take THAT to the bank and cash it, zuckerberg

Because every other blogger is using the facebook logo today. (credit: Wikipedia)

So, the May 2012 issue of Atlantic Monthly rocked my world. When I flew to Kansas and back a few weekends ago, and had several glorious hours of airport and plane time when I GOT TO BE ALONE (!), I read the May 2012 issue from cover to cover. I DEVOURED it.

So the cover article of this issue is titled Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? You might remember, Katie, that I was a latecomer to facebook, relatively speaking (to my GARRULOUS generation of peers). I joined mid-grad-school-career, in 2008 (June 29, to be exact. What ‘up, timeline!), after some peer-pressure and angsting.  And one of the first exchanges on my wall, with our (funny) mutual friend, Pat, went like this:

Maria’s Wall:

me: Is facebook giving us a false sense of intimacy by making us think we know one another better than we really do?

Pat: Oh, Maria. You and your psychoanalyzing. Facebook doesn’t want to give you a false sense of anything.

Since my first days on it, I’ve had sort of a love/hate relationship with facebook. Here are the pros:

  • Having fun with goofy status updates.
  • Finding friends from the past who I was afraid I’d lost forever.
  • Sharing updated pictures with friends and family who sincerely want to see them.
  • Letting my friends be an Internet filter for me so I’m always hooked into the funny and important stuff.
  • Getting to know things about my friends/family that wouldn’t have come up otherwise.

An example of the third one down in “cons.” Post your guesses in the comments. (thanks, paula.)

But here is the thing. The cons are sort of the flip sides of the pros, which is like life, I guess. Here are the cons:

  • Having to endure boring status updates.
  • Being found by friends from the past who I hoped I’d lost forever.
  • Getting tagged in updated pictures I didn’t want anyone to see, boring friends and family with updated pictures they don’t really want to see, and being consumed with envy by updated pictures other people share, that I obviously shouldn’t see.
  • Having to filter my Internet filter because of all of the stupid and dogmatic stuff.
  • Getting to know things about my friends/family that wouldn’t have come up otherwise.

Initially, I used “friend finder” and sent “friend requests” and “friended” everyone: ex-boyfriends, current students, people who made me miserable in high school. Everyone. And this style of collecting-more-friends-than-is-really-socially-possible is not for me. I soon found that being on facebook was pissing me off more than it was bringing me pleasure. I thought that the answer might be to cut 2/3 of my friends. I thought the problem was them. I thought it was their fault that, when I spent time on facebook, I logged off feeling sad, angry, jealous, or a bitter cocktail of all three.

It probably goes without saying that cutting 2/3 of your friend list is not the way to handle your emotional reactions on facebook. Now I just feel like a jerk. And too embarrassed to “re-friend” them. What am I gonna say? “See, remember when we met in high school/college/at that bar/church/job and I wasn’t medicated yet? Sometimes I go off my medication now and de-friend people with the assumption that they won’t notice/ won’t care/ will intuitively understand why I would do that. Please re-friend me so that you can jump on the roller-coaster that is my life.”

It’s just not happening.

So now I’ve got my friend list down to a manageable size, I use more discretion with friend requests, and Zuckerberg has understood that users need a “hide” option to avoid hurting everyone we’ve ever known. And, before the May 2012 Atlantic, I wouldn’t have admitted all of this about my facebook habits. But it turns out, I’m not the only one. This is usually the case when I think I’m crazy. This is why my generation likes to talk about ourselves, B. R. Meyers. I’m sorry we bore you.

Ultimately, the answer to the question posed in the title of the piece is, “No. Facebook isn’t making you lonely. You’re doing it to yourself.” It’s true. I usually get sucked into facebook late at night, when I can’t sleep, and am feeling bad about the world in general. This is when I catch myself looking through a friend’s timeline and feeling jealous of her and alienated from her life and forget that she could very well be going through the same thing at that moment with me, and my timeline. (I haven’t actually updated to timeline yet, but 90 out of 124 of my friends have, says the header at my home page. So I think, Pat, facebook does want to give me a false sense of my own ineptitude.)

The article concludes that, like all technology, facebook’s potential is up to its users. We decide how we want it to work for us. And I totally buy this, in principle.

But, in practice? Well…I just logged on to find those previous quotes and pictures. Even while writing this post, being totally mindful of these habits, I get a bit distracted by a picture update of my friend, Cassy…

What a great picture! She always posts such great pictures. Man, she’s beautiful. So is her dog. She’s lucky her dog is still alive. I sure miss mine. Look at all the cool places she goes. It’s so much easier to travel when you don’t have kids. What’s this she’s posted about Gov. Brownback signing a bill in Kansas that allows pharmacists to refuse women birth control? This is outrageous! Just when I think this country’s making progress I see shit like this. Wait. She’s graduated? What kind of friend am I? I haven’t even called her to say congratulations.

And on and on…

So, yeah. Me and facebook. It’s complicated. But, if you liked this post, share it on facebook!


14 thoughts on “take THAT to the bank and cash it, zuckerberg

  1. Going public means that before today Facebook was a privately held company. Now that it’s publicly traded they have to file quarterly financial statements with the SEC and be more transparent with their finances. In exchange they get money. It’s basically a way to raise funds without taking out a loan, instead they’re selling little stakes in ownership (shares), and this is equity financing in a very small nutshell.

  2. Maria, I actually had a really similar Facebook experience as the one you described — but it relates to you! When I first moved back to Oregon, some of my friends were asking and asking for me to put pics of my new place up on FB. I was thinking about it, but then I saw the photo album of all the fabulous photos you had posted of your home, and I was like, holy crap, my house looks like a dump compared with these! No one wants to see my lame house! I felt self-conscious because your decorating and home were so beautiful and perfect. Isn’t it funny how our brains work? I should have just appreciated your lovely photos, and not thought twice about posting my own. But Facebook makes it so easy to draw comparisons and feel self-conscious. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • That’s too funny. Especially b/c I’ve been self-conscious about posting those, thinking “Anyone who didn’t specifically ask me to post pictures of our new place is going to think I’m sooooo self-absorbed.”

      Yes, the Atlantic article also says that facebook lets us create these perfect lives for ourselves to present to everyone. I think this is true, but I also think there is something to be said for finding beauty IN our everyday lives, capturing and appreciating it….

  3. I always like the statement, “I hope your life is as wonderful as you make it on Facebook.”. However, There is beauty in everyday life, you’re right. If it makes you feel better, I didn’t join Facebook until March or April 2009. Sometimes I wish I never did, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to read all these great posts from an old friend, who I’m grateful for not defriending on me yet. 😉

    • Ha, that’s a good line. I haven’t heard that one. True, true. Please don’t tell anyone about the de-friending thing. Oh, wait. i just wrote about it on the Internets….

  4. Wow, I was expecting a different post when I read the title and was pleasantly surprised. I have a really hard time with how to use Facebook since I’m an introvert. Tossing anything personal at a digital crowd is unappealing.

    At one point, for a period of several months, I ventured out to use FB like many of my friends do. It took people by surprise since it was so out of character for me. My goals were: allow friends and acquaintances a chance to know me better and an experiment in self destruction. I figured I would be opening myself up to all the feelings that you described and didn’t know if I had the coping mechanisms for dealing with them. I didn’t. But it was good to learn that.

    There were lots of things that I learned, but a big one was FB is best used as a supplement to real world relationships. When it stops enhancing and starts hindering real world interactions, that’s the time to stop.

    I like the psychoanalyst posts. This one was really good.

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