Being off of Facebook for a month has allowed me to gain a more healthy perspective on the social media juggernaut, and it has forced me to reconsider the true purpose of the social media platform. One of the great challenges with Facebook, and many of the portals we are given through the advent of these new technologies, is that their initial purpose wasn’t fully thought through. Although it has completely revolutionized the social media movement, according to the story told in The Social Network, Facebook occurred more as an answer to “what if…” than an answer to ” what does the world need…”
It started as a way for college students to vote on trivial subjects like who is more physically attractive. While it has certainly grown since then and allowed for more meaningful discussion, it still largely serves as a platform of triviality. Due to its relative ease of use, Facebook doesn’t require a lot of thought and often enables the use of ignorance to build on the time-tested schism of “good versus evil,” right versus wrong,” and “us versus them” which permeates our bifurcated political system and competitive sports industry.
There are some who blame Facebook for causing the divisiveness we see in the political spectrum, but Facebook is no more to blame than Twitter, or any other forum where people defend one of the two world views we are allowed to have under the freedom of American democracy. Ultimately, social media has merely refined the ridiculousness, whether it be the idea that a melting pot society can be divided evenly into two distinct parties, as our politicians have so poorly demonstrated over the last 242 years, or that people must be seen as consumers first and citizens second.
Nevertheless, though it has evolved from a mere trivial pastime to a really popular trivial pastime, Facebook does still offer many viable uses for those who wish to use it for more meaningful purposes. Granted, it has come be be regarded largely as a place to be targeted by advertisers, to participate in senseless, unending debates, to share pictures and videos of cats and other cute things, and to share philosophical platitudes to make us appear as if we have it more together than we really do. Yet, Facebook does have its virtues, and the baby should probably not be thrown out with the bathwater.
For instance, when I was off of Facebook, one of the things I missed the most was the event calendar, which tells me about things going on in my community and who is planning to attend. Granted, there is not always a lot of integrity on Facebook, and people who say they are going to attend Facebook events are actually regular no-shows, but it is still a great source for being in the know about what’s going on in my community.
And while it certainly can be a time suck to scroll through all of the postings Facebook allows me to see, it is nice to see what other people have going on in their lives. My challenge is that Facebook doesn’t always select the people that I’d actually like to keep up with. Instead, Facebook fills my wall with updates from people I have not seen in years and some I may not have actually ever met in real life. But it doesn’t intuitively select those that I may actually have established relationships with in the real world.
In the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that humans can only comfortably maintain about 150 stable relationships at a time. While I certainly can’t keep up with the more than 2,000 friends I’ve collected on Facebook, it would certainly be nice to be able to select which 150 people I could focus on. Given the choice, I would certainly prefer to keep up with the people I have the possibility of seeing on a regular basis to give us more to talk about when we do meet in real life. I’ve been told that you can choose which of your friends you’d like to see first in your feed so I may have to try that out in the days to come, but it would be nice if Facebook would make that feature more user friendly.
Essentially, I agree with what I once heard in a conference on Asset Based Community Development. The idea is that if we’re not using social media as a tool to get into the same room together, we’re not using it properly. I’m paraphrasing, but I think the idea holds that these technologies should be used to help cultivate our relationships instead of straining them.
Like any toy, pleasure, or other shiny new object, there is the tendency to get consumed by Facebook, which is why the increased number of smartphone users over the last decade has caused scores of people to spend more time looking at their smartphones than engaging in the life around them, or the people. Should we wish to continue using this technology, and wish to use it to add to the vitality of our lives, we must consider its best uses and our best practices. It can still be quite consuming, yet part of the human journey is enacting the practice of personal discipline, deciding on what we want most over what we want now.
I will be using Facebook again because I do believe it has some merit. However, I will certainly be limiting the time I devote to it and will not use the app on my phone, but only when I schedule time to sit down and correspond with those I wish to cultivate relationships with.
Facebook, like any social media platform, certainly does lend itself to addictive behavior, and it has been proven that getting “likes” and comments releases dopamine into the brain, causing us to keep checking for notifications that will make us feel good. Yet in the last month, I’ve been able to spend my time and energy on other things that make me feel good, and for the most part, I’m going to keep focusing on those. Although it may be better for my emotional stability if I just keep off of Facebook altogether, my hope is that, moving forward, I will be able to use Facebook to accentuate my life without getting too consumed by it, with the realization that my life is lived neither in my phone nor my computer, but in the real world, where my dopamine comes from hugs, music, and walks on the beach.