Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I've Learned from Less Facebook

This Lent, I was inspired for the third year in a row by a priest friend of ours who recommends a fast from "words and images" (i.e. media that distracts us from God or is not edifying). This time around, I decided to refrain from two such media: radio in the car--which usually results in the harriedness of constant station-surfing and yelling at my kids because I can't hear them and I want to hear the music--and Facebook. I've known for awhile that Facebook is a huge distraction and time-waster in my life--probably one I could do with a lot less of. Confession: on an average day, I probably normally look at it ten times a day. That's a LOT. Just think of all the useful stuff I could do with all that time, I thought. And I must say that even in just this first half of Lent, going without Facebook except for Sundays (Catholic tradition), I've learned several things, good and bad, about The Social Network, its impact on young adult culture, and myself. Such as….

1. For me, Facebook is one more way to benchmark myself against others--not so much whether someone else had another baby or got a great job, but (petty and narcissistic as it sounds) I find myself caring about being an interesting Facebook post-er. If my posts idle forlornly in the news feed with maybe one "like" from my husband, while other people's garner tons of comments, I feel all lame and boring.

2. In other ways, however, Facebook can really boost self-esteem. The feeling of blasting out good or exciting news to a large number of people can buoy me for the better part of a day. For my extroverted side, this is a giddy trip, and is probably the main thing I've missed in my FB hiatus. "Only connect."

3. Speaking of connection, I also realize now that if something is important enough to someone who's important to me (and vice versa), I'll hear about it without Facebook. I might not hear about it instantaneously, but not being on Facebook doesn't mean falling off the planet.

4. In these last three weeks without Facebook, I've improved vastly on keeping up with direct communication like email. Without the perpetual influx of "communication" via status updates making me feel connected to anyone and everyone on FB, I'm remembering to actually communicate one-on-one.

5. The word "friend" is a real chameleon. Facebook has, of course, forever added a new definition of this word to the English language, and I'm starting to re-think who should and should not compose that constellation of smiling faces of my profile. (I predict in ten years the OE Dictionary will have to include an entry under "friend" that explains what it means on Facebook…if anyone can even nail down such a fuzzy concept.) My new idea, after a break from Facebook has made me realize how few of my FB "friends" match my definition of that word in real life, is wouldn't it be ideal if they offered one-week trial friendships? You could one-week trial "friend" those people you'd like to catch up with at a high school reunion so you could get a general idea of what's going on in their lives, and then that's it. They don't have to forever after have access to all your pictures and status updates. Eh? Eh? Are you listening, Mark Zuckerberg?

6. Facebook truly is the ultimate social convenience. I don't have to remember anyone's email address, birthday, place of employment, or even their favorite music--just their name. I enter it into a box and there they are, the most flattering picture of them ready to supply most anything I ask. Having gotten used to this, it would be tough to do without long-term. I will say, however, that I'm pretty sure this is making us all extremely lazy (real) friends. My birthday isn't listed on Facebook, and you know how many birthday wishes I got from friends last year? Three. Yeah, um…that kinda hurt. If we can't be bothered to actually remember friends' birthdays or any other relevant personal information simply because we care enough to do so, I call that a degradation of true friendship.

7. Lastly, without limits on my Facebook-ing, I waste a LOT of time absorbing meaningless information that doesn't edify and which I soon forget. With a one-day-a-week limit, I can keep myself from misusing my time so egregiously throughout the week and get caught up in one day on what I've missed. Then again, I of course don't like limits. They remind me of draconian curfew times and painful weight loss and NO FUN. But with certain things, I guess I just have to accept that moderation will not naturally flow forth to keep me in appropriate balance. Unlike other areas, where years of experience have conditioned me to self-regulate healthy boundaries (eating fast food, spending too much, swimming in vats of chocolate, hiring the dancing boys--wait, where were we?) Facebook is a relatively new phenomenon in my life. I think I need to put this puppy through a little obedience school before I let it run around the park without a leash. Maybe after a period of imposed limits, the habit of self-regulation will set in and I won't need to be so strict. I look forward to that day. But until then, I think I'm going to (even after Lent) stick to my Facebook fast. And in the meantime, I'm enjoying all this extra time I can use to play Bricks Breaking and Angry Birds.

Just kidding. ;)