First, I want to confess that it really annoys me when people announce that they are giving up Facebook for Lent or just taking a break. It’s even worse when they delete their account entirely and tell everyone to just keep in touch with them the old fashioned way: via email and texting 😉
I want to talk about Facebook, what is it for, how I use it, how some people use it, and then draw a few personal conclusions that are hopefully helpful to others struggling with social media in their lives.
Now, if you want to give up Facebook for awhile, I get it. I’m annoyed because I am dependent on it myself and I feel insecure next to your thoughtfulness and piety. But here’s where I am a hypocrite: I am starting to reflect and reassess my own Facebook use, and I am trying to determine whether or not this relationship is going to continue.
DTR Time: Define the Relationship
First, I am asking the question: What is the intended purpose of Facebook? What have its creators expressed regarding its purpose?
“Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” (FAQ – Facebook)
I have been a member of Facebook since 2007 , so not too long after it was founded. I’m sure a lot of us can attest that Facebook has definitely evolved in its scope and purpose, but I think this general mission statement resonates across the history of social media. If I could break this mission statement into a few key points, here they are:
Facebook is empowering
Facebook is about connection
Facebook is personal
All the other fluff in the Facebook mission statement can be put into one of these three categories. So how do these three things apply to my own use of Facebook?
Facebook Empowers Me
EKA Langr (sketch)
It’s true, I love to express myself. As a relatively normal twenty-something, I enjoy sharing my
thoughts and opinions, selfies, pictures of my baby girl, my fur baby, and occasionally my food. Facebook empowers me towards self-expression and creates a perceivably “safe” place to be myself. I feel empowered to put myself out there and express my passions, interests, faith, and general reflections with those people who I call my friends.
Facebook is About Connection
Speaking of “friends”: Facebook is definitely about connection. It’s a community, and when I consider the radical notion that I might give it up, I start to wonder how I will connect with people that I love. I use Facebook to plan events with friends and family, keep in touch with people who are far away, and (admittedly) keep up on the latest gossip of who-is-with-whom now, and who just had a baby, and OMG she just posted ANOTHER picture of her cats. Even if it seems frivolous, it’s become a natural and emotional part of my life. Why would I want to give that up?
Facebook is Personal
Similarly, Facebook is inherently “personal”. To me this means that Facebook is about real relationships and real people are behind every post and comment. Perhaps it isn’t this way for some, but it is for me. I keep my Facebook fairly “locked down”. Hardly anything is public, and I have separate lists for “work friends”, “acquaintances”, and “close friends”. Some things I want to share only with people who really know me well and won’t instantly judge or misunderstand what I’m sharing.
Lately I’ve noticed that some people don’t use Facebook the way that the mission statement describes. They use it to push divisive agendas, to debate, to present a false image of themselves (intentionally or not) and suddenly nothing is personal anymore. Even though our communications increase, we feel more disconnected and misunderstood than ever.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes communication is diluted to only self-expression? I work in customer service, and if I give the customer directions on how to do something, and then they don’t understand and don’t do it right, whose fault is it? Really it’s a fault in communication, so it’s both sides. Communication only occurs when the speaker expresses something AND the listener hears and understands what was expressed.
Friends and Friendship
The more I’ve reflected on my use of Facebook and my interactions with my Facebook friends, the more I’ve come to understand that essentially what I’m disappointed about with Facebook is that I’m not finding authentic friendship there.
Ironically, the way I would define authentic friendship is not far off from Facebook’s mission statement:
Authentic friendship is the development of a personal connection with a person which facilitates not only self-expression, but dialogue about various topics of interest to both parties with the goal of deepening the connection between the persons and promoting the growth of each person individually.
That probably sounds really verbose, but really what I desire in a friendship is someone with whom I share common interests and goals, and someone with whom I can really dialogue about those interests.
That dialogue is the definition of communication I was talking about earlier. Dialogue can be loosely translated as “two words”. I don’t have to agree with everything my friends say or do, but can we talk about it respectfully? Can we grow closer together from those (even difficult) conversations? Or do they tear us apart?
And really, if you re-read Facebook’s mission statement, it’s not too far off.
So what should I do?
Initially my knee-jerk reaction to being frustrated with “Facebook” was to say “screw it” and delete my account permanently. After further reflection (and lots of friendly debate with my husband 😉 ), I think I’ve moderated my decision. This simple exercise of taking time to assess my usage of Facebook and reflect on my desire for authentic friendship has been enough to show me that the answer is that we all need to be more mindful about our use of social media and our relationships in general.
“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…” Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
This quote very poignantly describes how I was feeling when I began this reflection. I’ve decided that mindfulness is my path to more authentic friendships. From now on I resolve to be mindful about what I post, how I comment, and how I generally interact with my Facebook friends; keeping in mind Facebook’s original purpose and mission, and my own mission to develop authentic relationships. Sometimes this mindfulness is going to lead me to unfollow and unfriend those with whom I do not feel like I can truly dialogue with; but my goal will always be to try and see things from their perspective and truly try to understand before seeking to be understood (Prayer of St. Francis).
I hope you can join me in this resolution and help to make “the world more open and connected”!