Lately, people have been dropping out of Facebook like flies after a mosquito abatement patrol.
Yesterday, I became one of them.
My friends—both “real” and “virtual” were surprised—at least I assume my virtual ones were, I’m no longer able to find out. My real ones were for sure. When I sent out a group text anxiously requesting the secret of shutting down ones Facebook account (which, I assume purposefully, is harder than it should be) the response across the board was, “What? What happened? You love Facebook!”
Well, I do and I don’t.
The good stuff about Facebook is quite good. I’ve made connections there that would have been impossible to make anywhere else, particularly important for me as a writer because much of my life is solitary. The best of these connections have become as deep and meaningful to me as traditional friendships, and I have been blessed to find a like-minded tribe of fellow nerds, intellectuals and spiritualists who live as far away as India. This is no small feat when you consider that I rarely leave my house in this wind swept Chicago suburb except to walk the dogs, do yoga or go to the grocery store.
Even when I do travel I’m never in another place long enough to build solid relationships. I’ve met so many people for whom my soul cries out, but then I hop on a plane, and pre-social media, that was it—they were relegated to the landscape of memory, becoming less and less real and immediate over time. Post social media, those friendships and many others have been allowed to flourish and to grow.
But with Facebook, as with anything in life, there is also a dark side.
Problem #1: The time suck.
Human beings crave distraction; I am no exception. We wrestle with thoughts and feelings that are painful and difficult—sometimes impossible—to resolve 24 hours a day, and most, if not all of us, just really need a break.
We build these breaks into our lives in a great deal of ways, some more some less harmful depending on our intent and the extent to which we do them. We drink, we do drugs, we watch Netflix, we sleep, we read, we take road trips, we shop, we eat, we have sex, we exercise, we play video games, we do crosswords, we gossip, we go on social media and on and on and on.
Of all of these things, social media might be the most seductive for several reasons.
a) It is effortless. It literally requires no effort to lay in bed, turn on your computer and click on a website.
b) It is socially acceptable (pretty much)—no one is ever going to stage a “social media intervention”.
c) It is free.
d) It is gratifying—gratifying to be seen and heard in a way that we control, and to create a virtual representation of ourselves that is exactly what we want it to be, free of all the irksome details of reality.
Many Facebook (and other social media) users find themselves falling into a comfortable black hole for hours a day, hours that can never be reclaimed and that—though it may feel differently in the moment—essentially end up as a big fat zero.
Problem #2: Transubstantiation.
Traditionally the word “transubstantiation” means:
“The miraculous change by which according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma the eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine.” ~ Miriam Webster Dictionary
In the case of social media, we are too often replacing the “body and blood,” or the “real” and vital relationships in our lives, with the “bread and wine” of virtual ones. As with anything, in moderation that can be an enjoyable and even healthy component in our day to day existence, but how do we know when we’ve crossed the line? When the balance has tipped too far in the direction of the virtual at the expense of the actual?
For me, it took a particularly ugly incident to figure it out.
Tired of being messaged by people (men) I had no prior interaction with beyond hitting “accept” to their friend requests I posted this status:
“Dear new Facebook friends, just so you know, I am a very happily married middle aged mom of six. Please do not misinterpret my friending you as some kind of romantic invitation. If I get the sense that you have, I will immediately de-friend you, no questions asked. An extra fast way to get de-friended is to message me inane things like “hi” and “hey.” Thanks.”
That status got around 190 likes and over 40 comments—probably the most liked and commented on status I ever posted. Clearly, other people were experiencing a similar phenomenon.
I felt validated—I had put my finger on something important, yay me!
Then I got this message from someone I will call NYC, as the New York Yankees emblem is his profile picture:
“I know you’re going to block me after this, but I think I’m worth it. I’m not going to like the status you wrote about if someone doesn’t know you the quickest way to get blocked is to say hi or hello. Well I got pretty turned on by your selectivity and it made me want to dip my rock solid c**k down your wet throat.”
And when I didn’t respond, he continued, “That’s what I thought dumb bitch.”
In itself—at least in my experience—this guy’s twisted and desperate rudeness are the social media exception rather than the rule. Even so, and I am loathe to admit this, it frightened me. I suddenly wondered why I had put myself in a position to receive such vitriol and if the good parts of Facebook were worth the sick feeling this guy’s comment left me with.
I imagine all the Facebook-free hours stretching before me now, suddenly available to be filled up with more meaningful things; writing (real writing, not posts, no matter how hard hitting or inspirational they may be), yoga, cooking, meditation.
This morning alone I’ve gotten two loads of laundry done during my normal Facebook trolling time.
Just like anything, social media can be good or bad depending on how you approach it. It is not the promised land, nor is it poised to destroy civilization as we know it. And as with anything, particularly things that become habitual or mindless, it is always a good idea to take a step (or ten) back, regain our equilibrium, and allow ourselves to perceive if our behavior is healthy or has gotten a little bit out of control.
As for me, I’m sure I’ll be back on the inter webs—there are so many fun and good things to be found there. But when I do return, I will be much more discretionary about what I do and who I do it with, so I can maximize space for the beautiful reality I am lucky enough to actually live in.
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Bonus! Looking for an alternative to Facebook? Hello, Ello:
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Courtesy of Startbloggingonline.com