This year marks ten years since I have brought social media into my life. I remember the day I joined Facebook. It was 2008. I was sitting on a hotel floor pumping while away at a conference shortly after having my second child. My coworker was telling me all about this thing called Facebook and suggested that during my newfound downtime, I should create an account and see what happens.
So I did. And 10 years later, not a day has gone by that Facebook has not been a part of my life. Throughout the decade, Facebook moved from my computer to my phone and acquired cousins like Twitter, Instagram and (reluctantly) Snapchat. Which brings me to today – spending my idle time with a cache of apps that are ready to launch me into a virtual social dimension at the touch of a button.
My decade of experience has rendered me useless with much of this because I have no idea what role these platforms should be playing in my life. I dabble in all of them, with Facebook being the one that has seen the most use over time. Lately, I’m at a crossroads with how I want to use all of these. Or if I want to use any at all. Much of this I blame on the evolution of Facebook and how my own use has changed over time.
Let me start with my #1 complaint. Facebook birthdays. I celebrated my last Facebook birthday in 2014. After spending hours writing individual responses to each “happy birthday” and cake emoji, I decided that my personal messages of thanks were equally as forced as many of the notes of congratulations. There was something that felt so inauthentic as I summoned a weak note of gratitude to a comment that was generated from a mass Facebook reminder to all of my contacts.
What Facebook has done is ripped the authenticity of a birthday wish from our hearts and into our daily notifications. The birthday wishes I want are from the people who, because they know me, know it’s my birthday and remind themselves to send me a text or place a phone call…because they want to. I do not expect the however many hundreds of contacts in my Facebook world to know or care that it’s my birthday.
After my last Facebook birthday, I did a little experiment. I took my birthday off of Facebook and waited to see what would happen in 2015. Here’s how many Facebook birthday wishes I received that year: TWO. One from a well meaning aunt who communicates birthday wishes to the world through her status updates and one post from a childhood friend whose birthday game is on point every year. I also received plenty of texts and calls from exactly the right people.
I feel badly being so grumpy about a seemingly harmless and kind gesture. One could argue that Facebook as brought joy into thousands of peoples lives who appreciate the voluminous wishes every year. My discomfort lies in the automation of the gesture. That the work of remembering, or writing a unique note (FB will give you pre-written comments!) has been compromised and turned into a mindless daily exercise. Sure, let Facebook maintain a calendar of birthdays, but don’t put them in charge of the wishes. Let’s take back our birthdays.
Let’s think back to our days before Facebook. When I would run into a friend, we would talk and catch up about things that had happened in the time since we last saw each other. In one push of emotional energy, we would connect and convey excitement, congratulations or affirmations about multiple things that were exchanged in that moment. One push of social energy for multiple bits of news.
Today, it feels like we have to send out that same push of social energy for every. single. bit of news. Instead of one conversation outlining your work trip, the swing set your kids just got, and the amazing meal you had at the new restaurant in town, these bits of information come in singular posts over Facebook. In a pre-FB world, I would use one moment to comment on all of that and then the person would do the same for me. We would wrap up and move on until the next time we saw each other. Today, each bit of information requires a push of social energy through a like or a comment. And the bits of information come constantly. There’s no time in between. Facebook has become an exhausting playground of constant affirmation that I have acknowledged you and you have acknowledged me.
I feel like I’m socially suffocating in the vast sea of unspoken etiquette and decorum that one must keep in their network. The currency of likes and comments on social media overwhelms me. Sometimes I’m on social media frequently, doling out likes and comments as they come. Other times, I go for long stretches of silence and miss the posts about the new swing set or the great meal you just had. Sometimes I don’t like anything at all because I’m reading fast while I’m stirring dinner with the other hand. Despite my best attempts, I will still get a call from my mother asking why I didn’t like her photo on Facebook.
I definitely see the value in connecting with people over social media and use it for that purpose. It’s the constant output of social acknowledgement in symbols and comments that feels exhausting. I wish I could pull up someone’s week or month in review and give it one big “like” or provide one comment of affirmation. More importantly, I’d rather hear all these things directly from the people I love. So if that means we need to wait a month until we have coffee or catch a phone call, I’m ok with that because we will both fill up our social buckets with spoken words and emotion rather than symbolic likes and emojis.
Fill in the Blank
Answer this question: What am I trying to accomplish by posting this?
I can’t really answer that question without admitting that there is a level of attention seeking at the root of most things I post. Sure, there are things related to sharing information, passing along good works from people around us, etc. but the personal stuff is a conundrum for me. As the number of contacts in my social media networks has grown, I’ve become less inclined to post personal things because I really have lost sight of what I’m trying to accomplish. I think it relates to the size of the network – the larger the network, the less personal and the more information sharing I seem to do. The smaller and more curated the network, the more personal posts I tend to share.
If I’m trying to accomplish personal sharing and connection, then perhaps I should go back to the early years of my social media use when my networks were small and filled with people I knew well. If I’m trying to accomplish information sharing, then I should keep accepting friend requests and let the networks take on their own lives.
In order to do any of this, however, I have to decide what I am trying to accomplish by posting on social media in the first place…
The Hypocrisy of it All
This is isn’t the first time I have written about social media. Years ago, I thought I had it all figured out and wrote a post espousing my perfect solution. Yet, here I am nearly three years later more confused than ever. Despite it all, I’m going to post this on Facebook. Maybe Instagram too. And I will probably pay attention to see if anyone likes it or participates in this conversation.