Over 900 million people log on to Facebook everyday worldwide. No one knows its future, but many argue it will become as outdated as a tape recorder. Time will tell. Meanwhile, no one can deny the current addiction people have to it; it is often used daily and is commonly the first thing people look at when they wake up. Like the telephone phone before it, Facebook can make people feel more connected, but as is true for other technologies its magical quality is also its curse. It fuses distance with intimacy. No longer do you need to be physically WITH someone in order to “connect” with them. Well, at least electronically, chuckle chuckle.
There are many positives to FB, no doubt, but in this article I will slice into some concerning aspects about FB and end with some tips for adults and parents who want to have a truly strong and genuine social support network even after FB has been carted off to the junkyard of outdated social media.
Part of FB’s appeal is it can make people connected to SO MANY people. Now you can broadcast to a stadium of people and not even be a rock star. And many people do, even if what they consider to be verbal music sounds like annoying noise to others. There is a grade school quality to FB, no one can deny. We can “friend” people and never meet them. It is sort of like how we can at the end of the year have someone sign our school yearbook, even if we would never hang out with them. But FB takes the yearbook analogy several steps farther: we can spend time commenting on things people post while not knowing or meeting them. People who you might not want to get together with even if given the chance. And yet you comment on something they post.
Do you see where this is going? Some people are spending inordinate amounts of time commenting on things with the end result being a big fat zero. No relationship-building. No societal contribution. Well, FB likely just data mined that comment and is using it to sell trending data, so in a way you are helping a private corporation make more money. Do you feel like a hamster yet?
And because FB does not necessarily facilitate an end goal of getting together physically, it can feel like being in a relationship that leads nowhere but the land of inconsequential chatter. But because one can have a lot of Facebook friends, one can feel part of a community. But a community unlike any other that has ever existed, and you might fairly question if the word community is being prostituted more to draw people in than to reveal any truth about its essential nature.
I suppose you could test the strength of the FB “community” you or your child is part of by asking yourself this: if you got sick and were in the hospital, how many of your or your child’s FB friends would take the time to call and check how things are going? The size and strength of your friendship circle is measurable only by those who will make sacrifices for you, who make you a priority, who will go out of their way to help you. So in FB you are not a rock star, you are more like someone at a karaoke machine where no matter how bad or good you sound, your circle of true friends does not grow or shrink.
Deeper questions like this can help us penetrate into the core reality of FB. Let’s be honest, since when does a “friendship” begin with the click of a button? This is not friendship, it is electronic connectivity. Do our youth understand that as clearly as they should? Does the young person you may know understand that saying “get well soon” is not showing the same level of caring as visiting that friend in the hospital? This is a deep question and one worth reflecting on, especially if you are a parent. There is a lot of research suggesting numerous problems with how FB is negatively affecting relationships and mental health. In short, to what degree are FB 1-click communications replacing behavior that is better exhibited in person, or on the phone? When is the last time you wrote someone a thank you note instead of just saying “thanks” over FB.
It is not that I think we should cling to outdated notions of concepts like friendship or social etiquette, but hear this: relationships get stronger when people regularly show they want to communicate in more personal (read less convenient and more time consuming) versus less personal ways.
A brilliant psychologist by the name of Dr. John Caccioppo says it best when he talks about how forming connections with online friends is a noble attempt by an obligatorily gregarious creature to satisfy a compelling need, but “surrogates can never make up for the absence of the real thing”. The real thing being actual people, in the flesh. Insightfully, he points out, “people are bringing their old friends, and feelings of loneliness or connectedness, to Facebook”. But he then argues as do I: the depth of one’s social network outside of Facebook, not actions taken within facebook, are what determine the depth of one social network. In other words, using social media doesn’t create new social networks, it just transfers networks from one platform to another. Caccioppo’s research found one thing all readers should take deep into their Heart: the greater proportion of face to face interactions, the less lonely you are”. So here is a way to test the health of your Facebook usage: are you or your child’s FB communications increasing your face to face interactions with people, or decreasing them? Be honest.
Here are some tips to help you or your child use FB safely while keeping it in perspective:
-Do not let social technologies get in the way of family relationships. Sad but true: I see increasing numbers of children out to dinner with parents where the child is more focused on their handheld device than their family. Whoa! Maybe Lance Armstrong was prophetic when he coined his Blackberry a “crackberry”. Technology is addicting…so have a rule in your family! if anyone’s electronic communications get in the way of people relating to each other, then the usage of that device is re-evaluated and possibly terminated. That goes for you parents as well. Have times of day when all social media are off.
-use FB to sustain and deepen your current friendships, but do put too much time into those FB friends you never physically meet with. If your goal is to over time grow a circle of long-term relationships, keep your FB time to a minimum.
-if you have or know children, I suggest the parents be aware that cyber-bullying through FB is one of the leading stressors in a child’s or adolescent’s life. As a counselor and psychologist to children as well as adults, I am aware of children even trying to commit suicide due to cyber-bullying. Now days, one rumor spreads to hundreds at the click of a button – like a brushfire.
-parents should have their children’s FB password, and should discuss with their children the idea that they reserve the right to randomly check on their child’s FB usage. Too many parents never check their child’s FB account, and this can lead to very harmful consequences.
-parents should have groundrules with their children about what is appropriate versus inappropriate FB usage. Clear consequences should be verbalized if that child is found to be cyber-bullying, gossiping, or otherwise acting impulsively or in any way that would embarrass the family or put someone else into serious distress.
-be aware of hiow FB can make you feel more depressed. Why? Because people are so busy promoting how awesome their life is that it can read like a bunch of grade schoolers trying to one up each other on just who had the coolest vacation, or is enjoying the coolest moment in nature etc. If people are so happy and fulfilled with their lives, why do they feel they need to broadcast it to 200 people? A deep thought to ponder.
-you and/or your child should clearly understand how humans are wired: Millions of years of evolution have wired the human species to derive more powerful feelings from face-to-face meetings. The richness of meeting up, which involves a myriad of nuances like eye contact, facial expression, etc., still far outweigh even the best FB photo. The most complex organism on earth is still the brain, and we are still uncovering in just how many ways physical presence matters, including releases of pheromones, effects of perceived changes in pupil dilation, etc. Even skype cannot give us what physical real time contact does. You cannot hug someone through skype. Though I am sure FB will create a hug and kiss icons one day.
-healthy boundaries: Posting embarrassing photos can be funny, but to whom? Be wary of turning your sense of humor into a pattern of exhibitionism. You might come off as the only one who is laughing.
-make sure your understand that a strong real world social network is key to coping with trauma/distress. Research has shown that people tend to do best when they have at least four close friends they can count on. Make sure you are not letting FB usage get in the way of your creating or developing deeper relationships. Your health may suffer, as we know that too little social support can decrease immune system functioning, leading to more frequent sickness.
-be aware of the statistics regarding FB usage. Some researchers have found that lonely people also spend more time on Facebook. Make sure you are aware of how much more psychologically fulfilling face to face interaction is than FB (we know this from research).
-connecting versus bonding. Make sure you and/or your child have a clear understanding of what social behaviors create bonding and what behaviors simply sustain connectivity. I refer to bonding as a process by which one begins to feel an emotional connection that stimulates loyalty, compassion, trust, benevolence, etc. In short, the qualities we look for in long-term relationships and which create a “confidant” whom we can share deeper feelings with. It is this ability to process deeper feelings that is so important to psychological health. If we overly suppress feelings, and are always trying to show everyone how happy we (with our FB photos, trophy statements, etc) are then often immune system functioning goes south.
-reign in any tendencies toward impulsivity. Because FB allows us to say annoying/stupid/narcissistic things without fearing more traditional forms of retribution (like public embarrassment in real time) people tend to think less and say more. As stated in a recent article in The Atlantic on FB “facebook has transformed oversharing from an annoying habit of the poorly socialized into the very stuff of daily interactions. No thought is too banal, no event too minor, no mood too passing, no photo too embarrassing to be posted on Facebook”. Before you post that picture, ask yourself, who is this benefitting?
-make sure you remain aware of just how addictive FB is for adults or children and how much privacy is given up merely by having an account. “Facebook stalking” is a real phenomenon, and children can be victims of criminal behavior conducted by adults who are trying to take advantage of a child’s innocence. Make sure you review your or your child’s privacy settings.
Let’s end on a positive note: FB can be a place where you celebrate your real friends’ achievements, where people facilitate get together’s, the list could go on. In the end keep yourself most deeply rooted in real world physical communion with others. That is how your build true Community.