There. I said it.
I think it was 6 years ago that I wrote a similarly titled article. The point of that one was that the Internet cheapens relationships when you use it for all your communication. I truly believe there is something special and unique and important about face-to-face communication.
6 years ago I was not signed up to Facebook. I resisted for a long time. My reasons were many and varied but mostly I simply believed that being friends in reality was enough. I didn’t need to be friends in the cyber world. Way back in 2006 I had made a promise to a friend that if I ever moved overseas then I would join Facebook. In my mind, that was the only worthy reason for joining Facebook – to stay connected with faraway friends. Plus, at that point I thought the chances of me moving overseas were slim, so it was a safe promise. Then, I moved overseas. I reluctantly joined. As it turned out, Facebook was a little bit of a lifeline for me. I was glad to be able to know about major events in peoples lives and to be part of that in some small way. I suppose it wasn’t quite the evil I had judged it to be. When I came home, it worked in reverse for a little while. I could stay in touch with friends overseas, participating in their lives from a distance.
It didn’t take long for me to become addicted. I found myself checking it all the time. Even in the middle of the night. I simultaneously wanted to know what everyone else was doing, but didn’t want to be part of it. No doubt this had something to do with an identity crisis that persistently attacked me from within. I had somehow missed this huge shift, but at least in some way, people were living life online now.
I adapted. I joined Facebook groups for College Resos, for ECU Grads, for Church, and for a hundred other things. I was invited to parties and weddings via Facebook. It became another way I stayed in touch with people. If I had felt inadequate as a friend without Facebook, then that was only amplified by the odd expectation that Facebook meant I could have meaningful relationships with people all around the globe. I tried harder.
I checked Facebook frequently. Too many times a day to count. In the morning before breakfast. After breakfast. In class I would have it open in another tab so I could see if someone had messaged me or commented on a photo or status. I would go to cafes to do my College work, at least partly so I could get away from the Internet.
Eventually I installed a program on my computer that restricted my Internet access. That was one of the best things I ever did. I turned my phone off at night. Yes, that meant that phone calls and messages also couldn’t come through, but I figured that any crisis that exploded at 3am could wait til 6am when I got up.
But control of the addiction isn’t enough. There’s another huge reason why I hate Facebook. Almost every time I log on I see photos of my friends new babies, or engagement announcements, or pictures of weddings. I’m not the Happy Family Grinch, I really do love weddings and children. And mostly I am happy with the life I have. But my contentment is fragile, and easily bruised. Am I the only one? I would like to get married and have kids (is it OK to actually say that?), and sometimes my Facebook feed is a painful reminder that I am not. Sometimes, it feels like everyone else in the world is doing what I’d like to be doing. And it makes me want to de-register my account and never go on Facebook again. I’ve been around enough to know that some of my friends see my Facebook feed and think that they’d like to be doing what I’m doing. The grass is always greener hey?
Where to from here? Facebook is a good tool to maintain faraway friendships, and perhaps it is even a useful organisational tool at the local level. But too frequently I find myself envious of others as I watch their lives unfold online. The best book I’ve read on this issue is called The Next Story, which outlines the history of the digital explosion, and some of the key things to consider when thinking how to use the internet. Still, it only asks the hard question:
- How can I use Facebook and not be used by it?
It is up to us to find the answer.