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Facebook and the 'Social Network' Misnomer
September 24, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
Have you noticed that Facebook has changed the way you interact with people in real life? Say you meet an acquaintance by chance at the store. You don't really need to ask how they are doing or what they've been up to, because you already know.
Or you start to tell them about your latest news, but they interrupt you: "Yeah, I read your Facebook post." Kind of takes the wind out of your sails, huh?
Then again, if you launch right into "So, how was your mother's surgery this morning?" your Facebook pal may look at you as if you're a stalker!
Or how about the times you assume they are caught up on your life because you've posted about it, and you start talking about how much it's going to cost to move and they're like, "Whoa! You're moving! i didn't know that? Where? Why didn't you tell me!" Do you get a little annoyed that they haven't kept up with your life?
What I'm embarrassed to admit is I sometimes read my news feed without paying attention to who posted what. So I don't know if it's Susie's kid or Cindy's who has a broken arm, and I can't remember — was it Jack or Bob? — who just went to Vegas and won $5,000 at blackjack? For a so-called social network, this could really screw up your social life.
The "social network" thing is somewhat of a sham, isn't it. I really think it's a shame that we use Facebook as an excuse NOT to call each other and NOT to get together. I don't need to call my high school friend who lives 3,000 miles away because I know her daughter is getting ready to homecoming, she got a raise at her job and she just remodeled her kitchen (for the third time). What's there to say?
The thing is, unless you are actually communicating back and forth — whether in a so-called private message or an email or by phone, you don't REALLY know what's going on. You don't know that her daughter's homecoming date backed out on her two days before the dance or that she hates her job or that she's a remodel-aholic because her husband is cheating on her and it's the one thing in her life she feels she can control.
You won't know these things unless you actually reach out to her.
What happens instead is that, at the same time Facebook provides a peak into our friends' lives, it flings the door wide open to jealousy. To head off the green-eyed monster, I know a couple people who have gone on Facebook fasts. One of my best friends gave up Facebook for Lent because she found herself becoming jealous and unhappy reading about others' successes and vacations and shopping sprees. Another also gave it up for the same reason — the urge to compare her life to theirs was too great. Another gave it up for a time because it sucked her in and simply took too much time away from what she knew she should be doing.
While the latter is somewhat of a challenge for me, the comparison thing doesn't affect me much. Show me your photos from Greece and your beautiful babies and your new car and your date-night pics. I'm OK with all of that. In fact, I truly enjoy seeing my friends and acquaintances having a good time! And I know that their lives aren't perfect all the time. Everyone likes to put up their highlights reel. Why wouldn't they?
Sometimes, though, I admit that I do allow jealousy to permeate my Facebook experience. It has everything to do with other writers. I don't read the work of some pretty phenomenal writers whom I follow on Facebook ... because I don't want to feel inferior. When I read a particularly good blog post, it can depress me for the rest of the day! (Crazy, huh?) I used to feel the same way after attending a ballet or a dance show ... because I longed so much to be able to move my body like that. I was jealous, plain and simple. Now that I'm older, I know I will NEVER come even close to being able to move like that, so I don't feel badly when I watch them perform! I can revel in their talents without feeling crappy about my own abilities, or lack thereof. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes when I read a good blog post, I moan: "I wish I could write like that" or "How does he/she come up with such brilliant analogies?" or "I could never be that insightful or eloquent." So sometimes I just pass over something that I know is good or that I know I will enjoy or that I know I ought to read ... because I don't want to feel bad.
So, I understand the jealousy aspect some of my friends have described.
Many of my friends, and I too, are trying to be more "real" on Facebook. We want everyone to know we're not perfect. We are self-deprecating, perhaps to a fault. There's a fine line with that, isn't there? You don't want to always be fishing for sympathy -- that gets tiresome both on a computer screen AND in real life. But sometimes, Facebook comes in handy for finding much-needed support in a time of trouble or hardship. I am grateful for that.
Facebook certainly has its troubling aspects. The privacy and advertising stuff are worrisome. The safety and security of our kids on Facebook needs to be ensured. And the bullying that takes place can be horrendous, I'm told. I am fortunate that I have had very few problems with Facebook friends getting nasty or hurtful with each other, even on my public pages.
Barring those bigger and more obvious issues, the undercurrent of Facebook I find the most problematic is what I mentioned earlier, the "connected disconnect" it is causing in our society ... the fact that we know but we don't really know what's going on with our friends.
I find Facebook to be an amazing resource and a fun diversion. I love seeing pictures of my friends' kids, keeping up with prayer requests, laughing at the witty memes, hearing the amazing stories that have gone viral and even knowing what's going on with my favorite entertainers. But I need to TALK to people in person and hang out with them to really feel connected. I need a real-life social network. Don't we all?
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