Look into my eyes. Closely. Can you see me? Can you see who I am? You know me, don’t you? Here is my close up. Nothing to hide. Everything on show, for whomever I choose to add to my friends list. Or, if I like I can create a special list for people that I don’t want to see my photos, or my private postings. For those I wish to keep at arms length. If I so wish, I can even block or report someone, maybe that ex boyfriend or that girl I didn’t really like in my teens, when I was so worldly with knowledge of who she really was.
For the last seven years, I have had an active Facebook account. Living abroad from most of my family and friends, in the beginning it seemed like a cool easy way to keep in touch with people, without the fuss of licking a stamp or running up a large phone bill, neither of which were popular methods of mine. I would get friend requests regularly, and every time, I would feel a little bit of excitement upon acceptance, ready to take a peek into the world of another long lost friend or acquaintance, their life on display for my perusal.
As the time wore on, over the years the friend requests dried up, after all, you can only add or accept so many people. Even if you are the most popular person, eventually the list will reach an end, and you will be down to adding or accepting those you have recently met. Your voyeurism will be sated, having filtered through all of the pages, showing birthdays and family events irrelevant to your life, weddings and get-togethers that you never attended, personal pictures of those additions that you never dreamed you would be party to.
So you are done adding people and accepting requests. You’ve caught up on everyone and their lives and what they are up to. And then what? In order for Facebook to work for you, other people you know and are actively involved with in your life have to be using it too on a regular basis. Which is fine if they are. Maybe your job involves posting status updates, or your company actively uses it. Maybe you advertise with them for business. But in my case, those people close to me just weren’t using it for anything other than day to day stuff. So my activity level went right down to looking at the news feed which seemed sometimes amusing but mostly irrelevant to my daily life, and then writing something semi useful slash amusing on my status to be read by a handful of people, who by now, thanks to the like button, didn’t even have to make the effort to write anything back. They probably didn’t have the time either.
Facebook takes all the effort out of everything. It is no wonder the male of the species is not romantic anymore. Not only have they probably seen a picture of you in your bikini before a first date, they don’t even have to call you to let you know they are breaking up with you after it! They can just alter their status to let you know. How many Facebook crimes have there been? How many tragedies have unfolded so far? I read not so long ago about a young boy who killed himself, and his final statement was on his Facebook account. Instead of stopping him, people commented. One person even pressed like. How many parents are worried about what their children are doing online? How many of them just allow it so their child does not feel left out? How many really sit down and actively check what is on their children’s page? The age limit was 13 plus up to a short while ago. How many children broke that rule? How man parents allowed them to break it?
The shallowness of it all began to get to me. With every new day checking my home page, I began to feel like I did at high school. Unpopular and useless. What? I hear you say. Isn’t that a bit childish? Yes, I suppose it is if you look at it that way. But my high school days were a nightmare. The same ‘friends’ that ignored me then were now ignoring me on a daily basis during my adult life. They were having more exciting lives than me. They were going to events and parties that I would never go to. I sat, a spectator to others’ lives. And I was not happy. I used to feel the same way at school, always trying to keep up, but never quite managing. If I felt that way, how was a young person supposed to cope with their feelings about it?
So as the world watched over the last weeks at the Facebook shares nose-dived, I persevered as my interest in continuing with my account did the same. Could I survive without it? Was it necessary to my life? Would I miss out on anything life threatening? What did I do before Facebook?! My head was hurting. The only way forward was to activate myself. Or deactivate, as the case may be.
It has been a week now since I closed my account. And how is it going, you ask? I am spending less time staring into space. I am thinking more about what I can do with my time. And I feel more elusive. I no longer feel the urge to post up every single picture in my camera. I do not write status updates, detailing my day. If someone wants to know how I am, then they can just go ahead and pick up the phone. Then I will really know how long my friends list is. Less Facebook, more phone book, address book or, shock horror, maybe even a handwritten letter. Did you know this week in the news there was an article that stated that thanks to technology, most adults don’t handwrite anything for as much as up to six weeks at a time. Now that can’t be good.
I would like to point out however, that I do believe there are also amazing things happening on the social network. Things that we would never have known existed are brought to our attention, shared by millions. Cruelty to animals, crimes against minorities, reports of abuse, family tragedy, even death. For the information it provides, it should be applauded. But then what?
Let me examine the choices. You receive a link, or a recommendation via a friend, or maybe a friend of neighbours’ auntie’s husband’s dog walker’s cleaners’ mother in law’s nephew whom you met three summers ago on a holiday night out when you were drunk at that bar you can’t remember the name of. Oh, yes, of course, you remember now. What to do, what to do. The link is to some heart rendering tale of woe. It urges you to support a great cause, but you have to go out in five minutes to the hairdresser/bank/dentist and you don’t really have the time to read it fully, let alone do anything useful. So what do you do? You click like. Oh, how tremendous. Really? What have you really done to save the children? Or support the dying animals? Even if you were great enough to make a comment or share it with your umpteen friends, then what will happen next?
Let’s face it, if you are the kind of person that makes a difference, a real difference to important causes, then you would do something real about it. I am afraid that Facebook is making people falsely believe that they are doing something about these problems. Simply sharing something is not enough to change the problem. Remember Joseph Kony? The African warlord that Angelina Jolie, the famous American actress decided to splatter information about all over the internet and social networking sites in order to create greater awareness of his atrocities. Millions of people watched in horror at his appalling story of hate. Yes, they watched. And they commented. And shared. But despite the famous names involved, despite millions of bleeding hearts, he is still out there, murdering innocent people and creating havoc in his country.
But here is what I think. Imagine if all those millions of people stood up at exactly the same time. The world would move. Great things might happen. But unfortunately, no matter how much we want it to, sharing and watching is not the same as doing something. What use are sites like Facebook if it accelerates only passive activity?
No doubt in a couple of weeks I will revert back to using my facebook page. But hopefully when I do I will have gained some space, and a little perspective. Real issues and relationships are touchable. Life is three dimensional, not 72 dots per inch. So if you are really worried about what your child is doing on Facebook, turn off their account. If you really want to connect with an old friend, go and see them. Call them. Have a real conversation. If you want to share your life with people do it in a deep way, not just on the surface. Go and climb a mountain for charity. Motivate the people around you to do something real for the communities around them. Put the face in Facebook. And if you have one, tell your child to put their face in a real book. Education is power. Power to the people. And that is something I can like.