'Tis the time once again when we all make renunciations and proclamations and enunciations of the things we will or will not do in this year, the year of the dragon. For the past several years, there have begun to pop up article after article, post after post of people swearing off their beloved social media, such as this recent Relevant article by a young woman giving up Facebook for the year. While I heartily respect those making such commitments based on personal convictions, I want to add my own perspective to the mix. Looking back over my 3 1/2-year relationship with Facebook, I can confidently say that it has brought good into my life, and I look forward to our year ahead together.
Remembering back to my early relationship with Facebook is funny, but I'm glad all the poking, licking and pet penguins are a thing of the past. And contrary to popular belief, rather than miring me in the minutiae of others' lives or turning me into a social cripple or transforming me into Narcissus, Facebook has connected me with those long lost, awakened my empathy and enlivened my reading.
Here are just a couple of the myths of Facebook that have been proven false in my own experience:
Facebook is a platform for grandstanding and self-involvement: Many think Facebook is rife with possibilities for, on the one hand, bragging, and on the other hand, jealousy. And I suppose it is. But not necessarily so. If all I ever did was think long and hard about my own status and how it would make me sound, a bit (or a lot) of the Narcissus would creep into me. And if I only ever read others' posts as a measuring stick for my own, it would be a vat of jealousy waiting to be jumped into.
But my experience is quite the opposite. The more I read of others' lives, the more I am taken out of my own self-focused mindset. While carelessly surfing the internet and thinking only of frivolity, I am reminded that a friend of mine is on a home-IV for her high-risk pregnancy. I learn that it is a family member's 10th wedding anniversary. I remember that friend who could really use a word of encouragement. If Facebook is rife with opportunities for jealousy and bragging, then it is even more so full of opportunities to empathize, love, support and encourage.
Facebook will socially cripple you and make you withdraw from "real" relationships. Facebook hasn't socially crippled me. (I was already socially crippled!) Rather, it has helped this introverted, shy woman find a venue that is safe and comfortable. Rather than decreasing my "real" relationships, it has increased and deepened them. Perhaps it's sad, but I am simply more comfortable in writing than in person. This is why my husband and I got to know each other over email. Facebook hasn't allowed me to "withdraw" into inauthentic, shallow online relationships, it has given me a place in which I can relate to people in a way in which I feel more able to be open and myself.
In "the good old days" before Facebook, I wasn't engaged in deeper relationships because I didn't have the easy out of online relationships, I was simply still the person I am today, but without a tool that aids me in friendship. When I look at my friendships today versus five years ago, they have multiplied and thrived, rather than shriveling in the "fake" land of Facebook. If you don't need any online tools for friendship, then bully for you! But for me and my fellow awkward introverts, it's great. It's also quite helpful for those of us who are awful at keeping in touch with old friends. And it is no less authentic in keeping in touch with these friends than a letter sent a century ago would have been or a telephone call 50 years ago. New technology, but same old friendship and sentiments.
Facebook is a time suck that prevents us from doing "real" life. This is probably true for some. In my own life, however, I'm a work-at-home mom and Facebook is on many days my only link to the outside world (especially as we currently only have one car and it's too cold to walk outside with a wee babe on many days). The people I "talk" to on Facebook may be the only people I talk to that day, aside from my husband and my own inane cooings at the baby.
Many seem to think that if we weren't spending our time on Facebook, we'd be spending our time baking cookies for neighbors, gardening, keeping a perfect house, and saving drowning puppies. An apt question would be: Did we do all these things before Facebook came along? I did not. Facebook is not my problem. Before there was Facebook, there was the Food Network. Before the Food Network, there were frivolous books. Before frivolous books, there was gazing out the window.
Although for many Facebook can become an over-involved and mindless time suck, for me it actually expands my worldview and my reading. I am challenged by the recommended links and articles of friends of mine from different faiths or worldviews. Sure, I click on my friends' videos of cats falling asleep in their milk, but I also am led to many articles, blogs and videos on current events, faith, and development work that enrich my knowledge and challenge my thinkinng.
Facebook is simply a tool. Like all tools, it can be used for good or bad. As with every new technology, it faces scrutiny based on, perhaps, an idealized memory of what we were like in the good old days. But as for me, it's a link to the outside world during my work-at-home days, a reminder of those who need encouragement, and a resource for great thinking and writing. And so, me and Facebook will remain friends for one more year.