I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I know many feel this way and that I am not alone. There has been much that has been written and studied about the negative effects of social media- everything from how many friends are the optimal number to enhance happiness to how smartphone use by parents can negatively impact their children. We know that the data is out there but there is something so addictive about Facebook (N.B. Facebook addiction has also been studied). I can't stop refreshing my News Feed. It's like a nervous tick. And the more that I focus on not doing it, the more I want to.
My husband, Kishore, is not on Facebook and I envy him. Yesterday, he was looking over my shoulder as I refreshed for the hundredth time. I then showed him a picture of somebody at which point he started to look at my News Feed. Watching him read my News Feed was like watching somebody go to Times Square for the first time. He was overwhelmed with all the information. And I was overwhelmed watching him. He was able to look at my screen for only 10 seconds at which point he handed my phone back to me and said "TMI!"
There are three reasons I hate Facebook. The first is that it is potentially damaging to my self-esteem. I start comparing myself to everybody's news feeds and wondering why I'm not as happy as this person, why I'm not as skinny or pretty as that person or why somebody's children always look so coordinated and relaxed. And then I have to talk myself down from the precipice of unhappiness after recognizing for the umpteenth time that what I am watching is everybody's best self. People are only posting those pictures in which they look the best, their children are complying or they are doing interesting things. They are not posting their disappointments, failures, missteps, frustrations, aggravations and if they do, they are usually met with silence or judgment. The second is because I use it as my babysitter. Yes, you read that right. When I am bored, have a spare moment (standing in the grocery line or on the T), I click my News Feed and start reading. I don't know what I am looking for, but I am looking. I click articles, memes, photographs mindlessly. And then afterwards, if you were to ask me what I just looked at, I would probably give you a blank stare. Checking Facebook has become a gross habit of which I am ashamed. And lastly, this past presidential election highlighted to me the dangers of social media and the "filter bubble". Over 2 billion people use Facebook now, about 1.2 billion of them daily according to The New YorkTimes. According to this New York Times article, a team of researchers at M.I.T. and Harvard found that social media created a "right-wing echo chamber" and that people were using social media to create "self-reinforcing bubbles of confirmatory ideas, to the detriment of civility and a shared factual basis from which to make collective, democratic decisions." The problem is that of the "News Feed"- a curated, personal news feed for each user. The News Feed that you are presented with every time you open Facebook has been sorted and prioritized for you by a series of algorithms based on what you have liked or whose page you have visited in the past. If you are only seeing those news articles and items that you agree with it, it surely creates that "echo chamber" that distorts your reality. And it potentially creates an alternate universe in which untruths and fallacies become mainstream "facts."
When I start feeling anxious, nervous and unfocused, when I'm constantly revisiting the site thinking that something will change in the second that I haven't been on and when I start to feel ungrounded, unconfident, and dazed, I know it's time for me to take a break from Facebook. Crazily enough, these are all tell-tale signs of addiction. Hmmm....
My major beef with giving up Facebook is FOMO or the "fear of missing out." It seems like we are the FOMO generation. Those of us who grew up without the technology and then were suddenly gifted with its presence 15-20 years ago now suffer from serious FOMO. Now that FB has become a socially accepted way for people to share important personal news (marriages, babies, pregnancies, retirements, special birthdays, etc.), the fear of missing out is great. And it's not even just with major life milestones, but also with keeping up with my real friends' lives. Many of my dear friends do not live in Boston, so a way that I am able to still feel part of their lives is to see their photos immediately and to respond by "liking" said picture. Staying connected and feeling part of something larger is definitely a benefit of FB.
Benefits aside, I need to start feeling good about my interactions with Facebook. So I am going to go on a FB diet starting tomorrow. Until then, you can find me hitting that refresh button (and promoting this blog post). Now the real question will be how to promote my next few posts without Facebook and whether I'd be cheating if I ask my friends to do it?!