Sure, you’re outside on your deck, laptop/iPad/iPhone/iWhatever at the ready. And you’ve set yourself a time limit, twenty minutes max. Only curiosity trumps will power once you start scrolling through status updates of friends, perusing pages you follow. Overload is an understatement, but something is bound to slow you down, make you take note; how quickly twenty minutes roll into thirty.
No matter how you slice it, you’re kind of hooked. ‘Vacation from Facebook’ should be a hashtag (if it isn’t already), considering the growing body of commentary on what-Facebook-has-wrought. I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me, writes Matt Honan in a piece largely about the FB algorithm and its insidious effect on his news feed. Laura Dimon’s piece in The Atlantic last year, What Witchcraft Is Facebook?, considers whether a woman’s symptoms of conversion disorder were ‘contracted’ via social media. The comments the piece engendered tell a story all their own. Then there’s the blog, Facebook Detox, or you can cut to the chase and read Heather Hummel’s Huffington Post piece, How a 21-Day Facebook Detox Makes you More Creative.
I’ve backed off a little of late. No epiphany or demanding life circumstances pushing me in that direction except maybe the sense that there is no revelation without some reflection. Maybe, too, my curiosity re: how our neurology got so entangled in social media has gotten me searching for answers. Didn’t have to look very far. An opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review two weeks ago (Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain), tells me that on a typical day we take in five times as much information as we did in 1986. The time we spend reading status updates, tweets and text messages competes with time spent on often meatier issues. It’s a brain drain.
So why do we do it? A friend of mine (prior to our Facebook days and forever), a sensitive, poetic soul, once likened Facebook to the town square. We share thoughts, post photos, foster interaction. When it’s good, it’s really really good. Connecting with long-lost friends is a blessing. Connecting with kindred spirits in that serendipitous way Cyberspace brings us into circles outside of our immediate, physical world, gives a different meaning to friendship.
What I genuinely love most is the give and take. Show me a striking photo or piece of art, link me to a poem, post a quote about or by a writer I admire and I stop scrolling. I pay attention. I share. Everyone needs a good music break during the day, give the brain some relief from headline news with its pounding repetition.
What I like least—and I know I’m not alone here—is the diminishment of boundaries a public forum like Facebook fosters. Its very framework makes us feel the need to say something—about ourselves, about a friend’s status update, about world affairs. If you can’t change a cousin’s political persuasions at a family gathering, what makes you think you’ll fare better on his Facebook wall? Of course, those gatherings may be few and far between these days, what with families more dispersed, but the need to connect is as primal as it gets. And a world that seems smaller and scarier by the day has us reaching for all the reassurances we can find. Or playing the provocateur.
We all want to be heard, if not seen. A selfie that goes unnoticed only affirms the delusion that there’s nothing we can’t do ourselves; what does it take, really, to let someone know you saw/you liked/you commented?
We want all our needs met. We want the president we like to do the humanitarian thing/we trust his motives. Except if we don’t. Except if he’s the president we don’t like, in which case everything he says is suspect.
It’s too easy to be cynical but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re in collusion. We’ve given so much away in terms of privacy (unless there really is something insidious in the Facebook framework akin to the amount of nicotine that gets smokers hooked). Can’t turn back the clock, and you’d be hard put to go home again; the metaphor of cozy comfort may be ingrained in the word but neighborhoods change, parents move to retirement communities, and what we think of as ‘home’ needs some rethinking.
Facebook is a far cry from home; it negates intimacy even as we share our griefs and joys, and there’s every good reason some of my closest friends won’t go near it. But those of us who see it for what it is at least have the option of what we choose to be swept into on a day-to-day basis.
And when that sea of ships passing in the night starts to overwhelm, it’s a sign to drop anchor. Someplace. Anywhere but Cyberspace.
These days my curiosity takes me outside. The excavation of my front yard is finally taking a new step – literally, as I watch the front entrance become grander than ever. I’m especially fascinated with the methodical work of the stone masons—combing the property for stones, pounding away at the large ones, chiseling them to fit the puzzle of the beautiful wall they’re building. Pouring concrete for footings. Placing a tier of concrete block for the steps.
Such attention to precision leaves no time for taking a break to check in on Facebook.