By: Reji Laberje
I’m angry this morning. No, I’m hurt. My heart aches because somebody I care about is in an awful situation while another friend has – to my face – taken up a terrible stance against the first. I’m just torn up about the whole thing. The saddest part is that this is not an uncommon way to start my day. Sometimes it’s that hurt and anger feeling like today’s; sometimes I’m just frustrated; there are days when I feel left out and days when I want to be left alone . . . and overwhelm has become a constant umbrella over the entire emotional spectrum.
The truth is I’m not alone. Positive emotions are on the decline and our lives, from the individual level, through the societal level, and even up to the global level have grown angrier, colder, ruder, more detached, stressed-out, and bitterer than they ever were prior to September of 2006. That’s when Facebook, to use a like-fielded term, “went viral”. My oldest of three children was only 10; their child-rearing years will scarcely be without this household staple. It is what the radio was to the 1930’s, the television to the 1950’s, the microwave to the 1980’s, and the personal computer to the 1990’s. Somewhere around 900 million users worldwide are on the site, today. I could probably list on my digits the number of people I personally know over the age of 12 who do not have a Facebook account. (And there are quite a few parents who allow their children to lie and get an account before the “required” age of 13.)
Over the course of my own love-hate relationship with the social media giant, (dating back to 2008), I could give you dozens of reasons for the hate side of that equation and – to be fair, it is not the only site with these same downfalls. For the sake of some semblance of brevity, not one of my strong suits, (one of the reasons I don’t like the status-driven catch-up of FB), I’ll share just the top five reasons that this contemporary communication board is the downfall of human interaction.
5. Everybody knows everything and shares it with everyone.
Many people would list this as the #1 worst thing about Facebook, but the truth is that this has kind of become an actuality throughout our entire world. We are under the surveillance of branded Big Brothers and anonymous cell phone cameras pretty much wherever we go. Seriously, if you haven’t figured out by now that the whole world sees you, I dare you to test the theory. Nonetheless, this is a genuinely irksome part of our Facebook realities.
Just because a classmate I barely remember from elementary school was feeling nostalgic enough to scan in his 4th grade class picture, do I really need to be tagged for the world to see? As if this recurring trend weren’t enough of an annoyance, the cancer has spread to my children! What were once precious, private, family memories get posted, tagged, shared, and commented on by . . . whom? My cousin’s, friend’s, mother’s, brother’s, daughter’s, coach’s colleague? Thanks. I feel so special that 12,928 people are moved by the adorable laughter of my daughter . . . mine. That’s my memory. By at least person number 17, it was no more than a way for him or her to waste thirty seconds of a day with strangers rather than family. This goes for status updates, too. Would we normally tell how ever many hundreds (thousands?) of friends, or just those in whom we confide, in a step-by-step status-update fashion, about our job search or health concern . . . or the concerns of our children?! (How many parents are making these privacy decisions for their kids? It can’t be taken back.) Imagine the shock of one parent I know who was approached to discuss her allowing her son to have his first kiss at the too young (in another parent’s view) age of 15. Way to smudge a memory!
Plus, what about on a broader, less personal level? How many stories, videos, and sensationalized media clips do we, as the collective Facebook membership, share and post without regard to how it is affecting our world as a whole? I remember how heartbreaking the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 was (still is). Within days, however, people seemed emotionally detached from the reality of the human pain because of the constant onslaught of postings, graphic videos, and more. The sharing became gossipy rather than heartfelt. It was sandwiched in the middle of newsfeeds about the latest diet results of my skinny girlfriend, Johnny’s first lost tooth, and “please post this as your status if you’re against bullying”. (By the way, does it mean I’m FOR bullying if I don’t post?) Facebook is a platform for sharing all without discretion, from where we are currently located (a feature particularly helpful to criminals), to what we had for dinner, to life-altering events, to our most precious moments. This fifth worst pitfall has lead to devaluing the memories and the landmark events that make up our whole beings and the relationships in our lives.
This one sort of falls into two categories. We have to deal with our own materialistic, capitalistic ways, and those of multi-gadzillionaire Mark Zuckerberg who is, quite rightfully, running a business where the ultimate goal is always . . . profit. I won’t pretend that commercialism crept into our society as a parasite on the jugular of Facebook. It was in 1947 – 67 years ago – that the original “Miracle on 34th Street” movie was made featuring, in its several themes, how commercialism was taking over Christmas. This is nothing new. Somehow, though, the advaganza that never really became a part of the predecessor, My Space, (maybe a factor in that site’s demise), is sprinkled throughout our Facebook experiences.
First, we have the business factor. Because we are using Facebook’s platform, we are operating under her rules. This might mean that the page you finally got looking the way you wanted it gets changed without warning. (Imagine somebody coming into your home and rearranging your décor! Yeah – it kind of feels like that.) More often, though, it means we are looking at an endless stream of ads, our friends’ likes and shares, and propaganda appropriate to the owners of the social media network. You may be staring at a VOTE FOR ME badge for the local town idiot while discovering that a page for a cause you believe in was pulled because somebody with different values deemed your message “inappropriate”. The bottom line is that we are, indeed, getting a message when we’re on Facebook. We are being sold the products, the programs, and the propaganda that a small demographic of managers have decided is representative of their company. I don’t entirely disagree with this. It IS a free platform that I do NOT own and, as a free market supporter, I believe Facebook, like any other business, should be run how its founders believe it should be run. But, would I ever let some other corporation make these decisions in my life? The difference is that other corporations haven’t become a part of my everyday life, so I don’t have to let them. What matters here is that we recognize the reality of this brand of commercialism.
The second brand of commercialism falls squarely on the shoulders of the Facebook users. Yep . . . including me. It seems that, every day, I have a new business to like or share. Some of these businesses I really do support! I don’t mind telling people about your painting business if I’ve used it in the past and I think you did a great job. But, must you really be offended if I don’t choose to share the latest dog-sitting coupon from your niece to whom I’ve never even been introduced? And if I do, out of pure, unnecessary guilt, decide to like Dottie’s Doggie Daycare, does that mean that you must reciprocate and like the page for my latest book which you have not even read? (Maybe so, on this latest question, seeing as I’ve got a combined total of only around 50 members to all of my business pages.) You see? It becomes a numbers game and I, for one, am tired of the endless string of Great Deals in my newsfeed. Materialism is the enemy of emotionalism and Facebook is the secret hideout of that villain.
3. No more whatifs.
Oh, how I miss anticipation. How I miss reminiscence. Do you remember those feelings? Will our children ever know them and really experience them in the way that we have in our pasts? It’s sort of like that “What was her name?” feeling that disappeared with the invention of the smart phone. (“I don’t know, but let me check!”) Don’t get me wrong. There are still things to which we can look forward. God help us if we don’t have that much. Some of the whatif factor has been lost, though, with the explosion of social media, fathered by Facebook. I remember going to my husband’s 10-year class reunion in the year 2002. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. Many had not seen one another in years. Everybody had somebody with whom to catch up. What are you doing these days? Is this your wife/husband? How many kids? Where are you living? There was wonder leading up to the event, active chatter throughout it, and joy following it. We didn’t know when we’d see them all again. Maybe we’d exchange an email – what we thought at the time would be the replacement of actual letters that would not itself be replaced by even more advanced technologies with even more deevolutionized English. In post-Facebook America, we chose not to even attend the 20-year reunion. Most of the people had their lives plastered on the site for all to see. Many of them had even dropped birthday messages to my husband over the years, as if they would even have known it was his birthday without the little calendar reminder. There is no mystery, no wonder, and no anticipation left to be had.
There are times when it’s nice to have those old connections, but not always. Back in the day, to steal one of those grandparent-style phrases I never imagined escaping my lips, people used to have some of those old connection whatif conversations with good friends on the phone or over coffee. It would have been good imagination time full of curiosity and fantasy, but – ultimately, innocent. In our Facebook era, these are the whatifs that become most dangerous. Now people actually make those links to their pasts and, living in emotional disillusionment (see below), they take those relationships and move them out of the virtual world and into the real one. Affairs have skyrocketed at a pace paralleling that of social media. In March of 2011, in a survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), Facebook was mentioned in 1 out of every 5 divorces in the United States. That’s just plain sad. Facebook has single-handedly erased whatif from our lives and our relationships in a way that its predecessors never did.
2. Complete emotional disillusionment.
Some of this second-to-worst ruination could also fall into the category of sharing everything with everyone. Somehow, living in these virtual worlds as so many of us do, we are becoming brainwashed about what is real and what is simply flippant – right down to our most important relationships. I have found out about an engagement, two coming outs, and a divorce all on Facebook from people with whom I was close enough to, at the very least, warrant a phone call. The disillusionment is that, in each of these cases, people believed that their “friended communities” had an emotional stake in their lives. Resultant commentary, in each scenario, ranged from like, to the oh-so-moving, “cool,” to :) OOO
Have we lost all sense of appropriateness? A little searching on the truth of these online connections, these links, these “friends”, will show story after story after story of lonely, forgotten, and ignored people with bad endings because their Facebook community was not really emotionally concerned about him or her. He or she may have just been a daily line in the news feed, (if they haven’t been hidden or “unfollowed”). One of the most notable stories that comes to mind is one reported in late 2011 by AP, Reuters, and others about the 42-year-old woman from the UK who posted about her pill overdose on her page and the 1,048 “friends” she had on Facebook made fun of the suggestion that she really would kill herself. Her mother posted on her page, after the daughter had been found dead from the overdose, “My daughter Simone passed away today so please leave her alone now.” There have been break-ups, suicides, and even murders with their roots in the complete emotional disillusionment of the relationships we make on Facebook. We are humans; we need human interactions and not human-to-computer interactions.
And the #1 reason why Facebook is the Ruination of Relationships is . . .
1. Those taboo subjects aren’t anymore.
You know the subjects to which I refer: politics, religion, sex, and money. They are the subjects we were all raised not to bring up in civil exchanges. They are the subjects on which we all have our most passionate, unshakable, and PERSONAL stances. AND – they are the very subjects that make up the majority of commentary on Facebook. It’s no wonder people are angry, frustrated, hurt, or otherwise feeling disenfranchised by their communities. The truth is that, this morning, nobody got in-my-face with dissent over a girlfriend’s difficult situation. It feels like that, though. Haven’t we all been there? Sometimes, when somebody posts an opposing viewpoint, we feel such personal insult. Don’t they KNOW that I can see this and it hurts me?
I am proud to have close and important relationships in my life with people from all walks of life. My first illustrator and I disagree on some of the most basic of political agenda items. He’s still one of my lifetime friends. The same could be said of other true (in-person) friendships and family members in my life. We may disagree on religion, politics, sex, money, or – sometimes, all of it. It’s part of what makes life as an American so wonderful. I thrive in our differences. If somebody with whom I disagree on a passionate subject is close to me, there are probably a dozen admirable qualities that cancel out our vehement differences. When we are together in-person, we know not to talk about those subjects. We focus instead on what we share, what we agree on, and what we love about one another or love to do with each other. I save those hot-button topics to discuss with those on the same page as I, or – if they come up with those of opposing views, we respect one another and know when to say, “Hey, I love you and maybe this is just not a subject we can discuss. Agree to disagree.” So why, behind the not-so-private profiles of our Facebook accounts, are all bets off on these taboo subjects? When did our knee-jerk reaction to personal infuriations become a status post capable of alienating half of our friend list and, all too often, half of our real-life connections.
I have been sucked into this trap. A year ago, I nearly lost somebody I couldn’t imagine life without because we each chose to post things to our personal pages about a public topic on which we whole-heartedly disagreed. We had every right to do so because it was our own personal pages, but it wasn’t in my best judgment to not consider this person’s feelings. In “real-life”, we’d steer clear of winless debates because we have so many other things to bond us that we know it would be fruitless to linger on those things which do the opposite. These careless, taboo subject posts are woven throughout all of the other top five reasons given here. They find their ways into the oversharing, the commercialism, the whatifs, and the emotional disillusionment. I guess, this morning, I was just brought back to that place of hurt – feeling like this online link was the equivalent of a real-life connection. I forgot, for a moment, that the offending post wasn’t a personal note to me . . . this was an in-person friend I cared about and who cared about me. Just like has happened to me in the past, this person is a human who got swallowed by the Facebook whale, strong enough to block out our raising and make us do things that we would never do outside of our cyberwalls; make us do things that are causing relational ruin.
By sharing my opinion on these five pitfalls of Mark Zuckerberg’s baby, I am in no way reconciling myself from these very acts. I am admittedly a participant in my own human communication demise. I have tagged photos of my children and friends; I’ve plugged my latest books, blogs, and bio bullets. (Hmm . . . probably even in this very editorial.) I’ve connected with people I probably shouldn’t have, or at least didn’t need to, and then kept them out of the guilt associated with unfriending. I have responded to the posts of friends that probably weren’t meant for me because it wasn’t really somebody with whom I was particularly close. Worst of all, in those moments when I’ve just had enough of feeling embattled from the posts, statuses, comments, and shares of those who vehemently disagree with my own values and principles in the taboo subjects arena, I have posted those retaliatory posts, statuses, comments or shares. (This morning, I turned instead to writing this editorial!) That’s it. I confess to committing all five of Facebook’s relational sins. I’ve taken part in the detaching sensationalism of news stories and videos and the dehumanizing postings of personal commentary. It’s not pretty, but it’s honest. It’s humanity that’s once again screwed up a tool made to make humanity closer.
Here’s the thing: none of it matters. Like it or not, Facebook is here to stay and it is a part of our lives. The love-hate boyfriend of our virtual worlds IS our radio, our television, our microwave, and our personal computer. If I run a business, people look for me on the platform. If I want to see pictures, other than those I personally took, from my child’s latest activity, they’re probably in an album of a group page. It’s an easy way to invite people to events and to organize my own albums, interests, and connections in one place. If you use the internet for any of its many other functions, (many of which have sprouted from or become popular as a result of Facebook), they ultimately tend to filter through Facebook’s front page of the world. Don’t get me wrong, the “necessity” that social media, fathered by Zuckerberg, has become, often leaves me wanting to run away and not participate in society, anymore. But, I won’t. (Although, this is another reminder to maybe reexamine my profile, so-to-speak.) Instead, Facebook has become that annoyingly drunken third cousin who you really don’t want at the party except for the obligatory nature of your relationship and, every once in awhile, he tells a great joke and you share a moment that made you glad he came. I’ll invite him again to the next family gathering just as I’ll probably start and end tomorrow’s computer time on Facebook.
Innovation can be messy. Fission can create clean, long-lasting, inexpensive energy – or, it can end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, it’s really up to humanity on this one. Will Facebook be our reactor, or our atomic bomb? (And if, like me, you can’t decide, then don’t take that running-away-and-not-participating-in-society option off the table, just yet!)
For more on how young adults can best use Facebook in their lives, check out the book I wrote with ESPN’s Dick Vitale, “Getting a W in the Game of Life,” available everywhere fine books are sold! Learn more about Reji Laberje and her written works at rejilaberje.com.