Let’s face it: Facebook is not good for you
There’s an old Zen story about a person sitting on a horse, galloping very quickly. At a crossroads, a friend of his shouts, “Where are you going?” The man answers, “I don’t know, ask the horse.”
The horse is technology. It carries us and we cannot control it. We all believed at one point, the horse would take us to a good destination. But it mostly helped us to run away from ourselves at the cost of our own goals and destination.
I am guessing I’m not the only who has found myself asking, “I just spent one hour on Facebook and could have read a book, connected with a loved one or expressed myself in a more intriguing way than just liking or commenting with three words on posts of others. Is this how I want to live the rest of my life?”
On one level, Facebook is certainly the best platform for sharing information with friends, acquaintances and weak connections. On another, much more deeper level, it is as addictive as outlawed drugs and impacts every facets of our lives: How we spend our vacation, how we connect with others, how we portray ourselves to the outside world.
We are all in Mall Cop 2 trailer mode 24/7: A rather generic/average movie that looks great condensed in 60 seconds. And, as many studies indicate, these highlight reel connections lead to depression symptoms.
No wonder: You look at the posts of your connections and there are smiles all around. It’s a smiley world, filled with happiness, adventure and joy. When you walk out the door, plop yourself down in a subway, things are different: tired, exhausted people, sleeping on my shoulder, no smiles. Ever. No wonder we try to escape this reality by returning back to the Unicorn world of Facebook. Ah, smiles. Thank you.
We’ve been traveling the world as a family for 6+ months. Sure, there were many smiles and really happy moments. But there were also many arguments, discourses and unhappy feelings. We just lived the human experience. In Hamburg, Seoul or Krakow. It would be easy to take some silly selfies in front of amazing places and claim this was our experience. It wasn’t even 0.00001% of it. It was one second of a full day of life. Nothing more.
It’s a silly game we are playing: The more artificial our Facebook life becomes, the more rewarded we are with another like/share or comment because it looks like our normal experience. What we hide is the real experience but nobody will ever see it. When I post heartfelt links/photos/comments on Facebook, nobody sees it and/or cares about it. When I post a picture of my daughter smiling, I get 20 likes. The algorithms have pushed us into liking superficiality, leaving reality and authenticity behind.
I have no interest in showcasing some idea of happiness that has little to do with reality and I certainly have no desire to make anyone feel bad about themselves. Being a digital nomad for a year is much more than posting images of the family in front of the Seoul Tower or the former Wall in Berlin. It’s filled with hours of talking to credit card companies, waking up at 1.30am for conference calls, dealing with silly bureaucracies in every country.
No matter how much you try to explain how complicated life is when you do what you want to do (in our case being a digital nomad for a while), there is no way our actual life, which has a lot of pleasure, averageness and pain, can compare to the curated silly shot of happiness presented on social media. It’s a curated moment, frozen in time, tailored toward presenting a view of myself to the world. Real life has nothing to do with it.
One could recommend giving up social media. Rather, I’d ask myself: “Is what I am posting genuine to my experience or is it encouraging some bullshit personal brand that has nothing to do with me, myself and I?”
The answer to this question goes beyond Facebook or any social media. It’s really about who you are.
Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. “It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one. “No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second. A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is the MIND that moves.”
Facebook is not good for you because we allow it to play out in that way. Understanding the workings of our mind and how the algorithms try to undermine them for the advantage of the corporation should be the first step in using the platform to our advantage. For now, we advance the cause of Big Data and Wall Street. We should use the platform to improve the quality of our lives.
Or, as the Zen story goes: We should tell the horse where to go.