Social media is amazing. It allows us all to keep in touch regardless of distance and creates a perfectly organised online chronology of certain parts of our lives that we can forever look back on. But like with any life altering development in technology, it creates its own, brand new problems. And perhaps worse, it can make us lazy at properly communicating with each other. Clicking like on someone’s post, or posting a quick – ‘sorry to hear that’ on someone’s bad news, is easy enough to do. But it lacks meaningfulness. That’s not a fair statement is it? It may or may not lack meaningfulness and it’s impossible to tell either way. A bit like a ‘How are you?’, ‘I’m fine, thanks’ type of exchange. A pleasantry swap where neither party is any closer to understanding each other’s true feelings. We no longer need to be in physical touch to know what is going on with someone so we are able to sacrifice that direct contact, but how can we be sure they are ok without looking them in the eye?
Take a look at this video showing how powerful eye contact can be, stick with it, it gets good after a few minutes!
Facebook launched in February 2004 and I started using it in 2007, 9 years ago, and even though I do make great use of it, I’m still, for the most part, able to step back and see it for what it is. But it’s been around so long now that 9 year old children are in a world where Facebook has always existed. Add 7 or 8 years on for the years before you understand what it is and how it works and that means that 17 or 18 year old young adults now live in a world where social media has always been around and has likely played a large part in their lives. Their parents are likely to be on it, all their friends will undoubtedly be on it, it’s a part of who they are. By December 2014 there was 1.39 billion users of Facebook. The world population is estimated at 7 billion so well over a seventh of our planet is on Facebook. Now and again an invention comes along and changes things, for better or worse, it becomes part of life and we have to accept it or be in the extreme minority who don’t.
But is it a true reflection of who we are? For most of us we put our best bits on there. Uploading photos from the fun things we have done and posting jokes or silliness on each other’s walls, we use it to arrange events and start group messages. And in doing so it paints this picture that, for most of us, everything is ok!
My relationship with Facebook has been a weird one over the years. When I have been through tough times in the past I have tended to just deactivate my account for a while. I opted for this rather than using it to vent my frustrations or be honest about any pain I was feeling. I think deleting it was the easier option for me, mostly because I felt like I didn’t want to see everyone else having a great time while I wasn’t. I remember starting to resent other people’s happiness a bit and it just added to my feelings at the opposite end of the spectrum. Plus I didn’t want to be invited to things and have to click ‘Not going’ or feel like I should be clicking ‘like’ on nice things when I didn’t actually like anything at all, it was enough for me to just say ‘I’m out’ and leave. It never lasted for long though and I always reactivated soon because the truth is that it is incredibly useful and I eventually did feel I was missing out by not being on it.
Some people do opt for using it to vent, share problems or ask people for help. This lets others know there’s an issue and gives them chance to offer advice, which could lead to a solution. Then there’s certain posts which make finding a solution much harder, let’s just say for example, ‘you really know who your friends are’. These are aimed at someone in particular, but to the casual passer-by, the peeker over the (Facebook) wall, they lose their underlying meaning because we have no context, there’s no direct emotion in it for us, so we just see negativity directed out at the world. Please, if you are reading this and thinking that my raising this is aimed at you then please try to see the irony of that fact and remember that I am not trying to single you out, I am just trying to make sense of a modern day miscommunication. When one of these anonymous posts addresses a topic such as friendship breakdown toward someone who is then not directly addressed it can have negative effects on the reader. This might well have nothing to do with me, yet due to the way my brain functions, I read it and immediately can only use the context I have to hand which is my own, and ask myself, ‘Well I haven’t been in touch lately, do they mean me? Am I a good friend? Even if they don’t mean me, should I have been in touch? Is it too late?’ And so on. Now I know some of us over think things more than others, but whether you scroll past this and don’t think twice about it, unfollow the person’s posts, take it personally, or if indeed you are the unnamed subject of the post, surely this cannot be considered a productive exchange between human beings? There is a person at the other end of the post with a problem who has felt the need to reach out. Is the very fact that things are being shared on Facebook to the anonymous world, instead of confiding in trusted friends, a separate and perhaps more concerning issue in itself?
It can be such an anonymous, pre-edited world online if we allow it to be and considering how connected we all technically are, we can be so disconnected from who we want to be and how we view each other. Facebook has generated new types of self-esteem and loneliness issues that simply didn’t exist 30 years ago. See this link for more info.
Is it surprising that with so many Facebook friends, people still feel lonely.
Now I am aware that I am reaching out to all of you via social media and using an online platform to do so. I acknowledge that I myself am painting a picture of who I want to be and sharing it with the world and this is why I felt it important to share some of my negative feelings with you as well. Even though this is an attempt to spread overall positivity, in order to genuinely do so and actually connect, I believe that we really need to be able to experience the full cross section of a person and this is even more important in a virtual environment.
So today I wanted to try and turn a negative use of Facebook on it’s head by ‘Facebook stalking’ for good! No matter how good we get at typing, actions will always speak louder than words, so today I have been looking out for people on Facebook who appeared to need something positive. I’m restricted to what’s on my news feed and I’m not sure exactly how Facebook decides what I see and don’t see but I’ve wanted to give this a go for a while. Because I know how hard it can be to admit when you’re down, I also put a status out asking if people would assist me by passing on the details of anyone who they believed might need a pick me up. Whether it be in the literal sense with a lift somewhere or maybe help with the shopping; or by sending them a little something through the post to brighten up their day. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure how it would work and it turns out I didn’t have any requests for visits or physical help. That’s ok though, I have had quite a few names and addresses sent to me and have spent this aft getting my little gifts ready to post out. Hopefully they will brighten up someone’s day!
I didn’t really have a clear idea of how today was going play out or how this blog entry was going to go when I started it so apologies that it’s not been all that positive in the end! I guess what I’m trying to say is that regardless of how people may come across online, positive or negative, we are all so much more complex than the simple and often glammed up version we present ourselves as online and we should try to reach beyond that superficial connection whenever we can, especially when we see someone we care for trying to reach out.