Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is Facebook enough?

There was a link circulating last week about what Facebook is doing to your brain.Who wouldn't click on a hook like that? 

The video, packed with rapid-fire assertions suggests one theme: we have allowed ourselves to substitute e-connections for actual, IRL (in real life) ones. Depending on the presence you believe you have out there in the cyber-hood,  this is a haunting or illuminating revelation, but true I think it is.

True friendships according to this video - the ones you can't edit your way through - are not possible to cultivate if your circle exceeds 150 "friends".  On Facebook, to keep up with circles in the hundreds, one is required to construct an online friend M.O., comprised of low-investment behaviors -  sharing, liking, commenting -  to sustain them. The things we cull to invest in an IRL relationship - confidentiality, honesty, vulnerability, and the big one, spontaneous expression - are often not invested in the Facebook self we project because among other things, we know that everything we say creates a permanent record. Imagine being overheard in a restaurant by everyone you know at once.

Some comments in response to the video were defensive and worried. Others were more of a shrug. My own reaction was mixed. I know there are those who only use Facebook to connect with others, but they may well be people for whom "real" friendship does not feel affirming, but risky and revealing.

And not everyone with  Facebook friends in the hundreds or beyond is real-friend challenged as the video seems to suggest. Some people are introverts who wish to be neither social nor isolated, and find the non-committal aspect of the cyber-friendship a perfect solution. Some people become fabulous cyber-friends when distance prevents an IRL connection. My own invaluable association with a huge network of writers would not be possible without Facebook. But a balance is important to appreciate both relationships.

Where trouble happens is when direct communication is called for but shunned because the "real" social skill set has been allowed to wither. On a diet of  multiple, empty connections every day we can lose our appetite for real ones. Unplugged, our communication can begin to feel unnatural, and we can become lost in our own company.

That's what got my attention.

I would be lost without my real friendships, and I'm comfy in my own company. But I consider Facebook a fun way to connect outside of them and some of my most important connections depend on it. Still, the video made me and, apparently, many others consider the importance of Facebook in our lives. 

I've decided to curb my own habits. Twice a day I'll check in and once in a while I'll post statuses about strange people in the supermarket or annoying drivers, or  maybe a video with cats being unfriendly toward dogs. I will continue to use Facebook to shamelessly promote my published work. But I've removed phone notifications, and when I'm working, Facebook will stay in the other room.  I'll always leave comments to support or celebrate others I e-know, but I might disconnect from the notifications  ("so and so also commented on this or that") as I usually don't e-know "so and so".

It takes a little trying to build the real friendships that affirm us, support us, give us a place to hide out, produce witnesses to our lives. We can lose those things without trying at all.

And so, with that, I shall personal message a friend and see if they can have that lunch, share that drink, bring me up to date, help keep me out there IRL.

I want to talk about that Facebook video.


  1. As you and I can show, virtual friendships can be important and meaningful!

  2. Very true. I not only would know you Sharon if I saw you IRL, we could sit and have a long IRL lunch based on our e-communication.

  3. I surprised myself when I realized I have friends through Facebook. I call them my Facebook friends. I care about them, their families and wonder what they are up to if I don't read a recent post. I am thrilled with their achievements and empathy to their worries or loss. Yes the same attributes I show to friends in the flesh.

  4. Well put, Haralee. I do think we can develop very nice relationships with both. I just commented on a FB "friend's" blog whose journey to her next home has drawn my attention since last fall. I also believe we can hurt for others in response to what they post. This post was really about choosing one to replace the other, or losing the skills to know the difference. But point taken.

  5. Somebody asked me how many of my facebook friends were from my "real life" and how many I had met through facebook.
    I had no idea but knew that more were from "real life."
    He then asked if I saw my "real life" friends outside of facebook. In retrospect it was such a weird question I shouldn't have answered. Of course I see them--whether all the time, twice a year.....He went ballastic on me, and defriended me. Things he said--he found my address and phone number which isn't easy and called me--scared me so I blocked him.

    That all said I made many incredible friends my first blogging round--beginning in 2004 many of whom became real life friends. The same with facebook friends.

    I just need more real life friendships maybe because I'm single and work at home

  6. Wow Pia, strange reaction from him! And yes, particularly in the blogging world where people from all over give you feedback it's easy (and reinforcing) to start communication that can evolve into strong online friendships. There's a balance, I think we find it eventually.

  7. This is such an informative post and interesting discussion.
    As a blogger, I have wondered about my participation in the impact of social media and what it all means in terms of human relationships. I am now a contributor to the amount of time people spend on-line!
    I am hopeful my blog offers a bit of useful information; glad of the supportive environment it has provided me, grateful for the (real) friendships it has sparked, but also aware that my screen time has increased and even taken time away from real-life family and friends. Interestingly enough- since I have begun blogging my Facebook browsing (which was never a lot) has decreased!

  8. Susan F, I had the same experience. Blogging does make you more efficient about your time online, I think.