Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Facebook 'Friends'

Facebook really is the beast that has revolutionised what we call friendships.  After initial scepticism over what I saw to be another time-wasting activity, I was hooked.  I was meeting up with school friends and other acquaintances I hadn't seen or heard from for years.  Some of these Facebook meetings led to catch ups in the real world.  Other relationships continued to exist only from behind the computer monitor which was fine.  If I wanted advice, I had a couple of hundred people at my fingertips.  I had people to laugh with me at the funny happenings of life.  I could do nothing but sing Mark Zuckerberg's praises.

I joined Facebook in July 2007.  It has probably been sometime over the past two years that my rose-coloured glasses have become askew and I've seen the uglier side of Facebook usage.

A few months ago, I went to Margaret River (a beachside town in the southwest of Western Australia that is popular with yuppies) to visit a friend who lived there at the time.  This friend was recovering from a bulging disc in her back so she needed to spend a lot of time lying down.  This was fine by me because I'd been sick with Helicobacter Pylori and was keen for some downtime.  We went to the video store and got some DVDs.  One of these was The Social Network which I'd been wanting to see for months.

I was very disappointed with the movie.  Besides the dark lighting and the actors' frequent mumbling, I'd been expecting it to be more of a documentary on the psychology of Facebook usage rather than the story of how Facebook came about.  I've always been fascinated by psychology and would have studied it at uni, but my love for the creative arts was stronger.

As I look back on my early days as a Facebooker, I can scarcely believe how naive and foolish I was.  I thought I had encountered a paradise where everyone was civil and relationships would be enhanced.  I've since realised how silly I was to think I'd found a place where sin did not dwell.  Relationships will always be complicated and Facebook is just another medium for this to occur.

I think many of the problems with Facebook conflict stem from different expectations and why we are actually on Facebook in the first place.  When I joined, I really didn't know why I was joining; I joined because a friend invited me and I was curious.  But that was also around the time when Duncan and I got engaged and I knew that I'd be leaving Perth and many friends behind.  I thought I'd found the solution to my problems of wondering how I was going to stay in touch with so many people.

In a nutshell, I see Facebook not as a replacement of friendships, but an extension of them.  Because I can't see people often in real life, Facebook provides a way for me to stay in their lives so I don't get a total shock when I see them next and discover they've had triplets in the meantime.  For me, Facebook is about people.  It's about sharing and caring.  It's about telling others what's going on in my life, but also listening to what's going on in theirs.  I expect people to be the same on Facebook as they are in real life.  There is no 'Facebook persona' and 'real life persona'.  To me, they are one and the same.

But it's become apparent that many people don't see Facebook the way I do.  I'll be honest that this has been a bitter pill to swallow at times.  After seeing The Social Network, my friend commented that she thinks Facebook encourages narcissism and I'm inclined to agree.  For some people, Facebook may well be their stage to broadcast themselves to the world, but not so much to take an interest in the lives of others.  I think this is a temptation for people, like myself, who are isolated, either because of where they live or because of their circumstances (illness, small children at home etc).  Sometimes it is tempting to just rattle off things on my Facebook status because it's like shouting to the world, "I'm still here, I'm still alive."  But I try to limit how much I write because if it results in silence (no comments or likes), I find it hard to bear.

Going deeper on the silence issue, I'm a person who interprets silence as a negative thing.  So if I write something and nobody says anything, I often fall into the trap of interpreting silence as not caring, either not liking what I write or not liking me as a person.  The very wise Meredith once said in a comment on my blog that silence doesn't necessarily mean people don't like what I write, and that if a company gets a 10% response rate to a survey, they see it as a success.  But even after many long chats with myself that I shouldn't take such things personally, I remain unconvinced.  It's silence from friends that has wounded me more than nasty words.  I shake my head when friends remain silent on posts such as my Nan died or I've been very unwell, but will suddenly appear again when I write about something funny my chooks did.  And these are people I had solid friendships with long before Facebook became a part of our lives.  I've heard many people say that they think some people take Facebook too seriously and that it's only meant to be a bit of fun.  That's what happens when there is a real life/Facebook divide.  People think what they say online has no repercussions in real life.

In many cases I've found Facebook has made some relationships MORE complicated and difficult.  I've wanted to cut ties with many people online because I just can't stand how they belittle me on Facebook.  It's like shaming me in front of a crowd (where they know all your Facebook friends can see what they say and your reaction).  Because of this, I've wanted to cut them off in real life as well, but I haven't in many cases because of Duncan.  Some other friends have said the same; they've wanted to unfriend people online but haven't because it would make their real life relationships awkward (particularly if that person is family). If I unfriend someone who is a mutual friend of ours, it also makes things awkward for Duncan.  I can understand why some people take unfriending personally, even if the person who is unfriending them is simply having a massive 'friend cleanout'.  It kind of is a rejection in a way because why were you shafted when others were allowed to stay?  I probably think this way because when I unfriend it's because of something that person did, not because I just wanted to keep in touch with a smaller group of people.

Sometimes I think Facebook is like a mirror which shows us what ourselves and others are REALLY like.  Instead of solving our friendship dilemmas of distance and busyness, it has made our relationships more complicated and stressful.  For example, what do you do about people who say they use Facebook to stay in touch, but never reply to messages?  I've heard people say they haven't been on Facebook for ages, yet my newsfeed says differently. I wonder where some people's priorities lie when they seem to have plenty of time for games yet are too busy for their friends.  Sadly I've deliberately let what used to be good friendships fall by the wayside because Facebook has revealed to me more about those people than years of knowing them in person did.  I thought online was meant to be fake.  It isn't.

Of course, many of the problems that arise stem from the fact that Facebook labels everyone as your 'friend', when that's far from the truth.  Lately they seem to be introducing more and more filters and categories so you can determine who sees what, even among your friends.  I used to be against such things, but I now see them as a necessity when you know from experience that some twits will hold things against you.

I'm still a Facebook user, but less of a fan.  I've considered deactivating my profile too many times to count, and I've wondered which is better for my health - to have some form of contact and put up with a few knobs, or have complete silence?  Ultimately silence doesn't appeal to me because it feels like I'm in a dark room, shouting to people who you know are in there, but I can't see or hear them because they prefer to just lurk while I feel more and more alone.  I use it because otherwise I'd go mental living out here without some form of contact, and because, if I didn't, I'd fall of some people's radars completely.  Ultimately Facebook is just another medium where sin can grow rampant in the forms of overt narcissism, lack of care and consideration for others, lopsided friendships and even exclusion.  Sure, Facebook can be a lot of fun, but at times we need to take it seriously because we need to take sin seriously.  On Facebook you have the awkward experience of asking others to be your friend - a deliberate action - whereas real life friendships are more naturally formed.  I don't go around asking people to be my friend in real life - that sounds like I'm asking them on a date.  This probably explains why I wait to be added rather than taking the initiative.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with Facebook.


Iris Flavia said...

A "friend", a woman in her 50s in the United States I never met in person and who helped me so, so, so much when Spouse was seriously sick added me to FB.
She chose my name in English and misspelled it, too - maybe to protect me?
She left FB and I failed to contact her at all.
Did something bad happen? So much to friendship?

I accepted and somehow people find me - even German ones.
I have two German "friends" and I "unfriended" my Bro cause I now feel kinda ashamed about my name and that most conversation is in English - I´m kinda weird a bit, huh? I don´t want old classmates to find me here.

I have few friends on FB and that´s absolutely ok.

Guess it really isn´t the hype over here anyways (yet)!

I really wouldn´t care to try and be a different person online than in real life - what would that be good for? It sounds exhausting to me.
I agree on your view on silence and that some people just come over for the fun stuff in your life, not when you need them most. What kind of understanding to they have, I wonder?

I know a lot of people who think of FB as "bad". But I guess when you use it moderatly and careful it´s a good helper. Esp when being in contact with people from different time-zones.
Is FB so much differrent to blogging? You have to be careful wherever you are, online especially.
Always keep in mind that your (future?) Boss might read along and if you´re fine with that, you´re doing it right. No? Too easy?

bettyl said...

I found old classmates (and a teacher) on FB and I am glad I could find out where they are. That's the extent of my FB, besides a game or two.
And, that is what I made it. No more, no less.