on facebook

It’s complicated.

No, not my relationship status … though I’m actually not sure if that is still an option anymore! Ah, facebook.

Over the last year, I’ve noticed an increase in posts on facebook that refer to the need to take time away from the social networking site. I, myself, have consciously limited my time on facebook in favor of spending time away from the computer. Yet I still feel the need to have a presence on facebook and to be part of what has become an online community. Why?

I never really used facebook as a daily thing, or even a very personal thing. I used to go on facebook for inspiration. I’d go on and scroll through all the fluff to find new and different art and writing and music, inspiring and thoughtful posts and quotes. There are definite positives. Through facebook, I am able to connect with a multitude of people – old friends, new friends, contemporary writers and musicians and artists. I’ve also been able to share my work and publications, the work of others, and my perspective of the world.

And that is still what I use it for, although I realize that facebook means very different things to different people. Based on the network of “friends”, the whole landscape of facebook changes. Still, there is a certain amount of pressure inherent in the way it is set up. My teenage daughter’s facebook looks very different than mine, yet it is also (sometimes sadly) similar. They want to look hot, to be cool, to be seen as popular and talented and successful. And I don’t see it being very different from an adult perspective.

Facebook is based on illusory reality. It is not real life. It is a fractional representation of life, manipulated, based on what people choose to share and how they present themselves and their connections to others. This inherent manipulation varies from person to person. Egotistic and narcissistic people appear to thrive on facebook, especially when the goal is self-promotion. However, I believe that there are some people that aren’t even cognizant that through facebook, they are shaping an image of their own reality.

It’s an interesting concept. It’s also very interesting to see how others use facebook, because I know that many do not use it primarily the way I do. I find it amazing that some people post every few hours, every day. Some people obsess over their cats and dogs. Some people obsess over themselves. Everything they do or are part of is great! wonderful! amazing! They take countless photos of who they are (or in some cases, photoshopped photos of who they’d like to be) and where they are. They write about the sports teams they like and the food they eat. Some people post about their children. Others post their political and religious views. They post funny things, stupid things. They share ideals and frustrations. They share joy and sadness and hope. Everything is thrown out there into the facebook void in a very public way.

There is validation to be had on facebook. Look at how many friends you have! Look at how many people “like” or “comment” on your posts! Look at how hot/talented/popular you are! But I am aware of that sort of trap. I only post things for myself, telling myself that I don’t care if anyone “likes” it or not. I use it as a sort of time capsule, and post music and art and quotes that mean something to me at the time. But still, when I post something and people “like” it, I feel good. Which brings me to the flip side – not feeling good. What about someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends? Who doesn’t get a lot of “likes” and “comments”? It can make a person feel invisible, invalidated.

In addition, there are stresses and tensions and triggers to be found in the multitude. Through facebook, there are sometimes thoughtless, sometimes articulate, social, political, and religious arguments. Problems have arisen within relationships and families with facebook as the catalyst. My lover and I have actually had a serious conversation about whether or not we should have a “relationship status” on facebook. On one hand, I love this person! I want to share that with the world! On the other hand, I don’t feel that a partner should define another. I also feel that we have a private relationship, and I like it that way. The way it’s set up, where I live, what I do, and who I’m in a relationship with is all intertwined.

Sometimes people go on facebook and see what others are doing and it makes them feel bad about themselves. I have felt this too. On a bad day, I’ve gone on facebook to see that A has a three book contract! and B is in a beautiful locale on vacation!  and C is publishing a poetry chapbook! and D got published yet again! While I feel happy for them, it isn’t a short distance to begin to question what I’m doing. Will I ever even publish one book? Will I ever have enough money to take -a vacation- ?!? What is going on with the poetry chapbook I sent out? Ugh, I haven’t been sending out enough work – I need to publish more!

I feel that facebook is very confrontational. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nevertheless, when the focus is skewed and unchecked, it can actually become harmful. There have been many early studies showing that facebook is a place where depression, anxiety, jealousy, procrastination, and isolation thrive. Instead of developing relationships and doing things in real life, some people will stay attached to a screen, looking at facebook, for hours. Some people have their identity so attached to facebook that they can’t go anywhere or do anything without documenting it. Other people find that facebook only reinforces their sense of disconnection from the world.

Facebook is a double edged sword.

Earlier I had said that I feel the need to have a presence on facebook, and questioned why. It’s a human need to want to feel connected, to feel that one’s life is important, even in the smallest of ways. I love seeing pictures of my friend’s children as they grow. I love to stay in touch, however tangentially, with friends of mine who live far away. I want to support new work from artists and writers and musicians, and share that with others, too. As a writer, facebook has been great as a way of connecting others with my work. It has also been a great place for me to connect with other writers. (We writers can sometimes be a reclusive bunch!)

I love that I know so many different people through facebook, and that I am connected to their lives in however weird and warped way that may be. I already know that it is an illusory reality – but I try to remember that behind the facebook profiles are fragments of real people with real lives. I know that sometimes people who appear to be the most productive and successful are the ones who are the most desperate and unhappy in reality.

I see facebook for what it is, and I use it in a way that is most comfortable for me. It is enough for me to go on once or twice a week and focus on the positive potential of what facebook has to offer. Understanding and recognizing the role that social media plays in our lives is important. Even when I’ve had negative reactions, I was forced to question and examine my own responses and what that meant to the whole of my life. That can never be a bad thing. In facebook, as in life, how we use it, what we give, what we take, and what we learn from the experience makes all the difference.



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