Establishing Habits for a Productive Life

How Facebook is Ruining Your Life

I’m a child of the Facebook generation. When I was a freshman in high school, Facebook was just starting to trickle down from the college set to my age group and as a result, much of my high school social life grew within and was influenced by this new virtual space.  It was unfortunate timing, I think, because my friends and I were learning the ropes of social networking right when, emotionally and socially, we needed that kind of desperate competition the least.

In the public sphere there is so much conversation about the merits of Facebook: the political uprisings it enabled! The rekindled connections! The expanded audience for advertisers! As I’ve watched Facebook become a social necessity in the lives of my peers, however, I’ve realized that the vast majority of Facebook use is not only ineffective, but damaging.  What’s more, it has created a new kind of person – one who has learned how to craft their life for, and find great self-affirmation in this virtual space.

While I don’t doubt that many photos are posted because that party really was fun or that vacation really was awesome, I wonder what percentage of content on Facebook is generated for the sole purpose of validating one’s self-worth. Productivity-wise, think how much emotional energy this must consume, and how much time! And for what? 

At the end of the day, which is more valuable? A life lived to be perceived by others, or a life lived for the fulfillment and happiness of oneself?

We all know those people who live on or for Facebook – the ones who set out for an adventure so that they can capture photos to show the world that they too are having fun, the ones who carefully craft status updates to maximize “likes”, the ones who agonize over selecting the perfect profile picture to complement their “image.” I am not saying I’ve been immune to this. I’ve spent my share of time adding and deleting photos, picking which ones might make me look cool or thin or whatever. I do think, though, that now that I’m starting to realize how futile this is, that I’m becoming a little more jaded about it all.

At the start of this summer, I made a deliberate effort to step away from Facebook. I was as sucked in as everyone else.  I felt like I had (virtual) social obligations, messages to respond to, events to keep track of, etc.  I tried to limit my usage, but I was still spending about 30 minutes a day on the site. I sometimes found myself getting distracted and scrolling through my newsfeed or looking at vacation photos of people I didn’t care about (and that’s a weird enough issue to be discussed in another post, I think…). I stepped back for a moment, added this up, and realized that if I continued on this trajectory, I would spend more than a week out of the year doing something that brought no happiness or fulfillment to my life whatsoever.

So when the summer began, I asked my mom to change my password so I couldn’t log on. Each time I came back to answer messages, however, the site seemed more and more frivolous. I realized three things: first, that some of the most adventurous and interesting people I knew had little to no Facebook presence (I wonder why…perhaps they were more concerned with actually living it?). Second, Facebook had essentially eradicated any traditional notion of modesty. Bragging about any and all accomplishments had become fair game. And third, so much of what goes on on Facebook is incredibly insensitive to others – and this is where the ‘damaging’ part comes in.

I’m sure that most people who use Facebook recognize the artificiality behind it all. Anyone with a profile can see how easy it is to make one’s life look adventurous and exciting.  Unfortunately, while many of us recognize this, we forget that everyone else with a profile has the same kind of power.  This is why Facebook can inspire jealousy and insecurity so easily. We take what we see at face value, and thus spend an inordinate amount of time (either consciously or subconsciously) judging ourselves against others. A passive perusal of the newsfeed could inspire one to seriously doubt their own self-worth. They might ask themselves if what they are doing is enough: Is my career adequate? Do I have enough friends? Am I fun enough? Am I attractive enough?

My advice? Check yourself on two levels. The next time you hang out with those people or go to that party, ask yourself: would I still be doing this even if no one could see it? Am I doing this because I want to, or to impress others? And furthermore, the next time you comment about an amazing party, publish those photos from a girls’ weekend, or write that status update, please consider those who spent the weekend home alone, or who might not be finding life quite so ‘epic.’

And please, friends, remember.  Everything you post is being distributed to anywhere from three hundred to two thousand people. It’s not your ten closest friends.  It can be literally anyone you’ve ever met, ever.  Do they really need to see what you look like in a bikini?

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