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Commentary: Rethinking Facebook


Earlier this week Google began experimenting with a new interest curation app that aims to compete with Facebook.  Commentator Rebecca Rine has been thinking about her relationship with that social network.

The other day I was looking at my list of Facebook friends and wondered: If I died tomorrow, how many of them would actually come to the funeral? The truth is, most of them would not, and would, in fact, post about it the next day on Facebook: “OMG, did you hear about what happened to Rebecca?”

It’s not that I surround myself with heartless people who wouldn’t care if I died, but Facebook friends most often are not real friends. They are just an audience we keep at arm's length to stroke our own egos with their “likes” and comments. We do the same in turn for them.

So why devote my time and energy to “friends” who sort of exist, but sort of do not?

It’s nice to stay in touch on Facebook, but staying in touch means that person is a part of your life. You talk to them. You see them. You know their middle name. Being on Facebook takes me down the fast track to being nosey, judgmental and competitive, but I rationalize those harsh things by saying “It’s nice to stay in touch.”

I often catch myself scrolling through Facebook filled with jealousy at vacations others take or judgment at choices I wouldn’t make or opinions I don’t have.  

I click on some photos and suddenly find myself so far in the rabbit hole that I’m now nosing through their entire photo album, and these are often people I haven’t seen in decades. So why do I care that they're giggling wearing sombreros in the sand? I would not go into their homes and plop myself on their couch and leaf through their personal photos, so why do I feel entitled to do so online?

This is the exact opposite of what I deem a good use of my time on earth. So you'd think I'd stop.

I don’t use Facebook only as a means to fan the fires of my unhealthy jealousy, nosiness and judgment. I actually do like knowing people from my past are still out there making their way in the world. It’s fun to see that the buddy I had in sixth grade is now a successful real estate agent or the ex-boyfriend who dumped me turned out to be someone I wouldn’t want to be with anyway.

I can’t lie; This quiet validation is a fun bonus of Facebook.

The raw, honest truth is I do look to Facebook for affirmation. My Facebook friends are mere cheerleaders, put firmly in place to tell me how awesome I am. I worked out today, and my Facebook friends gave me the thumbs up! I saw a donkey at the hardware store, and they posted a laughing emoji, which means I'm funny! I made dinner, and they told me I'm a good mom. I get credit and acknowledgement just for merely existing, and who wouldn’t love that self-absorbed adulation?

When I let it, Facebook does give me a sense of comradery. When I see my high school friends turning gray or struggling with raising their kids just like I do, I have a feeling of connection—as false as it may be—that we are going through the same thing.

And maybe herein lies the answer: more real moments. Less touting the pretty, polished sing-song parts of life and more of sharing the difficult, imperfect drudgeries that can be on the path of adulthood.

Sure my kids are great students who help with chores, but they’re also pains in the butt with whom I find myself screeching, “I am not your personal servant!” That vulnerable reality doesn’t seem to make it to Facebook, but it should.

We can now add political turmoil to the list of things Facebook seems to foster. I now hide behind the protection of a like or dislike button instead of engaging in real conversations that challenge me. It’s almost as though I’ve given Facebook permission to hijack my actual communication skills and replace them with a thumbs up or down. Next will it be watered down to a caveman grunt?

What bothers me the most is that Facebook has begun to suck out the intention and authenticity of moments in my life. I can’t take a photo of a sunset just for my personal enjoyment—I must share and get instant cyber pats on the back for it, so much so that I have not savored the moment that just passed.

Does this mean that I'm going to get off Facebook?  No.  And I'm secretly hoping that you'll become my Facebook friend.  But I do want to learn how to turn off the life sucking noise that I let it bring. I want to focus more on the real people in my life, the people who know all the imperfect edges of me. I want to quietly love my kids without announcing it to cyber friends whom I'll never invite over to see it for themselves. 

If I put as much energy into my real friends as I do my Facebook friends, I know the quality of my life will go way up, and that certainly deserves a clapping hands emoji, right?

Rebecca Rine is a writer who lives with her family in Kettering.