Every so often, life hands you a juxtaposition that may give you a unique perspective and make certain truths glaringly evident. In retrospect, you can see for yourself that those truths have always been true. I experienced this recently, and it gave me pause to reconsider my connectedness to the FaceBook “hive.” The “truth” I was faced with is that FaceBook connections are not necessarily “friends.” Obvious, right?
It is hard to believe I have been on FaceBook for over a decade of my life. I initially joined FaceBook after a popular photography website/sharing platform, “JPEG Magazine” fell out of favor due to some ethical issues, the details of which escape me now. Some JPEGers joined RedBubble and FaceBook as a means of staying connected with each other post JPEG. I was an avid amateur photographer at the time. On “JPEG,” I had found a core group of ladies who I admired not only for their photography, but also for the gracious way they interacted with others on the site. They were individuals I would still love to meet “in real life.”
That’s how it all started. Once a member of FaceBook, I started connecting with work friends, church friends, other local photographers, far strung cousins and other family, and people I sent to school with back in Tucson. One connection led to another, and another, and another. I told myself it was a great time saver, a way to stay in touch with all these people at the same time. If anyone wanted to know what was up with me, they could simply look at my FaceBook feed. I could wish the whole world a Merry Christmas all at the same time!
I had always been a shy person in my youth, a keeper of journals and writer of letters. Stepping out and sharing my photography and my thoughts on life via social media felt like something very brave. I was connecting myself to the world. I would be putting my creative work, ideas and opinions out there for the world to see.
I had already been on MySpace for a while, but FaceBook felt different, more grown up somehow. There were no web pages with music that auto-played, no web 2.0 horrid page backgrounds with graphics making profiles hard to read, no flashing gif animations.
When I looked at some of my oldest surviving FaceBook posts, they were very mundane. “Baking cookies,” “Working on church graphics,” just simple lines describing my activities and not really interacting. Over the course of a decade, Facebook added functionality for sharing and liking just about everything. At several points in my online life I found myself “oversharing” and later went in and deleted many photos and older posts that I thought were really no one’s business moving forward.
For the most part, I embraced the “connectedness.” I shared my photographs. I shared memes. I shared websites I found interesting stories on. I “reshared” missing children and animal photos. I wished “Happy Birthday,” “Merry Christmas,” “Happy New Year” etc. Convenient. One need never buy another greeting card! FaceBook was saving thousands of acres of forest worldwide.
I looked forward to receiving such greetings. I also looked forward to the “likes” and the “comments” on things I would share. These things felt somehow validating. You log onto FaceBook, look at your posts to see who “liked” them and feel closer to those people somehow. Trading my very cool hot pink metallic Motorola Razr for an even cooler iPhone allowed me to be connected to FaceBook and other social media 24/7.
In recent iterations of the FaceBook web interface and app, the notification center told me right away how many folks reacted to my posts. I opened the app to check notifications, skipping the general feed.
More often, however, I found myself scrolling endlessly and encountering many ads for things I did not need or want (later FaceBook’s cookies ensured more of these things were things I DID want). I encountered memes and videos that were not “enriching” being shared by my “friends.” I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing some of those things, without knowing that my friends and acquaintances “liked” such things. So, I asked FaceBook to “hide” certain feeds. FaceBook allows you to do this without alerting your friends that you have done so; no need to offend anyone with your lack of tolerance for their predilections.
If you are “on FaceBook,” none of this is news to you. By now you are probably asking, “So, what terrible thing happened that made you disconnect?” Perhaps you imagine some huge insult hurled by a neer-do-well outlier in my feed, or maybe a hijacked account. FaceBook being a microcosm reflecting the world at large, any number of unpleasantries could happen there.
The encounter in question happened in the real world and it was very subtle. I mentioned a juxtaposition. I found myself in the same room with a recent FaceBook “add” and my best friends. Pleasantries were exchanged, and I made an introduction to my friends. The favor was not returned with his party. There was a bit of additional conversation. Subtle. No knock-down, drag out, verbal exchanges, no bullying, not the usual drama that so much pervades the FaceBook environs. Just me, reflecting on “what would a ‘friend’ do versus someone I was less well acquainted with.”
Over the next few days, I kept thinking about the encounter and about other interactions on FaceBook. There were family members, church friends, work friends, MIDSAR friends and other friends who I genuinely enjoyed interacting with on social media. I loved to see the photography of my JPEG friends and other photographers I had started to follow. The groups I was a member of kept me up to date on things relating to search and rescue, missing persons, radio programming, and photography. But I did an honest personal “cost/benefit” analysis and found that those worthwhile interactions were far outnumbered by ads, memes and drama. I was connected to people I really didn’t want to be sharing intimate details of my life with. Yes, you can “unfriend” people. Yes, you can limit what you see on your feed. You can limit what you post, what you share. Often people do not do this when they should, though.
I remember seeing a video in my FaceBook feed that showed what FaceBook would look like in real life. If was very comical, but made me think. If I had to tell everyone face to face something that I shared on FaceBook with EVERYONE, would I do that? In most cases, “probably not,” was my conclusion. If I had to show everyone photos of something I ate in person, would I do that? Probably not. Would I show them all my cat photos and videos, share my memories of my mother, bits of family history? No. Practically all my FaceBook posting was “oversharing” when viewed that way.
For a couple of days, I ruminated on these things. I was sitting in the lunchroom at work when I finally decided to “go dark” and take a break from FaceBook. I wasn’t sure I wanted to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” so I did not permanently disconnect.
I have found myself turning to other social media like mental “fidget spinners.” I have many fewer connections on the other platforms. I watch a lot of cookie/cake decorating and calligraphy. I posted a couple images and reacted to some posts, but the pace is slower, the “hive” is less integrated. It feels more like browsing content than being in a large room filled with all the people you know, all talking at the same time.
I have other ways of reaching out to just about everyone who was on my FaceBook feed. I have sent a few texts, written a few emails about things I would probably have shared on FaceBook. Interestingly, I share much less often and with a much narrower audience. I tend to “think” more before I “speak.” Would so-and-so be interested in this? Is it important enough to share? Is it just silly? Will it make someone smile?
The openness of social media platforms encourages us to say “anything.” It doesn’t ask us, “Are you sure you want to say that?” “Did you really want to ‘cc’ everyone you know in your communication?” “Have you thought about how so-and-so would feel about that regarding that thing that just happened to him/her?” Unless you are specifically tagging and targeting each of your posts, you are sharing with “the world” or at least YOUR world. And, maybe you “Don’t care who knows it”…whatever it is, but would you really shout it from the highest rooftop in your neighborhood, or send it in an email to everyone you know? Would you write a letter and mail it? Would you care if they showed it to your Mom? Your pastor? The immediacy of FaceBook paired with FaceBook Messenger allows folks to broadcast without much thought of consequences.
I have to admit these thoughts were secondary to the initial observation of differences between real friends and “FaceBook friends.” In any case, my feelings about FaceBook have tended to the negative, at least for me right now.
So, I will miss seeing your animal photos, the posts about your crazy day, getting a heads-up on missing persons that might require a SAR team, knowing when a kayaking trip is on the verge of being scheduled and getting real time feedback about when and where. I will miss your tagging me on photos of real world events and seeing our smiling faces show up in my feed. I hope that you will discover FaceBook is not the only way to stay in touch with me, and that maybe we can even TALK in person sometime.