I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve heard people say they hate Facebook and they’re going to delete their accounts, but is it Facebook or is it really the people who complain that have the problem?
Statements like those are often preceded by some kind of major life event; a bad break-up, trouble at work, passing of a loved one or something like that. We become disillusioned and overwhelmed, and it’s natural to take a step back to assess our lives. When in this state, people often put the blame on social media and they decide to unplug, but as Maureen O’Connor from New York Magazine asks, do you hate social media, or do you hate what and who it reminds you of?
It’s worth acknowledging that while the internet and subsequent social media has become a part of the fabric of our lives, it really only offers a tiny glimpse into the lives of others. The truth is that we show only a small part of what we’re up to in our daily lives – most often the parts that are fun or worth bragging about. This “curated” version has little context and can often suggest that others lead perfect, happy lives compared to our own messy, complex ones.
But the reality is that just because a couple always post pictures of themselves in loving embraces, doesn’t mean they don’t ever fight, and just because someone’s status updates are always about how much fun they’re having socialising, doesn’t mean they’re never bored at home on a Friday night. The feeling of missing out or jealousy are understandable, until you realise that the “perfect” lives people portray on their social media accounts aren’t actually possible.
We use social media to validate our points of views, even those that stem from insecurity. But instead of giving us perspective, this just sends us deeper into our own naval-gazing introspection. I recently ran into an ex who said some pretty nasty and hurtful things to me when we broke up. The encounter left my self-image a little dented, so I hopped onto Facebook and posted a couple of inspirational quotes and a sad song from a band I liked, and started counting the likes to get some artificial affirmation of my own self-worth. But this only works until you see a picture of your ex frolicking about on a beach with her new boyfriend. I hate my life, I will end up alone one day, and Facebook sucks.
The bottomline is that we should be using social media as a tool rather than a vital lifeline to our relationships with other people. Giving the posts you see on Facebook or any other social network too much weight and meaning will only set you up for disappointment.
You have a significant degree of control over what you see on any social media platform. If you don’t want to see your ex having fun without you, then unfriend, unfollow, block, report as spam. No one is forcing you to stay connected to people who make you miserable. It’s like driving slowly and deliberately past an accident scene and complaining how you hate seeing blood. It’s simple, just don’t look.
Unplugging from our overly social internet experiences has its place, and going offline is the same as spending a week on the beach after a long and stressful year. The internet and social media has become part of our lives, and it’s something you have to accept, but how much you interact with it is up to you. At the end of the day it’s only a medium that you use to communicate with other people and unplugging after a break-up will help, but it won’t take the heartache away. Unplugging is a great opportunity to work on making real, meaningful connections with people on a daily basis. Investing in real friendships – outside of the social media sphere – is a vital part of our lives that we often compromise in favour of sitting zombie-like at our computers, selecting the “like” icon for someone else’s carefully filtered Instagram photo.
There’s a duality in Facebook, we have to keep reminding ourselves that it only shows a part of our lives, but it doesn’t define you as a person. It’s a great way to stay in touch with people, but physical interaction still trumps any contact online, and we need to find a balance.
If you need to get away from people, do so. Unplug, go sit on a beach and recharge, but don’t blame Facebook.