My teenage daughter has removed herself from Facebook. Her cold-turkey drop of a technology that had dominated many of her free hours caught my attention. “I noticed how anxious it makes me,” she replied simply when I asked why. “I just want to see what its like; to see if I miss it.” There was surprisingly little withdrawal she said enthusiastically, back to re-reading her favorite books. “I feel so much better not doing it. I don’t miss it at all.”
As the days passed, she shared a little more of what happened when she would be on Facebook that made her anxious. The ultimate life voyeur, many people post profoundly intimate details of their life, seemingly without understanding that it is now a broadcast medium. Teens make their plans and share their after-party stories for all those who are excluded to watch in despair. Even many adults revisit their teen angst witnessing where they are excluded among their peers.
The anxiety-producing quality of Facebook was in fact deliberate. Founder Mark Zuckerberg, a social outcast at Harvard as well as a brilliant young programmer, designed the first Facebook in retaliation of all the girls that spurned him and for all the frat parties he was excluded from. It became popular overnight because, in our deepest and most vulnerable place what we are all trying to achieve is a sense of belonging. We all need a tribe.
Our need to belong is matched only by our need to be seen. This isn’t new. Gossip and voyeurism have influenced history and society at every level since recorded time. We study each other’s lives, comparing ourselves and talking about each other because there is nothing more interesting or instructive than our human stories. Tragically, combining these two needs in a fast, glossy digital form like Facebook is a sure recipe for not only losing touch with the very needs that pulled you in to begin with, but walking away with less than you entered.
It is no wonder that Facebook, which is nothing more than a screen destination that has been loaded voluntarily with our most precious photographs, epitaphs and stories of our personal lives is one of the most valued stock offerings in history. A nerdy, social reject tapped into the most highly prized, yet simultaneously vulnerable need of humanity to feel accepted into the tribe of other humans. Facebook is nothing except what we give it of ourselves and yet we all give the wealth of our intimate lives to the sales and marketing mechanism of digital advertisers to sell us what they think we want.
Facebook friends are different from real friends. Real friends are the ones who know your number and have usually been to your home at least once. Real friends have seen you laugh and cry about things that actually happened to you in your daily life. They didn’t need to read about it on your page. Real friends have real time for you. They help you move or drop your old couch off at the dump, or sit with you in a yard sale. By all means, grief is a reasonable response when a real friend lets you down, but not when Facebook friends don’t invite you to their random margarita event that might not even have happened except on a Facebook wall.
So next time you think about going on Facebook to update your status, call a real friend instead. Take my daughter’s lead- take a Facebook Fast and see if you don’t feel better.