Monday, November 30, 2009

Does Facebook really matter?

Meg raised a valid question in last Wednesday's "Facebook and exes" post.

Does Facebook really matter?  Does it really hold any legitimate significance over our lives?  If we just ignored it and let it all go, would anyone care? Would anything change?

Short answers: 
  • Yes, it does.  
  • Yes, but we control the significance.  
  • Yes, but they wouldn't care as much as we would.  
  • And yes, things would definitely change; just ask my friend Stephane.
So - yes - but let's get technical.  Facebook can definitely get you fired and likely get you hired. Facebook can prompt a fight with essentially anyone in your life.  It can get you discovered by an agent.  It can get you sued by any number of people.  It can help you get into or make you get out of a relationship.   The list goes on. You get the point. 

But all of that just means that Facebook has effects.  It can make things happen simply because of the way it is set up to work. It is a mechanism by which things are made to matter.

Meg's question seems to be more along the lines of, should we care about Facebook? Should we want slash need it?  Does it hold significance beyond its undeniable powers?

I still think the answer is yes, but it's a different kind of yes - a yes that's connected to the way you use Facebook.  Take my Mom:  

My Mom joined Facebook so she could see the pictures my sisters and I post and re-connect with friends and family who live far away.  Her usage is amateur, to say the least.  Case in point, a few months ago she called and said, "I hate Facebook.  It's too hard for me. All I know how to do is the newsfeed." My Mom uses Facebook as a simple, social device.  She doesn't use it to broadcast herself and her life to an online community.  Her profile picture is the same as it was the day she joined - a picture of my entire family.  

Some people use Facebook like my Mom does.  Those people are generally over the age of 30 and do not work in creative or marketing businesses.  

Most people use Facebook as a virtual representation of their every move.  Thrice-daily status updates.  Immediate photo album posting.  Manic checking of other people's profiles'. When most people hear that someone can't access Facebook at work they say, "oh my god - I would die."  Ask any girl aged 18 to 30 and she'll have an opinion on the mobile upload of the engagement ring immediately post engagement (mine: tacky).

Like it or not, for many of us Facebook is a digital extension of our three-dimensional lives. And if you are sitting there going, "I don't broadcast my every move on Facebook" but you spend time every day seeing what other people broadcast then you're just as guilty.  

Facebook matters - even if it shouldn't - because we allow it to matter. We feed it with significant content about the details of our life so that others can see and feel about those details, and in turn we see and feel about everything we observe.  I have decided not to date people based on their collection of photos, and am absolutely certain guys have done the same to me.  I've essentially ended the prospects of continued friendship with people by ignoring their friend request.  And yes, of course I've posted specific status updates so specific people will see them.  

Is that silly? - probably.  Is it immature? - yes.  Is it harmful in ways I probably don't realize right now? - definitely.  But does it "matter" - yep, big time - and the only way to change that is to leave it all behind. 

Over two years ago (right Stephane?) my friend Stephane left the Facebook.  He was tired of how much it mattered, how surface some relationships were starting to feel, how everyone relied on it to communicate.  It was taking too much of his time away from other projects and passions, so he went through the incredibly arduous process of disappearing from le book (you have to E-MAIL them to ask to be removed in all ways) and is now free from the social network.  

It sounds so weird to say, but his life is not the same.  Facebook mattered - at least in his world - to the point where he went through a significant shift post-leaving.  Thursday, his story in full.

But for now, I leave us with the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent," and in that same vein (it's a stretch but stay with me) no social networking site can make you feel...well...anything I guess - without you letting it. 


  1. So true. Facebook only matters because we allow it to matter (as much as I hate admitting that).

    Just found your blog last week and LOVE it. Your writing makes me laugh out loud.

  2. I couldn't agree with what you said more, on an intellectual level. Yes, of course Facebook and other networking sites - just like people - only have power if we give them power. Of course we can only be made to feel a certain way if he *allow ourselves to feel that way. This is all a very Zen way of thinking about things, and I totally agree.

    HOWEVER. Having said all that, when I got that e-mail from my ex, no matter how much I told myself it didn't matter, not to hurt, not to be upset about it, that it wasn't "real life" and thus didn't really mean anything... it still hurt me. It's not the Facebook act itself that hurts, but what it means in real life - namely, that someone I once loved no longer loves me.

    Or, if that's not the reason, then whatever the reason is, it's something hurtful. Not because I'm letting it be. Because some things just sting, no matter how much you try to defend yourself against it.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more!!! On Thanksgiving, my uncle played a game with me called "Let's see how many photos Jenny has on Facebook, holding drinks." He won. Now I'm re-thinking about doing my entire FB page =) Great post!!

  4. I'm a firm believer that the internet (and Facebook is a large part of the subset of internet that I'm referring to) is ruining our social landscape as a culture. I've got a whole bunch of theories as to the effect of social networking on child and teenage development (It's not pretty, just look:

    That said, the idea of divesting myself of all of that twitter-twatter and facebooking, is, well, anxiety inducing. But at the same time, having it in my life is totally crazy-making, too. I don't know which is worse.

  5. I'm not sure what the point of this post is. Try finding something insightful to say.