The way I understand it, the whole concept was originally based on connection. Facebook was an online community of “friends” where you could share pictures, fun posts and interesting tidbits from your day. I certainly remember it starting that way. And I remember how fun it was reconnecting with old friends from high school or making new connections with acquaintances.
Scrolling through my news feed was rather enjoyable back in those days. Someone might make a funny observation or share a story from their daily life to which I could relate. Maybe it was just a pic of the family and we’d all marvel at how fast the kids were growing. All that has changed. Pics are memes, posts are snippy and the stories are confrontational. But don’t blame Facebook, blame us.
The way we use Facebook has changed. We stopped using it to build connections and started using it to build platforms. Then we stood on those platforms and shouted loudly about our religious, political and cultural convictions. And frankly, the whole thing is getting old. The Facebook rant or the equally annoying sharing of a link to someone else’s Facebook rant is wearing me out. The site is looking less like a social network and more like an online bully pulpit for anyone with a keyboard.
The problem is twofold:
- Facebook lends authority to anyone with an opinion. Before social media, our reaction to issues like the flag or gay marriage would have been debated and discussed through personal conversations or well-reasoned editorials. No more. Now we post the first thought that pops into our head (regardless of whether or not we’ve actually given it any real thought) and damn anyone disagrees.
- Facebook feeds our narcissism. Look at all these “friends” I have? Folks must really want to know what I think about this issue! We don’t (but we don’t have heart to tell you so we keep tolerating your posts). I admit fault here as well. Several years ago I decided to welcome all friend requests because I begin to see Facebook as a public platform for my ministry. This was a good way to spread my influence and grow my brand (which sounds pretty narcissist when I put it like that).
Did Facebook create this problem or is it just a product of current culture? Probably both. We’re certainly more self-centered than ever before and community is more of an aspirational value than a practiced value. The whole thing results in a string of loosely held connections but no real sense of togetherness. Challenge me, disagree with me or offend me and I’ll unfriend you before you can type out “I’m sorry.”
That’s the irony of social media. What was designed to increase connection has actually increased isolation. On screen friendships simply lack the depth of real friendships and the community we experience in our social networks is nothing like the community our grandparents experienced on the front porch or around the dinner table.
The problem is the community I build in Facebook is centered on me, not one another. So we each stand in our respective corners and shout loudly about the latest offense or grievance. We rant and rave in an attempt to garner “likes,” “shares” or “you tell them” type comments. We share only that which lines up with our views and angrily dismiss any differences. In essence, we deny the right for anyone to have a strong opinion that doesn’t line up with our own strong opinion.
Can you imagine a conversation in which your friend continually slams down articles on the coffee table and furiously says “Read this!” or “Take this!” Would we call that a conversation? Would we call it a connection? No, we’d call it bullying or something worse. And we’d find the quickest way possible to excuse ourselves from the room. No one likes getting preached at (and I say that as a preacher).
So what’s the conclusion? Can Facebook be redeemed? I’m not sure. Maybe once the flag and marriage controversies subside we can all settle down a bit, but I’m doubtful. They’ll always be another controversy and since we all have our own platform now, it will always be hard to remain silent. For now I plan on hanging on. Honestly, I have too much history built up to dump it just because I’m feeling a little worn out. But I’m thinking I need to cut back the amount of time I spend on Facebook and, I don’t know, maybe have a real conversation and make some real connections.