Earlier this week, Gwen Bell, my Internet heroine, wrote about why she deleted her Facebook account. In the same post, her friend Patrick described how he has cut his FB usage to a mere 15 minutes per week. I will be doing neither of those things.
I was a latecomer to Facebook, relatively speaking. When I signed up about two years ago, I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I found that I did—a lot.
To listen to people on the train, mainstream media, certain blogs and even on Facebook itself, this most popular of social networking platforms is ruining civilization. It’s invading our privacy, wasting our time, enabling sexual predators to find out everything about us, contributing to the “me” culture, causing us to ignore real-world relationships in favor of virtual ones and setting off mental health issues.
It seems to me that, with 600 million users, Facebook’s primary mistake is being an easy target.
Why I Love Facebook
1. Facebook is my most intimate space on the Internet.
Recently, I began to feel oppressed by the fact that I was friends with a bunch of people whom I had only met once and some others who had managed their settings such that I could only interact with them via a private message. So I did a purge and de-friended about 50 people—the people I don’t know, the people who don’t want me to see their Walls or their pictures. There were no bad feelings involved with this; it was freeing, plain and simple. Now, I’m down to about 215 people, who I know (to varying degrees) and who share enough that I feel a sense of reciprocity. I feel like these 215 people, even the ones I haven’t seen in 13 years, are part of my community.
In her post, Gwen Bell said that Twitter is her method for meaningful exchanges, something she didn’t have on Facebook. For me, the opposite is true. Twitter seems to be a constant stream of mildly humorous observations and self-promotion, rather than two-way communication. I kind of look forward to reading what @stephenfry is up to, but he doesn’t know who I am; why should he? (I kind of suspect that I might be using Twitter wrong; am I? Feel free to give me your advice on how to love it either here or @saucysalad.)
2. I’m not a very social person.
I never have been. Yes, I have buddies, but I don’t talk to them on the phone every day or every week. I spend time with them far less often. And now that I work from home, my human interaction has been cut back even further (I’m not complaining though; I found the daily dealings with hundreds of people with whom I had so little in common contrived and exhausting). If it wasn’t for Facebook, chances are I would feel severely isolated. Looking at it another way, the fact that Facebook exists probably contributed to my decision to work from home, because I knew that I could still hang out with people.
3. This is where my friends are.
Facebook is the main way I communicate with my dearest friend and we are in much better touch now than we were in the years before I joined. I have also been able to reestablish meaningful relationships with people I really care about, but who I had given up for lost. This has led to a mutual exchange of cross-country visits with somebody I’ve known since fifth grade. This weekend, I’m seeing Mission of Burma with a childhood neighbor who I haven’t seen since high school graduation. I regularly exchange book recommendations with the person who introduced me to Don Quixote back in 11th grade. There are even a few people with whom I am actually better friends now than when I saw them every day.
Some of my FB friends are definite lurkers. I suspect that they check with relative frequency, but they are pretty silent about it. That’s okay, because I love them and am happy for them to know what I’m up to (hi Dad!).
4. Facebook expands my universe.
Some of my FB friends lead drastically different lives from me. Two people I grew up with (one since the tender age of 17 days) are now professional triathletes—whoa! Some people are parents of one or two or five children—whoa! Some of those parents are single—you ladies obviously have superpowers! I love that I have a window into worlds that are so different from mine. In this day and age, we need to be trying to understand each other instead of segregating ourselves into mean-spirited groups. I’m pretty sure that our survival depends on it. So yes, some of my FB friends/family members strongly ascribe to superstitions that I feel confident are false, including the existence of Hell and how The Gays are going there. That sucks and it would be easy to write them off; but because of Facebook, I am forced to acknowledge that this is only a tiny part of who they are.
5. We all need validation, yes, even you.
I have my faults, but being an attention whore is certainly not one of them. But even though I don’t seek the spotlight, I still need validation—that I exist, that I matter, that I’m good enough. So do you. Because this is a fundamental need that all humans have in common (unless you are a sociopath). Developmental psychology has shown that it’s the foundation humility and of basic politeness, not just to people we know, but also to strangers. It’s why we hold doors, smile and nod, chuckle at jokes that aren’t funny and make eye contact. When we do those things, we are saying, “Hey stranger, you exist and so do I.”
Jenny over at Coming Up Lemon is one of my resurrected Facebook friendships. Yesterday, she posted the following:
I am crazy curious about who all reads this. I know who some of you are, but I got 74 visits yesterday and wonder who else is included in that group. Friends? Foes? Do I actually have foes? I’m not too proud – and just vain enough at the same time – to say that I sorta dig the attention, even if it’s partly anonymous.
Jenny is a fellow non-attention-whore and I think her questions perfectly encapsulate the reason we blog and Facebook—we are acting out our need to express, to connect and, once in a while, to feel kind of awesome. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In her post, Heroine Bell said: “…you’re on Facebook not for the photos, not for the connection…but for the validation that your experience matters to someone. That ‘like’ button is the worst kind of hit.” For me, photos, connection and validation are all tied together in a positive way. If they weren’t, I would have deleted my account a long time ago. (And I’m not addicted to getting a like, just as I’m not addicted to talking on the phone—but it is nice when it happens.) I suspect that Gwen Bell has a lot more friends than I do, possibly people she hangs out with regularly in person, and that’s how she receives her necessary dose of validation that her experience matters. Living a life sans validation is a recipe for going crazy.
The challenge and the potential of post-modernity is that our groups are no longer tribally and geographically driven, which is precisely why Facebook is such a success. We have to put effort into seeking out or creating our own communities; but these can be intensely meaningful, supportive and inclusive. We have to take responsibility to make what we want of them. Even Facebook.