Northern Advocate Column

In a muddle over Facebook

27 June 2015

facebook1-1I’m all a muddle over Facebook. On the one hand I’m attracted to it, but I have big problems with it as well. To solve my dilemma I’ve been hoping it might just go away. So far, no luck.

Facebook can certainly be fun, empowering, informative, a way to connect with people you’re physically separated from, yet it’s also addictive, voyeuristic, a horrible time-waster, encourages narcissism, and is even anti-social thanks to smart phones. So conflicted am I that I’ve gone off Facebook, defriended everyone, and then a few months later friended people again. Hopeless.

Being someone who likes to communicate, preferably through the written word and images, Facebook seemed like the perfect vehicle. I’ve posted pictures of my children, shared photos of sunsets, attempted witty observations on life, bragged about the good things happening to me, shared articles that express my political views, and posted poems I’ve written (hoping they’ll go viral!). I’ve enjoyed seeing similar from people I cared about. All good, up to a point.

From my experience the relationships which existed primarily or exclusively online, no matter how much fun, flirtatious or intellectually stimulating, most often didn’t last. They burned brightly for shorter or longer periods of time, but there was an eventual fizzing out.

Facebook friendships may have the appearance of ease and conviviality, but lurking beneath are the same problems all human relationships have: unequal attractions and commitments, hurting people through a careless comment or not reciprocating in expected ways. If the relationship didn’t also exist face-to-face, there was a greater likelihood of it ending, with sadness, relief or disinterest.

The biggest mistake, however, I’ve made with Facebook is thinking I’d found a way to present my whole self to people. This is all of whom I am, everything I’m interested in and passionate about. But relationships are never based on the whole of ourselvesas much as we may long for that. Even with the person we share a bed with there’s still gaps you need to fill by being close to someone else who shares an interest or way of seeing the world. There’s no way, for instance, my partner is going to converse with me about the flaws in Brendon McCullum’s batting technique!

In friendships with people we are always presenting certain sides of ourselves, we know we should probably stay clear of talking about things that we have a strong difference of opinion. Prior to Facebook there were parts of my life which were virtually unknown to some friends, because those parts weren’t of interest to them. That didn’t negate the friendship, which had its basis in other shared experiences.

The temptation with Facebook is to present all of yourself to everyone. But that risks boring, angering or alienating people. We are different parts of ourselves when we’re with different people, as we should be. That’s part of being sensitive to who that person is. Status updates that go out to everyone don’t differentiate, they’re not sensitive to the individual person, which is surely the basis for an ongoing and evolving relationship. I can at least thank Facebook for learning that lesson.