Recently I was compelled to furrow my way to a temporary exit from the lemming like existence of Facebook.
The trigger was an entirely unsatisfactory exchange with my eldest daughter, all conducted via text message, during which we discovered how dis-connected we had become. (Or, at least I did.)
There has been a lot of upheaval and disquiet in our lives of late; I won’t speak for my #1 child but I have parents dealing with increasing physical limitations on their somewhat adventurous lives, my best friend of a dozen years in palliative care and unable to receive non-family visitors (she has since passed), the ever wildly-fluctuating financial existence of a self-employed entrepreneur, searching for an organization in which my talents and experiences could be put to good and stable use, frozen shoulder and the ever-present healthy management of type 2 diabetes, and almost a month of upcoming family visits or travels while simultaneously working.
Yet, my Facebook and Real World friends tell me my life looks exciting and rich, and largely trouble-free. Obviously the former is true, while the latter – and I suspect this is the same for many, many people – is not.
This is what I refer to as ‘the Facebook Gap’, or Weltschmerzing. Yes, I’ve felt compelled to take the German concept of what is basically ennui – a world weariness and awareness of the gap between what the world is and what we wish it to be – and turn it into a Very Active Verb. As in “I’m Weltschmerzing!”. Or as my psychoanalyst friend William Chamberlain says, “living in the gap”.
The endless curation of our best selves on social networks like Facebook and Instagram (really, after The Donald’s behaviour on Twitter, I don’t believe Twitter is very effective at ever depicting best selves) – the signature image effects, the motivational sayings, the selfies – especially in mirrors, egads – the relentless positivity… It all seems to be leading to a slightly vacuous and fatuous echo chamber in which we are permanently a star, burnished and shining brightly just over the next mountain for others struggling with their comparative reality.
Facebook can be a great uniter of people and ideas, but like any addictive information offering, ‘everything in moderation’ as Grama Legge used to say. I love feeling connected to friends and family from afar, and to be able to dip in to the feed to catch up with what important people to me are doing. Without social media, the limitations of time would prevent this kind of affinity and detail about so many people at one time.
However, even from a functional perspective, Facebook’s limitations can radically skew perceptions. Your feed is full of the people who get the most engagement on their posts, a self-fulfilling prophecy where some posts attain the top of the iceberg while the remainder are hidden beneath the surface, by the thousands. And on top of that, ‘sponsored posts’ intrude into the stream of conversation, literally pushing down important updates. As with any stream-based algorithmic presentation of posts from hundreds or thousands of people, it’s like a firehose but controlled by bots. You never actually know what you’re missing… and sometimes it’s something critical.
Facebook is continually improving the news feed to address these issues, as well as the proliferation of ‘click-bait’ headlines, but many people won’t be sticking around long enough or won’t have enough familiarity with the ways to adjust what shows in the feed and regain control, which is truly sad, since it is real people sharing authentic first-person posts who create the magic in the medium.
However, if you’re willing to do a bit of reading and make some changes in your Facebook settings, you can invite the magic back: Controlling What You See In Your News Feed is a great way to start.
And when I am going to create a new post, share an existing one or click on a sponsored post that is actually useful to me, I run it past the sniff test. Does it add something to the free association zeitgeist of Facebook? Will I see it there in my history six months from now and regret posting or sharing it? Do I want more ads like the one I just clicked on, or less?
There is no such thing as a perfectly curated social media profile. One way or the other reality always raises its head. And my soul cries out that we need not be so perfect for each other, that we can be our true selves in safety, that we can depend on others we interact with to see us the way we see ourselves or wish to be seen.
But social media postings live on in a way that private conversation does not, so my counsel to myself is: be kind. be authentic but not offensively or alarmingly so. be brave and connect. mind the (Facebook) gap.
I’ll see you there.