This is the first day of a 30 day writing challenge that I’m trying. There’s a prompt everyday. The prompt for today is five problems with social media.
I’m torn about this, honestly. Social media, primarily Facebook, has been the way I’ve stayed connected to my friends and family since I left NYC for Ohio. Without it, I would’ve lost touch with hundreds of people and never connected with about 2,000 of my former classmates, colleagues, and students.
Still, there are certainly drawbacks to social media in all its incarnations. It is a tremendous time suck. There’ve been countless times that I’ve gone on Facebook for “5 minutes” and stepped away from it 2 hours later. I had other things to do, but I fell down the rabbit hole and got caught up looking through the list of “people you may know”. Tablets and smartphones make checking one’s Facebook timeline far too easy and many of us (myself included) check in more than we should. I’m guessing I look at the app on my phone upwards of 10 times a day.
Surely there’s something better I could do with my time.
At last count I had nearly 2,600 “friends” on Facebook. Wow. That’s a lot of people! Do I know them all? Surprisingly, I know most of them. I’ve been fortunate to teach over 1,000 students in the last 25 years, and many of them are friends of mine on Facebook. I’ve also been lucky in my work to have hundreds of colleagues and fellow musicians around the world, many of whom I do know well. Still, there are a lot of folks who pop up in my timeline whom I don’t readily recognize.
Facebook turns people into numbers. Our relationships on Facebook are most often superficial and casual. We “talk” to the same few people everyday and rarely have contact with others on our list. We know people, but we don’t “know” them. Facebook is an artificial construct that simulates human contact and takes the place of it. It is virtual, not actual, friendship.
The Internet has become a place where people feel able to say the nastiest things without any thought or fear of retribution. Racism, rape, violence, and anti-Islamic rhetoric are all over the Internet, and folks on comment threads are the most common culprits. Trolls spew out their fiery negativity and then sit back to watch the world burn. Facebook is no exception to this foolishness. It saddens me to see the things people say when they think no one can correct or reprimand them. All their manners and reason fly out the window, as well as their ability to tell actual facts from what they’ve “heard”. Hearsay is NOT knowledge, yet it gets ignorantly spread around like a pound of butter on a slice of toast. Sometimes it’s humorous, sometimes it’s maddening, but mostly it’s just pathetic.
Then we have the spoilers. Sometimes folks will see a popular movie and talk about it in detail on Facebook later, with no regard for those of us who haven’t seen it yet. Or there are the folks in the UK who get to see Downton Abbey seasons before those of us in America. Social media is a great forum for discussion, but we need to be more careful where and when those discussions take place. It’s hard to be that vigilant all the time, but it’s worth it in the end. I know quite a few folks I’d thank if they were more discreet.
Finally, I need to make a confession. I am an over-sharer. My Facebook statuses are loaded with stuff about me that maybe – just maybe – you don’t want or need to know. The temptation to use Facebook as a type of confessional is real. Sometimes my confessions are funny or cynical, sometimes touching or sentimental, and sometimes far too revealing. They are the children of an impulsive mind. But that’s the lure of Facebook. It gets you to post things without thinking because of its immediacy. It’s all about what you’re thinking NOW. The catch is that you can’t get those thoughts back once they’re out there. Anyone can see them: future spouses, former lovers, and future employers. Without thinking about it we often post today something that will bite us in the ass tomorrow. Why not? Facebook tells us it’s okay.
If we don’t think about it, Facebook is a fun and harmless past time that connects us to friends and family all over the world. That’s not so bad, right?
When we do put our minds to it, Facebook is a place that merits more than a little care and consideration in its use. We must be mindful of who we are seen to be, not just out in the world but in the world of the Internet as well. It may be called social media, but it lacks manners and social graces — unless, of course, we remember to bring them with us to the party.