There was a link circulating last week about what Facebook is doing to your brain. Who wouldn’t click on a hook like that?
The video, packed with rapid-fire assertions suggests one theme: we have allowed ourselves to substitute e-connections for actual, IRL (in real life) ones. Depending on the presence you believe you have out there in the cyber-hood, this is a haunting or illuminating revelation, but I think it is true.
True friendships according to this video – the ones you can’t edit your way through – are not possible to cultivate if your circle exceeds 150 “friends”. On Facebook, to keep up with circles in the hundreds, one is required to construct an online friend M.O., comprised of low-investment behaviors – sharing, liking, commenting – to sustain them.
The things we cull to invest in an IRL relationship – confidentiality, honesty, vulnerability, and the big one, spontaneous expression, are often not invested in the Facebook self we project because among other things, we know that everything we say creates a permanent record. Imagine being overheard in a restaurant by everyone you know at once.
Some comments in response to the video were defensive and worried. Others were more of a shrug. My own reaction was mixed. I know there are those who only use Facebook to connect with others, but they may well be people for whom “real” friendship does not feel affirming, but risky and revealing.
And not everyone with Facebook friends in the hundreds or beyond is real-friend challenged as the video seems to suggest. Some people are introverts who wish to be neither social nor isolated, and find the non-committal aspect of the cyber-friendship a perfect solution. Some people become fabulous cyber-friends when distance prevents an IRL connection. My own invaluable association with a huge network of writers would not be possible without Facebook. But a balance is important to appreciate both relationships.
Where trouble happens is when direct communication is called for but shunned because the “real” social skill set has been allowed to wither. On a diet of multiple, empty connections every day we can lose our appetite for real ones. Unplugged, our communication can begin to feel unnatural, and we can become lost in our own company.
That’s what got my attention.
I would be lost without my real friendships, and I’m comfy in my own company. But I consider Facebook a fun way to connect outside of them and some of my most important connections depend on it. Still, the video made me and, apparently, many others consider the importance of Facebook in our lives.
I’ve decided to curb my own habits. Twice a day I’ll check in and once in a while I’ll post statuses about strange people in the supermarket or annoying drivers, or maybe a video with cats being unfriendly toward dogs. I will continue to use Facebook to shamelessly promote my published work. But I’ve removed phone notifications, and when I’m working, Facebook will stay in the other room. I’ll always leave comments to support or celebrate others I e-know, but I might disconnect from the notifications (“so and so also commented on this or that”) as I usually don’t e-know “so and so”.
It takes a little trying to build the real friendships that affirm us, support us, give us a place to hide out, produce witnesses to our lives. We can lose those things without trying at all.
And so, with that, I shall personal message a friend and see if they can have that lunch, share that drink, bring me up to date, help keep me out there IRL.
I want to talk about that Facebook video.
Read more from Susan Bonifant on her blog, Worth Mentioning