Sometimes I wonder how long it will take for some sort of social media anxiety disorder to end up in the DSM — and I don’t mean anxiety about using social media. I mean anxiety caused by social media, itself.
To be clear, I love social media and use it as an integral part of my life. It’s wonderful for helping me to stay in touch with friends and family, to network, and especially to learn new things.
But it can all be a little much sometimes, can’t it?
Particularly with the barrage of recent changes to Facebook, I found myself overwhelmed. Like many, I had just gotten used to the last set of changes from just a few weeks before. And, as with nearly every other major change Facebook has made, the panic at having to re-learn the site kicked in.
For years, critics of Facebook have noted that the site seems to be constantly pushing us to share more than we might necessarily want to. In my mind, this shift has been most pronounced since Facebook moved toward a more visual profile, taking our likes and linking them to images that took us to the pages for bands, movies, books, and activities.
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And in August, they opened up all tagged content to friends-of-friends (Friends+) by default. Now, when I tag you in something, even if I have my privacy settings in place so that only some of my friends can see that content, all of your friends — whether I know them or not — will also see it. I’ve not been able to figure out how to get around this, so I just stopped tagging everything. I’m all for networking on any other social platform, but Facebook is the place where I want to be in the company only of my close friends and family.
Last week at f8, more changes were announced. Now basically everything you do is posted to Facebook (and that’s only a slight exaggeration). With the addition of the ticker, it seems that Facebook thinks I need to know every song (even the embarrassing ones) my brother (and anyone else) listens to on Spotify. My brother listens to Spotify for at least 14 solid hours of every day, it would seem.
I am also inundated with all of the pictures that people are tagged in, all of the comments they leave for people I don’t even know, every single thing they like, all the places they check into and with whom, what they’re reading, what they’re watching on Netflix (coming soon), and, by 2012, I expect that Facebook will have some way of measuring my brain activity in order to post my entire stream of consciousness into my Facebook Timeline. I will undoubtedly look back on that day I spent 45 minutes debating whether I wanted turkey and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch with great fondness for years to come.
It’s making me feel claustrophobic just talking about it.
In other words, there is a very high noise-to-signal ratio. If you’re concerned about all of your activity showing up in the feed, Kevin Evanetski wrote a great piece over on Business2Community.com that explains how to avoid contributing to the frenzy.
Meanwhile, Facebook is also collecting data about us to the point of tracking websites we visit, even when we aren’t logged in. Very Big Brother.
Regardless of whether or not you’re well-versed in technology, that’s an awful lot to process at once. Social media fatigue seems like a very real possibility, especially given that most of us use more than one social network.
We might not necessarily want to know so much about our friends. Once upon a time, the site gave me a brief space to initiate conversation and when I saw my friends in person or talked to them later, I had a starting point for a conversation.
Now I’m starting to feel like I know so much about them, I really don’t have a reason to actually get in touch. I might love social media, but I don’t want it to replace my relationships.
What Facebook seems to avoid fully acknowledging is that we interact with different people in different ways. Sure, it gave us smart lists and subscribe buttons and all of that, but it forgets about tensions that might exist among individuals and groups of friends in real life that are only exacerbated by everything on Facebook.
Sound dramatic? Oh yeah. Is it happening? Absolutely. People have arguments and fights about Facebook all the time. Ah, the 21st century.
The influx of information is enough to make anyone feel anxious and the constant exposure to it can do one of two things: it can desensitize us (which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it), or it can make us totally paranoid about our online experience.
As someone who has never shied away from Facebook — no matter how much I complained about the changes — it’s pretty significant that I’m starting to want to stay away from it. There are things I don’t need to know, and while customization may have improved, it’s still not good enough for real world relationship complexities. Facebook makes me really anxious right now, and I know I can’t be alone in that. I need a reminder that the people in my life are real people and not a scrolling text box on the right side of my cluttered screen.
Image source: Flickr/Rennett Stowe