Goodbye, Facebook! (is it really OK?)
How a great tool for communication turned into a source of anxiety, emptiness and insecurity.
Despite all the big-company-eats-you-alive kind of talk, Facebook always seemed to bring me more pros than cons. I live in a huge city, where distances are maximized by evil cars and buses and motorcycles conducted by the least gentle people on Earth.
Meeting people is fun, but also tiring. Keeping track of their lives through Facebook sounded like a non-ideal, yet reasonable solution to wish them happy-birthdays, know their whereabouts or simply show up and say “Hey, man…What’s up?”.
I spent years doing that. Posting pictures of trips, joining discussion groups, and, probably most important, distributing “likes” as if I were a boss or a judge on some reality-show, or just expressing all the depth of my thoughts and reactions through that cute little hand.
Someday I found out I could use Facebook to write stuff. My opinions, maybe. Or just tell people something. Others were doing that — I’m a journalist, so I had many journalists among my friends, some of them amazingly skilled at writing. They would post their personal views on current facts, witty jokes, daily-life stories that amused me a lot.
To like it or not to like it
Things sort of started to change after that. Whenever I posted something on Facebook, I felt uneasy about the results. Anxiety would immediately chew on my nerves, as worms on a piece of rotten fruit. Will anybody read it? Will anybody like it? I would get uneasy to the point of closing Facebook and not checking it for a whole day until I could calm down.
Some posts were quite successful. Others were a shameful failure. The worst was an attempt to translate a very short poem. It took me one hour to do and I got no more than three “likes”.
To somebody who enjoys writing, that would be the same as an actor who is on a stage being watched by nobody. The thing is that, on Facebook, you don’t actually see the audience. Everybody seems to be there, but you just don’t know exactly who.
I noticed people tended to like posts, including mine, which were more personal. Tell an emotional story, share joy or sorrow, expose yourself in a way others suppose you’re being true. No doubt why so many moms, dads, grandmas, uncles are there, chasing information about their beloved relatives (a friend had to leave Facebook after his stalker mom joined it). The problem is that a large part of it is just fiction.
We’re all pros
We’ve all turned into Facebook content producers. We know how to post good pictures, proper texts, smart videos of ourselves, our world, things we like and dislike. In other words, we’ve all become specialists on self-fictionalization. You HAVE to know your best angle on a picture. What to tell, what not to tell.
Of course, communication is all based on that. However, in non-digital life, common people don’t have so many resources or time to prepare themselves to be exposed. No filters, no accurate word-selection, no video editing.
In real life, it is just you and you out there, relying on much less sophisticated tools to address others (your clothing, your vocabulary, your disgraceful tone of voice that makes you sound like a 12-year-old boy trying to sing Aerosmith).
Fear of the dark
Is it all good in the end? Well, of course there’re great things on Facebook. But now the dark side just seems to be stronger. See, it’s like living in a world of ghosts. Ghosts who use filters to look better on their selfies and have the faces and the names of our friends, but who are no more then a self-representation, usually a positive one, without most of the distasteful aspects everybody has. Ghosts are one-sided, flat characters who cannot be seen in perspective.
Did people really read what you wrote there or were they just being nice to you? Was that picture with coconuts, broad smiles and bare feet on some tropical beach all that fun? We just don’t know.
I decided to leave Facebook for a while. I didn’t have the guts to delete my account, though. I don’t know if it’s OK not to have an account when everybody else does. Talking about jobs, basically. I’m around 30 now, an age where radicalism might sound naive in a non-cute way.
And there’s something else: will I feel lonely without a Facebook account? Sometimes being around ghosts is better than surrounding yourself with emptiness. Or maybe not. We’ll see.
[I’m not a native speaker of English, so I can justify my language mistakes by saying that.]