Settle in, this is long…
I’m often asked a question to which my response is met with amazement, bemusement, contempt, incredulity and on occasion – admiration. The question is quite simply “Do you have Facebook?” The even simpler answer is “No”. At no stage in its existence have I ever really desired access to this ubiquitous contagion. Nevertheless, this has not prevented it from impacting my life. Therefore, in the interests of 1) not having to explain myself time and time again (by now being able to direct people to this blog) and more importantly 2) explaining the dynamic that inevitably helps or hinders one’s goals in life by being a user of Facebook, I’ve decided to do what everyone else does who has a blog and bore you with my tedium on the topic. But first some caveats:
- I accept the usefulness of Facebook in maintaining contact with close ones when traveling abroad or living great distances apart
- I recognise the wonderful ways in which Facebook assists us in connecting with people we have lost touch with in the past and
- I am sure for many people the positives outweigh the negatives of pursuing this great pastime. (Let’s face it, by the sheer enormity of our connection to Facebook, surely it deserves the status of “pastime”, which in itself is a disturbing thought.)
But in saying this there are many issues that counter the arguments above and whilst they are not the main thrust of what I am here to say it is nevertheless important to remind ourselves that:
- Facebook can indeed be an incredible waste of time for many people. The stats don’t lie people. Whilst many of you might regard yourselves as efficient and disciplined users, it might pay to put a stopwatch on your usage over the course of a week and see how those numbers look.
- Facebook has very little regard for your privacy. It has proven this on multiple occasions. Don’t even ask me how this is possible, but a Google search of “Facebook” yields 5 billion results whereas a search on “Facebook privacy” yields 8 billion results! By all means take the time to do some reading if you haven’t already. It’s pretty hard to miss considering articles are produced by major news establishments at an unrelenting rate. (Reduce that previous search of “Facebook privacy” to the last 24 hours and filter it down again to just “News” and you’ll still get 24,000 results.)
- Facebook has an incredibly long memory (like the Internet). It neither forgets, nor forgives.
- Facebook breeds narcissism.
- Facebook cultivates insecurity.
- Facebook feeds addiction.
All of these things above have been written about extensively, so my purpose was not to rehash them here. My purpose however, is to take a bigger picture view of life itself and talk about its very “meaning” in the context of those things that seek to reduce that “meaning”. Like a lot of people, I’m keenly interested in why we are here. I’m also interested in why we do what we do. Therefore, if you were to ask me why I don’t use/have Facebook then more so than any other reason it is because it quite simply reduces meaning in life. Now of course we all have different ways in defining meaning in our lives, so I will try to break it down to see if you can find some common threads.
1. Facebook trivialises relationships.
Why do we have so many friends on Facebook? Do we really want to know what they are up to? Do they really want to know what we are up to? Is it really that necessary for me to have someone connected on the basis that I simply might need to connect to them at some stage in the future. In such a short amount of time we have managed to create more relationships that actually mean less. We have uncompromisingly chosen quantity over quality. And yet, this goes against what we are really seeking in life – meaningful relationships. People often tell me how it was amazing that they were able to get in touch with someone from their past through Facebook. I would counter two points to that: 1) There is a reason that person is no longer in your life. We aren’t meant to keep in touch with everyone. That is life. And it is neither good nor bad. It just is. And if that person IS definitely worth getting back in touch with then 2) You would find a way to find them if you really wanted to. This in turn means the effort would be greater (and therefore more rewarding) and met with even more gratitude one would imagine (where such seeking is reciprocated).
Another aspect relating to the trivialising of relationships is the nature of the communication that takes place between people. It can either be 1) public (highly trivial unless for example, announcing the birth of a child) or 2) private (surely this too is trivial as a meaningful conversation between two individuals might at least require a phone conversation or face to face?) Whilst it is easy to hammer away at the points mentioned earlier about narcissism and insecurity, let’s instead look at this a little more deeply. Is it really us seeking our 15 minutes of fame? Why is it so often I hear from friends and siblings that they can’t believe someone has posted something, belittling the interactions of friends or family. Does anyone ever tell that person they share those concerns about the nature of their comments? Or are they not close enough for us to be that truthful towards them? Doesn’t that right there capture a simple yet recurring sadness of what it is we are engaged in? A “friend” posting something or with such regularity for us to then somehow think less of them, whilst not having the decency to actually be honest about it?
In the world of relationships, Facebook is the bastion of false security. We engage on our terms, at a distance and are free to react however we please. We sever that most precious of ties that make us beings that relate. Ones that empathise and share and look each other in the eye when we talk to each other about things that matter in our lives. Ones that detect a tone in a loved one’s voice over the phone that suggests a plea for help. We post a vibrant and vacuous self image to everyone whilst we suffer in an ever increasing isolation. We present whom we want to be, not who we are. We lie to our Facebook friends about the great lives we lead, but more importantly we lie to ourselves.
And yet, the great paradox is that we want to be heard. But why? Why do we need to be heard to feel loved and important? After all, seeking 500 empty Happy Birthday’s from Facebook friends because they ALL got the notification means absolutely nothing. In fact, it is worse than nothing, because it takes away from the joy of someone actually remembering your birthday. You now don’t even know who actually does remember your birthday because EVERYONE got reminded by Facebook. So why is all of this paradox? Well, in our search for meaning we want to relate, but in seeking it in such desperate ways it only increases our isolation and emptiness because by its very nature it has no meaning. This is the absolute fundamental point. We choose our friends. We fight for them. We cling to them. We laugh with them. We cry with them. They are the people we need in life and they are the people that need us. Our family and our friends bring us meaning in life because they understand and accept us just as we understand and accept them. We don’t choose our Facebook friends. We are conned into having them.
I could easily talk about the ending of romantic relationships and what that might mean for the sufferers who both have Facebook accounts. But fortunately, I don’t have Facebook so largely I am unaffected. Nevertheless, I am convinced it can’t be healthy to see an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend and what they happen to be doing with their lives post-relationship. Space, closure, separation. These are the things Facebook is not good at.
2. Technology = Convenience = Better?
So often in life we assume every piece of technology that comes along makes life better for us. We so easily see that by the introduction of a new peace of technology life has become “easier” or more “convenient”. Does that make it better? I’m not suggesting by default that it doesn’t, but I am asking that we conscientiously ask ourselves that question every time something new and exciting enters our realm. Nowadays we walk less, we run less, we stand less, we eat more, we watch more, we have devices that do everything for us. Is this what life is about? I’m quite prepared to admit that technology may give us freedoms and liberties, but what was ever wrong with hard work? What was wrong with having to wait for something and not get it immediately. Why is it that having everyone connected to us all the time through Facebook actually makes our lives better? Before mobile phones people made plans and met up with each other. Now a simple meet up for a coffee or beer involves about half a dozen text (sms) messages between leaving home and seeing our friend 20 minutes later. Have we become stupid as a society in the space of 20 years? Furthermore, that same little piece of technology allows us to “flake” on our plans. Better offers come up last minute and we take them knowing we can easily contact the person we had “committed” to meet in the first place and aplogise ever so insincerely that the engagement can’t be met from the protective layer of a virtual message.
3. More time on Facebook means less time for contemplation and thought.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be stuck on a desert island with access to little more than basic food and shelter? Whilst a few might desire such a blissful state, I’m sure for the majority of us this would represent an extreme wrenching from our present state of being. One with messages coming at us through the TV, Radio, Newspaper, Internet, Phone, Billboards and so on. Our current state of being barely even allows for us to be alone with our thoughts. Have you ever noticed how rare it is for people these days to wait somewhere, be it on a street corner or out the front of the cinema for a friend and actually NOT be looking at their mobile device? What is it that drives us to feel the need to get some kind of status update on anything and everything all of the time? Is it boredom, is it insecurity, is it the fear of having to look strangers in the eye as they pass us by and greet them or is it simply that we have lost our ability to be alone with our thoughts? But it does beg the question: How rarely our we alone with our thoughts? And furthermore, is this really good for us? “A life not contemplated is a life not worth living.” No prizes for guessing who said that.
4. Facebook is the great promoter of the trivial.
When was the last time you worked on your goals? And how did that time compare to your time on Facebook? Or reading the news for the 7th time that day even though the articles are the same as the ones you saw the 1st time or reading a blog or looking at humorous pictures or videos? If you needed to make more time available to pursue something meaningful in your life what would be sacrificed? We are always time poor, yet we somehow manage to amass an enormous amount of time each day to mobile phones, iPads, Twitter and Facebook. If we really want to achieve things in life then we must make sacrifices. Difficult choices must be made. And yet, there are obvious ways we can do this. Surely our time on the Internet should be the first to go? Or at the very least reduced. There are many ways we can inspire ourselves to greatness, but in reality it usually comes down to one thing: getting off our bums and doing something about it.
I’m not asking you to get rid of Facebook. Do I think your life would be better if you did? Yes. But that is a personal opinion. If I were to so audaciously ask you anything it would be this: Every time you log on and read something trivial, post something trivial or simply spend more time that you personally believe is worthwhile based on productivity, relaxation, entertainment or any other metric that matters to you, then do so in a conscious way. Be aware of your usage and be aware of what is being sacrificed in your life in order to make the most of the trivial. And so finally, I will leave you with a fascinating thought:
“More than ever, the grand sum of all earthly knowledge, wisdom and information is available to everyone in the world that has an (unfiltered) Internet connection. The question we must therefore ask ourselves is what are we doing every time we log on?”
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