I’m not myself standing in a crowd!
I recall my initial days of discovering Facebook with fascination. A friend introduced my to this marvellous website which helped connect with friends and family no matter where they were and no matter since how long we’d lost touch
Soon I connected with school friends I hadn’t met in 20 years, college buddies that I hadn’t hung out with in a decade, distant cousins I grew around, colleagues I barely knew at work, friends of friends, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, all the way from 15 to 50. This blast from the past was a massive high. Every picture shared, every post created, every resultant conversation wove a fabric of memories too good to be true
I didn’t realize it then but my obsession with Facebook was growing into an addiction. I was logging into the Facebook website 3–4 times a day just to make sure I didn’t miss out on something interesting.
The mobile app came along in 2011 and took my addiction to a new high. I could now check Facebook literally 10 times a day. And often I did, just to stay connected. For no apparent reason, this mattered a lot to me.
As the years rolled by, Facebook added many features backed by the advances in smartphone technology, becoming an even more integral part of my social existence and a measure of my self worth. I found myself comparing my Facebook life with others. A friend had over 1500 friends while I had only 500! My album featuring photos of my trip to New York was liked by only double-digit numbers whereas my friend’s vacation photographs got triple-digit likes. Every social do including a banal meal with a friend in the real world had to be captured and shared in the virtual world. Birthdays were bad; the day end tally had a massive impact on how good I felt and sadly I remembered the ones who didn’t wish me rather than the ones who did!
One doesn’t realize the level one has been subsumed until they see a similar manifestation in someone else’s life. While my own issues had become an all too familiar habit for me to take notice, I started observing similar (and at times dramatic) levels of social behaviour, bordering on sycophancy. Friends were literally living their lives on Facebook. Every single incident was documented ranging from a thought to a milestone. And people were getting sucked in, often reacting out of a need to not feel left out or worse, fear of falling out of favour.
This was the trigger I needed to self reflect and dial down many notches. Luckily I had friends and family in the real world to stay connected with, my Buddhist practice to realize my own shortcomings and my rediscovered love for music, reading and writing to save me from the social media spiral. I’m finding this new phase equally refreshing. I don’t feel the need to comment on every post or picture. I don’t feel the need to share my life with the virtual world. I don’t feel the need to be included. And I don’t feel the need to stay connected 24*7!
I don’t hate Facebook. I still use it regularly. In fact, since I’ve figured a way to balance its role in my life, I value Facebook more. I just wish someone at Facebook paid more attention to what they were doing to our minds. Its’ the second largest country in the world (if virtual population counts), hence its impact is profound and pervasive.
My own experience with Facebook made me question my social behaviour. I grew up in a stable family, with a solid education and a fairly secure societal structure surrounding me. What drove me to this desire of belonging with relative strangers? Why do I still find friends living a life of precarious security in a virtual world as against a secure life in a self-contained physical world?
One of the answers lies in the seemingly innocent activity of passive browsing. By regularly looking at other’s pictures, posts and lives, we might incorrectly contextualize this with our lives, ending up feeling a sense of exclusion and loneliness. This can trigger a spiral of actions on our part causing us to lead similar social-media lives that may or may not mirror our reality. And everyone is susceptible, right from the teen who is desperate to fit in and look cool, to the over 40s and 50s, craving an affirmation they still matter. (http://www.psychologyinaction.org/2015/09/07/me-myselfie-and-i-the-psychological-impact-of-social-media-activity/)
There is also a tipping point to everything. These are few statistics on Facebook as of May 2016 underlining an overkill of content and populace (source: https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/):
1. There are almost 1.1 Bn active Facebook users with five new profiles being created every second.
2. 300 million pictures are uploaded daily on Facebook
3. Average time spent per Facebook visit is 20 minutes
4. Every minute, over 500 comments are posted and 293K statuses updated
5. Over 40% marketers report that Facebook is critical to their business.
This inundation of content and people living active social media lives put a lot of pressure on individuals to not be affected behaviourally and socially, often leading to a virtual life different from their real one. Consider this, while the average Facebook user has 135 ‘friends’, only 28% people polled considered them to be ‘close friends’.
Like every coin that has two sides, the social media world is a fun place but can be fallacious and all consuming. It pays to observe our own behavioural traits before they spiral into habits or even worse, addiction.