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How I’m coping with Facebook stress

February 21, 2011

On Facebook, everybody knows your name

I have been accused, as someone who is rapidly slipping into decline, of not using Facebook sufficiently. This is entirely true. I do not rely on Facebook to the extent others do because:

  1. When Facebook and I were introduced, I was immediately suspicious of its intentions. It seemed too friendly, too needy; I backed off, unsure of what it wanted from me.
  2. It reminds me too much of high school, where all the popular kids hang out in one special place and everyone who isn’t popular is kicked out and told to go play with the ugly kids.
  3. It is too nosy and asks too many personal questions.
  4. Writing something on your “wall” is too much like talking to the Homecoming Queen when she’s busy accepting the bouquet of roses: she’s not listening, and you feel like a fool trying to get her attention in front of the whole school when she’s preoccupied. In other words, you’re talking to yourself most of the time, and that’s just embarrassing.

The point is, Facebook was never meant for me, one of the aging. It was meant for young people who do not have a business reputation to besmirch. It was meant for small talk, chatting about nothing, and being social. It is an entirely surface medium, in that, very little human, emotional depth is ever experienced on Facebook. I was told to think of it as cocktail party chat. Right then, I knew I’d be in trouble, since the only cocktail parties I ever attended were with my parents, and my god, did that generation know how to put it back. Their cocktail party ‘chat’ was extremely ribald, so they weren’t exactly good role models for interacting superficially with the Facebook Generation.

So aside from the fact that sometimes Facebook is the only way I have found to keep in touch with my daughter, I tend to gnash my teeth over what to say and what not to say, and how intrusive I find Facebook’s cut-and-dried probing into my personal life (married? divorced? living with an otter? religious affiliations? Declare yourself!!). I do not answer straightforward, overly personal questions in real life when I’m with real people I barely know; why would I answer these questions for the multitudes who do not know me at all?

As it happens, it turns out that Facebook causes its users a fair amount of anxiety:

Psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland studied students’ use … and concluded that for a significant number of Facebook users the negative effects of using the site outweighed the benefits it offers in terms of staying in touch with friends and family. (Silicon Valley Business Journal)

I thought the connection between Facebook and the compulsion of gambling was interesting:

Rejecting friend requests caused 32 percent of respondents to feel guilty while 12 percent said Facebook in general made them feel anxious. But it’s hard to quit when all your friends are still playing. Like gambling, Facebook keeps users in a neurotic limbo, not knowing whether they should hang on in there just in case they miss out on something good. (The Daily Telegraph)

Trust me, your 'friends' know too much about you

I have to wonder if the show Friends is partially to blame for the Facebook phenomenon. Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, created his social network while at Harvard, for other university students, right around the time Friends was wrapping up. It’s my contention, completely unsupported by reality, that losing Friends caused so much stress to the college student of the time, they reacted by creating a way to keep the mood of over-share going. Then you factor in the Oprah tell-all daytime TV show, and I think this is where the need for Facebook comes from. The urge to tell everyone you know every single tiny thing that ever happened to you, including having them follow you into the bedroom and even your bathroom, is a fairly recent social development, but an understandable one for a generation of lonely children raised without parents.

This explains why you need so many ‘friends.’ These are not real friends, after all. They are internet friends, and yet we take them really seriously, allowing their needs and feelings to help us determine what to do, what to think, and what’s important to us. In other words, we give our ‘friends’ far too much power over us, leading to the stress this recent research discusses. What is it you want to share with these ‘friends’ that you don’t tell your real friends? Or perhaps you tell your real friends everything anyway?

In my day, she said pedantically, you had one or two close friends you spilled your guts to, and when that wasn’t sufficient, you got yourself a shrink. I predict when anxiety levels reach maximum density on Facebook, a psychiatric version of Facebook will open, allowing you to display your inner turbulence, and not just your vacuous cocktail party chat, to the entire world (or anyone you allow to view your profile). This new and improved psychological Facebook will ask even nosier questions in an attempt to probe your psyche, and daytime drama will have found a new home.

Where has privacy gone, I wonder? Do we even know what true privacy looks like anymore? This is what causes me Facebook anxiety. I am not comfortable with the entire world (or just the 42 lookers-on I have right now) knowing my business, thank you very much. This leads to lying. I lie all the time on Facebook, and evade answering people’s questions; so inadvertently, Facebook is adding to my moral downfall.

Emily Post wouldn't have wanted this for you

Apparently, research indicates that users perceive some kind of social obligation to use Facebook, such that it keeps them coming back even when they derive little from the experience overall. I find this interesting, because it points to the ways in which we get hooked, insidiously, into giving up something that we didn’t know we needed, along with stuff you really should value more, like your personal information and user data, as well as your self-respect.

When Emily Post, (who attended finishing school, that’s how antiquated the idea of etiquette is), wrote her book of etiquette back in the Stone Age, she emphasised the idea that being observed and commented on by the masses was rude.

Nowadays, however, it seems rude is in, but everyone is rude in high school, where maturity is at a premium.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 5:36 PM

    Two of my kids wanted me to join Facebook, because it would keep me in the loop about what was going on in their lives. Apparently not much, judging by the infrequency they post anything. The rest of my friends are pretty much there for the reason I joined – their kids promised ‘to write’. So, now I check in once a week or so, if I think of it, and check on the few people who actually use Facebook to tell their friends some actual news.

    • February 21, 2011 6:25 PM

      it depends very much what age your kids are, whether they will post anything useful to you at all. There’s a certain age (15-30, let’s say) when the only way to know anything about them is to look at Facebook. Anything too young, and their lives are so boring, you know exactly what they’re doing because you have to drive them to whatever it is anyway. There’s a middle ground when they won’t post cause they know you could be looking. Basically, you can’t win in parenthood. 😉

  2. February 21, 2011 9:02 PM

    I am so glad I’ve found your blog! Someone I can relate to!! I started FB because my oldest nephew was going off to college and promised that was the best way to keep connected with him. My only friends are actually “in the world” friends, and shoot, since I talk to them anyway it seems sort of pointless to post much!

    • February 21, 2011 9:04 PM

      …but I love FB! It allows me to express my shallow, vacant side…

      So, I’m glad you found my blog too, and I hope I never say anything offensive to make you go away. 😉

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