I was an early adopter of Facebook when they began extending their services beyond college campuses. Like so many others, I found the ability to simultaneously connect to all my friends to be a very good idea. Through the years, I have tried other social media platforms, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, but it has always been Facebook that has kept my attention. And that, in fact, is one of the major problems with the application.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Facebook is a place of incessant activity. Someone is always logged on, and depending on the number of friends you have, you will likely see a steady stream of posts. To be sure, among that constant flow of activity is a lot of information that is neither useful nor interesting. But you will never know unless you check, will you?
The greatest fear for Facebook users Is to be out of the loop when something big comes down. Somebody in the family gets sick, or there is an accident, or there is a national tragedy. In the old days, people would make phone calls to find out what was going on, or check the latest information in an e-mail or a newsletter. But today it’s almost a social obligation in some families or social circles to be available on Facebook every day, and almost every hour. It’s where everything is happening!
But what happens if you don’t look at Facebook for a period of time? How can you get the same information in any other way? The answer is simple. You can’t. At least not without some effort. Friends and family think that they only need to broadcast once on Facebook. There is no need to communicate individually with anyone if you have posted it there. Besides, it’s too much work! And so, we find ourselves tied to Facebook if we really want to know what’s going on.
Desire for Social Approval
We are told that one of the ways Facebook increased usage was the addition of the LIKE button. It’s only natural that we seek recognition from others, even if only in small ways. Getting views or likes or comments in a social media application can make us feel a little better. On the other hand, we can feel frustrated and somewhat desperate when no one seems to pay attention.
The mastery of social media, however, does not necessarily translate into real life. Success on a social application is not a real measure of social competence. In fact, addiction to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram can easily distract us from the need to seek out in-person interaction.
There have been many studies on this subject, and I won’t attempt to speak authoritatively here. I can only speak from experience. Social media interaction cannot possibly take the place of meeting with friends and relatives in the flesh. Of course, in the time of Covid-19 we still have issues with that. But the pandemic has only served to underscore the problem.
Airing Our Differences
Of course, there are ways to limit the scope of our social media broadcasts. We can send messages or posts to groups or lists of people rather than to all of our acquaintances. Unfortunately, many of us just tend to blurt out whatever it is we are thinking at the time, posting to everyone.
Nowadays political differences are clearer than ever. And social media only accentuates our distinct views and opinions. With a few simple statements, we can put ourselves into opposing forces and strain long-established personal relationships. We may say things in a Facebook post that we would never say in person.
This is perhaps the biggest problem with social media. Rather than bringing us together, it has the opposite effect. We become adversaries simply because of our voting choices. And the noise of dissension and disagreement only grows louder with every opinionated post.
For me, the answer is clear. It’s time to get out. As of this writing, I have already rid myself of many of these social accounts. Twitter is gone. I said goodbye to LinkedIn. I backed out of the new sites MeWe and Parler. (To be honest, I wasn’t so deeply invested in those social media applications, and I could get out fairly easily.)
As for Facebook – well, that’s another matter. I’m not worried so much about the old content. I managed to pull out all my pictures and transfer them to Google photos. And I downloaded all the other material. It’s the relationships I’m worried about.
So for Facebook I have a temporary solution. I have deactivated my account rather than deleting it. That leaves me access to all my friends through Messenger. It’s really a workaround. I am not totally out of Facebook — yet.
This all leaves me with some rather perplexing questions. Who are my real friends? What is a friend? I recall that Sir Francis Bacon wrote an essay on the subject called “On Friendship”. Maybe this is the time to investigate further, asking the hard questions. What does it mean to have a friend? Or to be a friend? No easy answers there.