I am a Luddite. Practically everyone I know has been on social media for what seems like a lifetime. My brother and several friends pestered me about my Facebook unfriendliness. My mother and Max were on the other side of the argument. In fact, I don’t think I exaggerate much when I say that Max has always thought that Facebook leads down the road to perdition. Max may not be the best measuring stick of reasonableness when it comes to internet privacy, but I have to say that I was not too far behind him when it came to social media. I can’t say exactly what about Facebook bothered me, but something about it just did not feel right to me.
Finally, alone in my bedroom one night, I succumbed to peer pressure. I signed up for a Facebook account. As soon as I did it, my gut seized up. It felt like I was doing something clandestine and dangerous. I tried to do a couple of things, just to see if the feeling went away. It did not, so I deleted the account as secretly as I had created it. Even in those split seconds, people found me and were confounded when they tried to contact me and found I had disappeared.
A few months after my midnight tryst with Facebook, I published my book. I decided that, if I was ever going to face my social media demons, promoting my book was a good reason to do so. I took a deep breath, had a glass of wine, and reactivated my account. All of a sudden, I had a social media presence.
I don’t think I’m the only person on the planet who has been reluctant to join Facebook. Now that I’ve been wandering around in the nooks and crannies of Facebook for some time, I thought I’d share some lessons learned.
Facebook is fun.
All in all, I like Facebook. Color me shocked. I enjoy connecting with people from my past and finding family members that I can barely remember. Facebook is a reassuringly low-pressure way to relate to people… especially people with whom I’m not sure I want an ongoing relationship. I love seeing people’s pictures, playing the silly little quizzes and trivia games, marveling at the cute videos of precocious animals, and pondering pithy quotes. Facebook is a quick way to share pictures with friends and keep them updated about my adventures. It is also a useful tool for promoting my book and my blog. I’ve joined a couple of Facebook groups that have been helpful in enriching my real life.
Facebook is seductive.
I’ve spent way too much time pretending to live a life on the internet. When I first began to engage with the Facebook community, I found myself weighing in on virtually anything anybody asked and wondering at the wisdom nuggets manufactured for Facebook consumption. I couldn’t seem to detach myself from my phone. At night, I spent many what-should-not-have-been-waking hours trawling around the Face-o-sphere. I found that watching cute animal videos and stalking people I used to know did nothing positive for my sleep problems. Facebook was addicting. I was always afraid that I was going to miss something exciting if I put down the phone and went to sleep. I did start to balance things better as the novelty wore off. The bloom was a bit off the rose. I still seem to be an active poster and I admit to sometimes rifling through the latest tidbits way past the time I should be asleep. However, I did find that the originally time suck effect does dissipate.
Facebook encourages frenemies.
I was raised to be a polite, kind person. I was the little girl in elementary school who the teacher asked to help the child having a hard time fitting in with the others. I am a shy, introverted person, but I also have a heart for befriending others. I can’t bear to leave anyone out, hurt anyone’s feelings, or create any kind of unpleasantness. In other words, my skin is not nearly thick enough nor is my temperament anywhere near callous enough to be trusted with a Facebook account. It is not that I am naïve or gullible. Well, I am naïve and gullible, but my internet paranoia is sufficient to keep me from arranging physical meetings with IRL strangers and sending thousands of dollars to Nigeria.
Still, there are stranger dangers that have nothing to do with physical safety. Within hours of signing up for Facebook, I was getting numerous friend requests from people all over the world. Many of these requests were from strange (likely in more ways than one) men. At first, I was accepting these requests and engaged in some initial conversations. My profile reveals that I am in a relationship and I always made it clear from the start that I had a boyfriend with whom I am very happy. Such details did not seem to deter them. The “conversations” were stilted and grammatically challenged. There was something kind of “off” about the language. When I explored around their Facebook offerings, I noticed that there were some troubling inconsistencies. Many seemed to come from cities that don’t exist. They often had no friends or all their friends had names and pictures that seemed completely different from the image of themselves they were portraying with me. When I asked my new friends how we knew each other or why they had reached out to me, the responses were flattering and highly improbable. It took me a hot minute, but I soon learned to delete these new “friends” and to stop accepting such requests.
There was no harm done by these “friendships,” except to my self-confidence. It didn’t take long for me to wonder how pathetic my pictures on Facebook must look to inspire so many men to think me desperate enough to be catfish bait. It took a little bit of soul-searching before I came up with a satisfying response to my insecurity demons. That response? I really don’t care what Facebook strangers think of my looks. People I care about love me anyway.
Facebook shows you a new side of people you thought you already knew.
At first, it was a little disconcerting to meet the Facebook personas of people I know and love in real life. It turns out that I do know these people. I know who they are with me. That doesn’t necessarily mean I know who they are with others. There were a few friends who seemed to have a very different dynamic when relating to other folks in their life. It wasn’t that they showed a sinister side of themselves or that I discovered anything unpleasant. It was just a bit disorienting to realize that I did not know them as holistically as I always thought I did. While this made me uncomfortable at first, I soon realized that I was getting the opportunity to form a deeper, more dimensional relationship with these friends. It also reminded me that everyone has many sides to his or her personality and manner of relating to the world. I think knowing this makes me a more empathetic, curious person.
Facebook is not for the faint of heart (or the thin of skin).
For me, one of the less pleasant aspects of Facebook is that it is a battleground for drama. People post all kinds of things. Some people are mean-spirited. Some espouse views to which I could never subscribe. Some have no idea what they are talking about and just spread urban legends. Some get offended very easily and make no secret of their hurt feelings, which just starts another sortie of firestorm amongst posters. It can be exhausting and emotionally dangerous. It is best to learn early not to take anything anyone posts too seriously. It is also best not to assume anyone’s intent based on how they come across on social media. Posting on Facebook lacks many of the subtleties of polite society- nuances of expression that help to enrich our communication. Therefore, the message that a person is intending to send can be received very differently. It is usually best to emerge from the relative safety of the Facebook trenches and engage personally with a poster if you feel hurt by a particular post. If you find that you regularly feel annoyed, hurt, or any other unpleasant emotion, consider changing your privacy settings and limiting your circle of “friends” to those people who bring positivity to your interactions.
Facebook is no longer cool.
As much as I want to believe that engaging with Facebook means I am teetering on the cutting edge of communication technology, that is not the case. Remember when email was the hippest way to communicate? Now, people barely look at their email. And I don’t know why anyone even bothers with a telephone call any more. The only way to be sure you relay critical information to anyone is to text. The same is true for Facebook. It figures. I finally stick my toe in the Facebook water and they close the “cool pool.” Even though I am just starting out in this brave new world of cyberspace communication, all the cool kids are using Twitter and Instagram. I am still a Luddite.
What do you think about social media communication? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a social day!