I have been thinking about Facebook a lot lately, thanks to two, separate incidents.
The first thing that got me thinking about it was hearing a friend of mine talk about how funny it was that there was sometimes very little connection between what was actually going on in a person’s life and what they put on their Facebook wall. I started thinking about how I selectively choose stuff to go on Facebook–the pictures that make me look good, the good news–sort of like posting in the ultimate alumni magazine for your whole life! And that got me thinking about how I love going to Facebook and seeing wonderful pictures, funny stories, which led me to think that Facebook might be the best kind of fantasy land for people, a place where they can not only spend time with friends and family they love, no matter how scattered they are, but also where they can highlight the things about their own lives that make them feel good and ignore the rest of the stuff–and nobody has to be the wiser!
But then, there was the second incident. I attended a parents’ meeting at my daughter’s high school, where the principal talked about how much bullying has increased in schools since Facebook–and how it no longer is contained within the school day but continues, ad infinitum, over Facebook pages, 24 hours a day–and how Facebook has made it possible for bullying to reach and hurt an individual more effectively than ever before because it can be targeted toward one person but heard by hundreds of people instantly, unlike the good old days when nasty rumors at least took a while to spread–or could be stopped by teacher intervention.
Which got me to thinking that the fantasy land that Facebook provides might be like the world of fairy tales–full of both exaggerated good and overblown evil–except that the people living there are real people, not made-up goblins or witches or fairy princesses, real people who are telling stories about themselves or about other real people, without ever having to stand, face-to-face, and make a real, live, human connection.
All of which got me worried about how much time my children spend in Facebook-land.
So, I’ll just get my worries on the table: 1) Facebook supposedly keeps people in better touch with friends than they used to be in the old days of hours on the telephone, but is it really a good thing to be in constant touch, 24 hours a day, with people? Don’t you need a little dead time in your life? And doesn’t the whole posting deal make it somehow easier to cut people off in a way that you couldn’t when you had to politely hang up the phone? 2) The obvious one: kids put pictures on Facebook in order to impress their friends, and then those pictures come back to haunt them when they apply for jobs–and more and more employers are using Facebook as a screen. 3) People don’t tend to carry on long conversations over Facebook–they write little snippets, little sound bites, so what happens to what used to be called “the art of conversation?” (This one is probably not a big worry for me, since I know that my kids are still having long conversations with friends, outside of Facebook, but the potential is there.)
4) Having a place like Facebook where you can record every little detail of your life, your status (the stuff people used to write about in diaries) and know that there is a captive audience out there, waiting to hear it, might make you feel like you are a celebrity yourself (something that Woody Allen pointed out in his latest movie, the one set in Rome–the movie was awful, but it did make this point–over and over again, ad nauseum); in other words, you might get a false view of yourself which could be hard to maintain if Facebook ever went away or was temporarily unavailable due to a power outage! I’m happy to say I haven’t witnessed this last one in my own children, since they take the whole Facebook thing with a grain of salt, but I have noticed it in some of their Facebook acquaintances–both kids and adults. I guess there is always room in the world for one more narcissistic person, but Facebook does seem to bring out a huge number of them. And doesn’t this maybe tie in to the whole bullying part? After all, if you can build up a self-image through endless postings about worthless details of your life, what happens when people are not really interested? Is that when, if you are insecure teenager, you go after those people and make their lives miserable?
Enough ranting. But I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on all this, and please remember that I am a Facebook junkie–I spend time there almost every day, and I don’t want to give that up!