The Problem With Facebook
An old friend and I recently chatted about Facebook. Because we live across the country from one another, FB is probably our main source of communication these days. We both commented on how sad and sort of strange that was, considering the fact that we were children of the ’80s and teens of the ’90s, back when supporting a friend meant more than just clicking “like” whenever she changed her status or typing “You look awesome!” after seeing her newly updated profile picture.
My friend sent me hand-written letters when I went away to summer camp.
We passed each other notes in high school.
We mailed birthday cards and care packages throughout college.
And in adulthood, we write type “I miss you” every few weeks on a wall and flip through electronic photo albums from hundreds of miles away. I have never met her two children, but would recognize them in a crowd. I don’t know any of her neighbors, but if I met them at a party, I could probably rattle off a few names. I can tell you her birthday, her alma mater, her religious views and the exact date of her engagement, wedding and the births of her two daughters with a cursory glance at a screen.
It’s amazing, really. But it’s weird too.
FB has changed the way we cultivate and maintain relationships forever. As great as it is to see old friends’ pictures and status updates online, facebook makes the act of maintaining contact with people almost a little too easy, too passive. Sometimes I wonder if I would pick up the phone and actually call people more often if it weren’t so easy to send a text or a fb message instead. My guess is that I probably would. And anyway, what’s the point of calling? I already know what’s going on in my friend’s life. It’s right there on her profile page. So I end up calling her far less often than I used to. Or sometimes, not at all. But I can’t blame FB for that. That’s my fault.
And then there’s the way that FB connects us back to people we would have certainly lost touch with otherwise, the ones where it would be absolutely bizarre to actually call them on the phone. This is the type of connection that offers glimpses into the lives of former classmates, co-workers and acquaintances; the people whose houses we were never invited to, but we were always mildly curious about. My 10-year high school reunion came pre-facebook, so there was actually a lot to catch up with former classmates about, which made it really exciting and fun. Since then, I have followed along (on FB, of course, not via actual conversations) as they got promotions, had weddings, delivered babies, lost parents, bought houses and took tropical vacations. In a few years, will the 20-year reunion even be necessary? And if we have it, will anyone pull out their wallet to show off pictures of their kids? Of course not. They’ll pull out their smartphones.
If you’re still reading, you might be getting the impression that I dislike Facebook. Wrong-ola. I freakin’ LOVE it. I’m on it all the time. Too much actually. I rarely do status updates or post new pictures, but I use it to promote my blog posts (it’s how you got here, isn’t it?) and–you guessed it–get the latest scoop on what everyone I’ve ever known is thinking, feeling and doing. It is easy to be swept into facebook’s undertow when you’re a classic voyeur like me. Just look at my job–I’m all up in people’s business all day long. Of course I love facebook.
Until one of those people I just casually observe from afar hits a rough patch. And then it just feels…creepy.
Two people in my newsfeed switched their status from “married” to “single” in the past two weeks. I haven’t talked to either of them in years, and would never have known about their divorces if it weren’t for Facebook. I felt like it was none of my business, which it wasn’t, and I can imagine how painful it might have been for them to make that switch. But aside from stepping away (oh, the horror!) or disconnecting a fb account altogether, how do you avoid correcting that basic fact on your page? Facebook is great fun when your life is all yummy dinners and road trips, but if things aren’t going all that well, I imagine logging on could really suck.
Single and hating it? Someone else is showing off their shiny new engagement ring. Struggling with infertility? A chubby baby will come bouncing into your news feed every 13 minutes. Hungry? Well, Susie just ate the.best.cupcake.EVER. NOM.NOM.NOM. The world is now seen through instagram-tinted glasses, and everyone is having an AH-MAZ-ING time. Except for you. You’re at home eating ramen for the third night in a row while watching Amish Mafia in your stained sweatpants. (It’s not true by the way; they’re probably home in sweatpants too, but who wants to upload a picture of that?)
And can you imagine what it must be like for teenagers? Ugh! It must be awful! Thank God Facebook didn’t exist when I was in high school or college. I don’t think my self-esteem could have handled the hits–the constant physical comparisons, the online hazing, the incessant stream of pictures taken at parties I wasn’t invited to. Of the one billion FB subscribers, teenagers are the ones I feel sorry for.
I bet they don’t know the thrill of having a note passed to them in class. It’s so much simpler to text.
I’m sure they get very few cards mailed to them on their birthdays. It only takes two seconds to scribble greetings on a FB wall.
And I’m certain they don’t write letters on paper anymore. They probably think envelopes are vintage.
Teenagers probably don’t remember what communicating was like before Facebook. I’m sure they never feel nostalgic about the daily run to the mailbox, or fully appreciate the beautiful possibilities held in a blank sheet of paper. I bet they don’t remember the English language before it was reduced to clips and acronyms. They have no concept of the richness conversations used to hold, before we were all so distracted by the beeps, alerts and notifications ringing in our pockets.
They don’t remember, but I do. So I’m logging off now. There are a few phone calls I need to make.