Several years ago, I posted a photograph to my Facebook page. It was a beautiful moment, and it got many likes and comments. It also demonstrated several significant problems with using Facebook.
Selective Presentation. The photograph showed several people who my family knows and loves. They are celebrating a milestone event. Their faces are lit up with joy. Their bodies convey vitality. It’s a beautiful moment.
What’s missing is the pain that led up to that moment. I won’t give the details—it’s their story, not mine. Bad decisions, bad luck, and cruelty by others combined to create heart-breaking suffering. Imagine a slow-motion car accident. The driver loses control of the car. The car slides around the road. It bounces off of other cars and guardrails. It flips over. That’s what life was like for these people in the year before the photograph. Eventually, the situation righted itself. The people made changes and moved onto a new stage of life. The photograph celebrated this transition.
Anyone on Facebook seeing this picture would only see joyful, contented people. They might even assume that these people are always joyful and contented.
This is a big problem with Facebook. We see the carefully-selected exteriors of other people’s lives. Then we compare this patina with what we know to be true of our own. We have pain, failure, insecurity, shortcomings, and bad breath in the morning. But, apparently, nobody else on Facebook does. It’s apples and oranges. This mismatch between other people’s self-presentation and our own self-knowledge is disheartening. Life comes easy for them. It’s difficult for us. They are a success. We are a failure.
Wasted Time. Once I posted the photograph, something interesting happened. People liked it. It received multiple likes per minute for many minutes. Some of the people who liked it I know to be busy, important people. What was everyone doing playing on Facebook in the middle of a weekday afternoon? Didn’t they have more important things to do? Couldn’t they be using their time better?
They weren’t the only ones wasting time. In the hour after I posted the photograph, I checked my Facebook page at least a dozen times to see who had liked the post since I had last checked it.
The Addiction of Social Approval. What surprised me most about the whole situation was how strongly I reacted to those likes. Each new like was exhilarating. I felt appreciated and valued. It met some deep need inside of me. Unfortunately, this exhilaration did not last. When the likes started to taper off, I felt anxious. The good feelings that they created had a short half-life. I started searching my mind for what else I could post to get more likes. Maybe more photos of the same event? Maybe other events? Maybe an interesting story? All I knew was that I felt empty without the likes coming in, and I wanted more.
Reconsidering Facebook. These and other problems have led me to reconsider my social media use. I used to think that social media is free. I could use it as much as I wanted with little cost. Now, I know it to be surprisingly expensive. Social media is like sugar—immediate pleasure, long-term problems, difficult to stop. Over time, this awareness has led me to make significant changes in how I use social media.