out. Think you’re the only one? Think again! A quick Google search on the concept blew me away; turns out social media has created a whole new problem that some bloggers and experts have dubbed FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out.” The very place we go to to feel connected can be the very place we feel loneliest when we see what fun everyone else seems to be having … without us! Trips to exotic places, parties with friends, six-course dinners we were not invited to, and the list goes on. Suddenly, though our lives were fairly interesting and fulfilled five minutes ago, they are completely and utterly B-O-R-I-N-G now! We MUST get a life … pronto! We must know in our gut that no one can have possibly have fun 24-7, yet somehow we get this wild idea in our heads that we are the only ones sitting at home folding laundry, nursing colds, changing diapers, scrubbing toilets and eating cold pizza for dinner.
My last “gripe” (if I must call it that) has only been brought to my attention recently. I like to call it Information Overload. I first realized my uneasiness after the Sandy Hook shootings. In the weeks that followed the tragedy, I found myself increasingly fearful and restless as I pored over the many posts on the matter. Suddenly, it seemed bad news was everywhere. Being the sensitive soul that I am, I found myself crying over lost puppies a friend of a friend of a friend had posted, poring over stories about impoverished children in other countries, and anguished over a terminally ill child I would never meet. I prayed for as many of them as I could, but my head and my heart began to hurt so much I feared they might burst. And then, through two separate conversations with friends, I realized the problem: As humans, we are simply not meant to digest so much information. Political wars, illnesses, famine, unemployment and other crises have existed for decades and decades, yet through increasing technology and social media sources, it seems these issues are brand new. Though we should care, we simply cannot take the world on our shoulders—it is too much for one person to bear. And strong as we might like to believe that we are, at the end of the day, we are still just one person, doing the best that we can.
For me, Facebook will always be a bit like the dive Mexican place my friends and I frequented growing up. The chips were always stale, the seating too crowded, the noise level too high, the carpet outdated, the tacos a bit too greasy. But there was something that kept us coming back time and time again. Despite its quirks, it was good. And the good part--the nostalgic, happy, good friends and two-dollar one-pound burrito part-- outweighed the bad.
Ironically, I plan to post this blog to Facebook. Why? Because I care about you all. Because, I suppose, I hope that you feel a bit of what I do too. That I’m not alone. And isn’t that what sits at the root of ourselves? The idea that we are not doing this crazy, beautiful life alone? Isn’t that what Facebook was meant to be all along?