When my browser is open it only takes me four keystrokes to get to Facebook. Command + T to get a new tab, then an “F” to autopopulate the address bar with “facebook.com,” then Enter. I don’t do it consciously, I do it reflexively. I did it while writing this post. I had a moment where I didn’t know what to write next and, before I was even consciously aware that I was doing it, I hit Command + T, F, Enter, and a new tab with Facebook in it appeared.
My Facebook addiction is ironic considering that I don’t particularly like social media. I thought the whole premise for Friendster – the first one I was ever exposed to – was kind of dumb. You add friends? You mean the ones you have in real life but you, like, add them online? Why?
I eventually joined Friendster, reluctantly. Then I moved on to MySpace and then, finally, to Facebook. I remember when I first joined, it seemed like a boring, antiseptic MySpace. What was up with the feed? I didn’t get it. I have Twitter and Instagram but, despite bursts of activity, neither one ever really took. I only look at LinkedIn when I need a job. Sometimes I post my blogs to Medium and Tumblr is, uh, apparently still around.
It seems that the basic purpose for Facebook – and social media in general – is to connect with friends. In reality, it’s more like you get to look up your friends or spy on them. I don’t know why they’re called profiles when they’re more like dossiers. You get a current picture and stats: marital status, career, pop culture tastes, etc. You can “catch up” with someone in a one-sided way, no need for the give and take of a dialogue.
This brings me to my first problem with Facebook.
This social connection that it purports to facilitate, how’s that workin’ out for ya? (Incidentally, I really resent “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” since it’s always asked rhetorically in order to prove that something isn’t working out at all. It’s smarmy and childish and completely appropriate here.) Ask yourself this, “Have I ever not spoken to someone that I’ve seen in real life even though I have recently interacted with that person on Facebook?” I sure as hell have.
We all have a little social anxiety and sometimes you just don’t want to bother someone. On the other hand, if you can’t talk in real life, maybe you shouldn’t talk virtually either? Maybe.
The part of Facebook that I really like, the part that I’m addicted to, the part that keeps me coming back is that you get to announce what’s on your mind to a group of waiting listeners. You can post anything that happens to be on your mind, a joke, an article, whatever.
Then, hopefully, someone will “like” what I’ve posted and that feels good. Either they thought it was funny or they agreed with a point of view. If I get a lot of likes, then a lot of people thought it was funny, or agreed with my point of view. How many likes am I getting? I should check. I should check right now.
This brings me to the second problem with Facebook.
Apparently social media mimics unhealthy addictive behaviors a little too well. Getting likes, for example, hits the pleasure center of your brain, so, you keep going back for more. When I’m bored, I find myself behaving like those caged rats on cocaine in those 80’s anti-drug commercials except, instead of cocaine, it’s Command + T, F, Enter.
Or it’s one tap on my iPhone.
Have you noticed lately how we collectively can’t not look at our phones? It might be because I live in New York, a city in which there is a lot of common waiting, but look around at the people standing around you. They’re all looking at their smartphones. Ha, “they.” We’re all looking at our smartphones. I won’t get full-on old man on you and say, “In my day strangers used to talk to each other!” First of all, I don’t have a “day.” Second of all, no we didn’t. There are several analog ways to ignore your fellow man. This doesn’t diminish the weirdness of all of us staring at our phones, waiting for the stimulation of a like or a text or a new email.
June 29, 2017 will be the ten year anniversary of the release of the iPhone. Ten years isn’t that long for us to adjust. Maybe one day we’ll start putting our phones away more and more and, eventually, constantly checking your phone will come to look as odd as the heavy smoking in Mad Men or Good Night and Good Luck. Right now, however, I’m the three pack a day smoker of Facebook users, all because I’m looking for likes. But what if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written?
This brings me to my third – and probably biggest – problem with Facebook: the arguments. In fact, I’ve weighed in on arguments rather recently.
I’ve come up with several coping mechanisms for arguing on Facebook but the fact that I’ve had to come up with coping mechanisms for my social media is proof of the problem. I used to argue a lot. I used to see a comment that I didn’t like and I just had to say something. Had to! I used to engage with anyone, old co-workers, acquaintances, even people I hadn’t spoken to since middle school.
It never ended well. It rarely got ugly, it just got horrifically frustrating. No one’s mind got changed and I would usually just end up stewing over it for days.
I would get obsessed with the arguing. At night, talking to my girlfriend about my day, I would often relate a story about something that I saw on Facebook that really upset me. I heard myself say this often, many days in a row. “Well, why don’t you just spend less time on Facebook?” Um, no. I need people to see the light and the way of my opinions. It’s the world that needs to change, not I!
I eventually started flexing the mental muscle of ignoring things or not engaging. I’m not that important. Everyone does not need me to weigh in on every debate. I can be an observer. But even observing can be stressful.
I’ve watched many arguments unfold over identity politics, whether it’s Jonathan Chait’s article on political correctness or #OscarsSoWhite or the strange marriage of politics and football in the narrative of Richard Sherman and Colin Kaepernick. That’s just a sampling. Twice in the last year I’ve gone on to Facebook to find myself in the midst of a rapist being outed in my feed. Bernie and Hillary supporters went at it. Everything was a conspiracy or media manipulation.
Facebook statuses, which used to be within the purview of pictures of dinner and whether or not one might be chillin’ on a Saturday night, have now become calls to action. I have friends in my feed who use the response to their status – through likes, comments, or shares – as the litmus test as to whether or not someone cares at all about the issue they’re posting about. The only problem is, it’s only Facebook.
I started hiding posts, unfollowing people, unfriending. I even blocked one guy who I thought was a decent person in real life but was kind of a vicious troll online. I pruned and pruned and pruned my feed. I suppose, this is how we have all ended up in our own particular, dreaded echo chambers.
This brings me to my fourth and final problem with Facebook. In the era of Trump, it’s become a very difficult place to be.
A common refrain in stupid arguments that I’ve seen lately is, “Your[sic] part of the problem.” It’s kind of a catchall that I find a little meaningless but, frankly, I think it’s true of me. For example, the other day I had this idea for a sweet joke. “You know if you want to know your porn name, you don’t have to combine the name of your first pet and the street you grow up on. Just do porn for a few years, then your porn name is your name.”
Pretty brilliant. That little gem would have had those little blue digital thumbs up hittin’ my cerebral cortex and flooding my brain with dopamine for at least half a day, am I right?
Well, I was going to post it but then thought, “wait, did I post this before?” So, I looked through my feed to check and, in the process of checking, I noticed that all the way back to last fall it was Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump. There was some Hillary in there but, really, that was just Trump fear. So, it was essentially Trump. I’ve been scared and obsessed. A lot of people in my feed have. I supposed I’ve selected it to be that way.
Trump’s inauguration has brought with it an amazing amount of noise and panic. Much in the way that an opinion or article that I agree with can bring some peace of mind, a bunch of my friends invoking the Holocaust and saying that the world as we know it is over makes me panic. It engages the amygdala and that ain’t the pleasure center, it’s the stress center and it’s firing on all cylinders.
I understand the constant posting. It demonstrates a certain vigilance that it’s always on one’s mind. People need to vent and connect – however electronic it might be – with some like-minded people. But there is an irony that is getting lost on all of us. The types of statuses that are popping up more and more are quotes like, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I agree but it’s just a status. On the spectrum of action, I put “posting a status” precariously close to the “nothing” end. Change can only come about from real life actions.
This brings me to my first caveat of my Facebook problem, or, Reason #1 why I won’t be leaving.
Facebook is currently providing ways in which to get involved. I’ve been made aware of and attended at least two protests in New York already and will be attending more. One is tomorrow, I found it through these guys. I’ve also never felt more encouragement for all of us to get civically engaged. I’ve called my congresswoman and senators more in the past few weeks than I ever had in my entire life.
Finally, I’ll leave you with my second caveat to my Facebook problem, or, In Defense of Hypocrisy.
If you’re reading this, there’s at least a 75% chance you arrived here from Facebook. It has been my primary method of disseminating my writing and until I can find a different way, I will keep posting there. I will also be checking for likes, a practice that I have likened to lab rat cocaine abuse in this very post.
Perhaps it’s hypocritical to declare something problematic and continue to use it. Or maybe you can recognize the utility of something while keeping its faults in mind. For now, I’m choosing the latter explanation. I haven’t even gone into Facebook’s use of our data and our willingness to share or the implications of its facial recognition technology. They probably have algorithms that can accurately predict what I’m doing right now. It’s a problem but, for now, the good’s outweighing the bad. Slightly.
I hit Command + T, f, Enter twice more while writing this.