August 9, 2013 by kimpetersonmusic
In the past few years there have been numerous studies on whether Facebook makes us unhappy (the answer seemingly yes – see articles below)*. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, and I know I’m not alone. I love that Facebook is an address book for many people with whom I would have otherwise lost contact. Some argue that there’s a reason people lose contact (e.g., you lose contact with people you never liked in the first place), but I disagree: more often than not, I’ve lost contact because people live far away and life gets busy. I also love that Facebook is a great place to get the word out; as a performer who is in the process of opening a performing arts school, Facebook is a great tool to inform a large group of people that I’ve personally met about upcoming events. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I advertise a show or event – without fail, acquaintances that I haven’t seen in years come out of the woodwork in a remarkably supportive way.
On the flip side, I’m also always disappointed. Researcher Brené Brown talks about how we live in a culture of scarcity, or “never enough.” Facebook could not be a better example of this. If my event gets 17 “likes,” instead of feeling uplifted, I think: “but Wendy’s vacation pictures got 93 likes.” If I am touched that my kindergarten teacher posted warm words of encouragement about an event, I simultaneously feel bitterness that many close friends didn’t post anything at all. Then I berate myself, thinking: “you are lucky to have so much love and friendship in your life. Why are you letting this get to you?!” The cycle starts to resemble a vicious one.
To be fair, I am not an active member of the Facebook community. If Facebook’s algorithm had favorites, I would not be one of them. I almost never post status updates, and I rarely publicize events. I comment and “like” other people’s posts a couple of times a week at most. I could be saying this to make myself feel better, but I do actually believe that those people who post status updates on a very regular basis build a community of people who comment and “like” on a regular basis. I also think (with no formal understanding and all gut feelings) that level of usage probably affects the Facebook algorithm of who shows up on newsfeeds. Which brings me to my main point: I struggle with defining my relationship status with Facebook, and I’m not sure which direction to go.
Let me start at the beginning. I resisted social networking sites in college, thinking they were weird. (I went to USC for undergrad from 2001-2005, so social networking at that time consisted primarily of Friendster and MySpace). Facebook entered my consciousness during my senior year of college, and for months I avoided it. I was lured in when my roommates explained that you had to have a university-affiliated email address to join, meaning there was some level of connection between users, and that the weirdness I feared with other sites was lessened. So I signed up. I don’t think I wrote many status updates even then (did status updates exist?). Today, when I scroll back as far as I can in my Facebook profile, it looks like we mostly wrote things on each other’s walls to make each other laugh. To be honest, I can’t really figure out how to see everything from the first year I used Facebook (does anyone else find Facebook as confusing as I do?), but from my memory I remember it being really fun and really time consuming – a perfect procrastination tool.
Post-college, things changed. I remember the newsfeed being released. I remember it being odd. Looking back, the newsfeed may have been the catalyst of taking Facebook from fun to painful – it forced you to look at a random collection of friends having fun, rather than specifically seeking out a certain friend’s profile to check in on them. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Post-college, Facebook was a nice (albeit kind of sad) way to keep in touch with friends. I moved to New York, and when I got a job at the Apple store, I quickly became Facebook friends with coworkers. I still thought that spending too much time on Facebook was embarrassing, though, so I tried to keep my usage minimal.
By the time I moved back to California, I was in a long-term relationship and looking for my next career step. Instead of using Facebook to flirt and post drunk party pictures, friends had started using Facebook to announce engagements and share wedding photos. I started grad school, and although I “friended” all of my classmates so that I could keep track of them and add them to my Facebook address book, I decided that I wasn’t going to write status updates. I would only use Facebook to advertise performances or events. I didn’t want to enter the world of using social networking to discuss real life – it made me too vulnerable, and I knew I would feel sad every time my status updates were ignored. I also felt safer staying silent than announcing random life tidbits to people I hadn’t seen in years. I love feeling in control, so my answer was to hang up.
The problem with making black and white rules for yourself is that they world is grey; black and white never works out the way you think it’s going to. Every once in a blue moon I will write a status update, and undoubtedly I’ll feel sad when it doesn’t get enough attention (though I know that the definition of “enough” is entirely in my own head). My partner Brandon has all but forbidden me from looking at Facebook – I always end up mopey. Like many others have said, Facebook is a place for people to project a persona that doesn’t exist. Facebook shows all the happy events without any real-life context. I was crushed when Jon Stewart made fun of people who get depressed after looking at Facebook: “I’m not a doctor, but if you get upset because other people are happy, it seems your problem might not be Facebook, but that you’re an asshole.” I love Jon Stewart! And here he was calling me an asshole! But I still think that the part he’s missing is that on Facebook, everyone else’s life looks perfect, which makes you feel shitty about your own real and imperfect life. Logically I know that Facebook perfection is false (everyone battles gremlins of all shapes and sizes), but my emotional brain is much harder to control than my logical brain. Even when I see an occasional bad status update (sickness or an uncomfortable overshare), it’s easy to feel bad about myself; even this person who publicly talks about her yeast infection has more comments than I do. And yet, every once in a while, Facebook will make me feel tremendous love, like when my wall floods with nice comments on my birthday.
So for those of us who feel Facebook confusion: what should we do? Should we quit Facebook altogether and miss out on the benefits (the greatest address book ever, occasional heartwarming connections, funny videos)? Should we continue to use Facebook, but keep strict rules in place as to how often? Should we share more status updates, taking down our guards and building up a resistance to disappointment if we only get four “likes”? How can we make this strange new virtual world a healthy part of our real world? And finally, can I define my relationship status with Facebook in a way that I feel good about? Unfortunately, I think the best definition for my relationship status with Facebook in the foreseeable future is: “it’s complicated.”
*See these links for other articles on how Facebook makes us feel: