This will be a fairly lengthy post so I’ve broken it into sections:
The trouble with Facebook
I never considered myself an unhappy person. I get a bit lonely sometimes and now and then I lay awake at night wondering why I never had an idea that made me rich or why I don’t play sports as much as I used to, but that seems pretty normal. What’s neither normal nor healthy is looking into the lives of friends, half-friends, acquaintances and randoms through a lens that reveals only the parts they want the rest of the world to see. That’s not even real. It’s snapshots of people’s days that, for the most part, best demonstrate the aspects of their lives that they want the world to see.
It’s a really nice meal that I didn’t eat, a movie I didn’t see, a party I wasn’t invited to, a job I don’t have, a gathering I wasn’t at, a gig I’m not gonna go to or a house that’s more expensive than mine. Then there’s the constant pressure to stay in touch with people, to interact on this platform that deceptively and paradoxically makes you privy to what’s happening in people’s lives without actual participation.
All of this is there, glaring at me on a daily basis each and every time I log into Facebook. It makes me unhappy and I’ve narrowed this negativity down to three situations that I feel are significant and unhealthy enough to warrant some kind of closer examination.
Negative situations on Facebook
This is a common one. I log on and see pictures of things happening that I’m not part of. Why am I not included in these events? I usually ask myself. The answers vary, but when I see people having fun without me, I naturally feel left out
It’s all right if it’s someone I don’t really know, but when it’s friends, or friends of friends, it makes me wonder why I wasn’t part of the proceedings. It can be anything from a wedding to a dinner to a party to a drink in the pub to a gig, and the feeling is usually at it’s strongest if it’s something that, in my mind, I think I could or should have been invited to.
To see something like this and not be there starts a trail of thought that usually ends with me analysing my friendships and agonising over the potential differences between my perceptions of the friendships I have with other people and the realities of those relationships, never sure which of the two is real. This hints at some of the deception I mentioned in the first section, where seeing so much of a person’s life on social media can make you feel like you are “in touch” when really you’re not. It becomes an endless, whirling cacophony of self-doubt and leads neatly to my next negative situation.
I often think about friends I had when I was younger – friends from primary school, secondary school, uni, Thailand, Timor-Leste, uni again. I still think about a lot of them, even ones I haven’t seen for a very long time, and wonder if they remember me and, more specifically, if they sometimes think about me in the same way.
It bothers me because I can remember very specific things about those friendships. In my head, I still think I’m friends with these people, even though they may not have given me a second thought for years. It’s this confusion over whether a friendship even exists that I think relates to how I perceive a lot of the friends I have today, and where else do you get a daily reminder of who your friends are than on Facebook?
So it’s on Facebook that I have a thorough and well-organised list of people I’m supposed to be friends with. I can see them all, as well as various details about their lives. Some I haven’t spoken to for a while or have maybe lost touch with a little bit. When I see those people and the snapshots of their lives, I start to ask myself the same questions I do about friends from my past: Are these friendships real?
It didn’t help that I lived overseas for most of the last 11 years. When I moved back to the UK a little less than two years back, I was a distressed to see how much things had changed within my circles of friends. A lot happened while I was away that I wasn’t a part of and so there were shifts; some people within the circles became closer, others lost contact altogether. Some who I may have been friends with in certain places suddenly weren’t friends at all while even those friendships that I had previously considered as strong were in doubt. These feelings are accentuated by spending time on Facebook and they lead to a pit of self-doubt.
I’ve always thought that it’s natural to compare my life to the lives of my friends. There are a many areas of overlap and quantifiable points of comparison. We all basically live the same lives as our friends. There are obviously glaring differences, but the fundamentals are all there.
There are a few common “big” questions: How does my job compare? Are they having kids yet? What’s their house like? Do they have an awesome car? Where do they go on holiday? What was their wedding like?
I don’t think any of this really bothered me until Facebook came along and allowed me to see even the most mundane, minute elements of other people’s lives. So now I’m not just occasionally comparing the big things, but constantly looking at the little ones, like: What does this person do on a Friday night? What’s that person having for dinner? Where’s that couple going on Sunday afternoon? It’s an overload of information and points of comparison.
This isn’t to say that I’m unhappy with my life, but the kind of content people share on Facebook is often intended to show off only the best aspects of their lives, a kind of self-branding, if you like. I know this because I’ve done it myself. I’ve posted content on Facebook because I wanted to say, essentially, “I did this and you didn’t.”
Facebook check-ins are probably the best example of this. Really, who wants to see that you’re at the pub or attending a concert or, worse still, at an airport? Taking it a step farther, who would be interested in seeing photos of a social gathering they weren’t part of? Some people would, yes, but the vast majority don’t need that little bit of information. This is getting close to the “missing out” section above now.
So that’s a lot of interlinked negativity and none of it is doing my state of mind any good. My single New Year’s resolution this year, pretty much the only one I’ve ever made, was to do something about it.
There are two obvious solutions:
- Delete my Facebook; or
- Just stop using it.
I thought about deleting Facebook altogether, but I didn’t feel like that would get to the root of the problem. I wanted to fundamentally change my habits. To stop using Facebook is the preferable of the two options. However, Facebook does have its benefits. When I want to communicate with friends, Facebook is where I normally go first. That side of it is something I don’t want to lose.
What I do want to lose is most of everything else. So I decided to stop posting on Facebook. I’ve only gone a couple of weeks, but it’s one less thing to worry about. I also decided to stop reading other people’s posts. I just needed to stop following updates from every single one of my friends. Now all I see on my timeline are posts from news sites and music artists. That’s just fine.
All I do on Facebook now is send and reply to messages, as well as see instances where I’ve been mentioned in someone else’s post. Eliminating the timeline browsing has meant that I go on Facebook far less frequently. There’s not really any need to, especially now that I have the Facebook Messenger app on my desktop, as well as my phone. I’ve also removed the Facebook app from the homescreens on my phone.
It’s difficult to assess the impact of any of this, but I do feel like it’s making a difference by not having to repeatedly go through the negative situations and emotions explored above. It’s certainly a lot less pressure. In short: I think I’m happier without so much Facebook in my life. Though of course this is all a work-in-progress.
I do, however, still have a need to share, so let’s talk about that for a moment.
The need to share
I’m not immune to the desire to share. I like to have outlets where I can post my thoughts and opinions. I just want to be able to do it without the craving for instant gratification. This blog is a good place for it, but I have also enjoyed using lesser-known social sites, like This and Ello. There’s something to be said for a social network where you don’t know anybody.
Twitter is still my primary social network of choice. If I have a burning desire to comment on something, I’ll usually do it on Twitter. Whether anyone responds or not is far less pressing than on Facebook. Twitter is also the main place where I share links and get my news from. It’s become more like a trumped up RSS reader than anything else.
The best thing about Twitter, though, is that there is an emotional disconnect. I don’t know most of the people I’m following there. We’re not connected because of a friendship, but because we’re likely to share content that is mutually interesting. That’s generally as far as it goes.
I will say, however, that when I lived in Bangkok most recently, a lot more of my social life came to revolve around Twitter and tweetups and social gatherings that would inevitably be broadcast and talked about. That actually became quite stressful for me and evoked many of the negative emotions that I’ve discussed in this post.
It’s important for me now to balance that need to share with the need to disconnect.
This is something that I’ve never really spoken about with anyone else so it’s hard to gauge if other people have been through similar situations. From what I’ve read, a lot of people will be able to relate to at least a small part of what I’ve talked about here. I’m really interested to find out to what extent it’s had an impact on their emotional wellbeing. Is there a type of personality that this has a greater effect on?
I don’t think that social media is inherently bad. What I do believe, however, is that it can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing when you become too emotionally involved in the networks you choose to post on.
The comments are open on this thread and you can always catch me on Twitter. Would be great to hear from other people in some shape or form.