Every few months I deactivate my Facebook page.
The synthetic communication slowly pushes me towards insanity and I start to feel like a vagrant sitting on a park bench, confused by the world around him.
When I first joined Facebook I received a horde of friend requests from people I knew, yet had nothing to do with in life; loose associations. In some cases I hadn’t seen these people in 10-15 years.
I found it peculiar, but what astonished me more was how quickly they began to live their lives like an open wound. It became the Big Brother house, without the respite.
Those we know and those we don’t know
I watched as people started to dip their toes into the narcissistic waters and as the weeks passed by the warmth of adulation began coursing its way through their veins. Eventually they realised that the burning desire for affirmation could be appeased by answering that remarkably well engineered question: What’s on your mind?
Facebook tells us that it brings people together. It reconnects us with the past and can act as portal into the future. We build relationships based entirely on Facebook and also sever ties because of it. We might have a weekly online rapport with less than 5% of our friend list and we have a real relationship with less than 1%. We peer into the lives of the other 94% and we expose ourselves to all. It becomes that school yard many of us tried in vain to escape.
Tune into the evening news
When you log into Facebook you’re taken directly to the News Feed – much like an unsuspecting tourist being ushered into the gift shop. You’re plugged straight into lives of others and the voyeur switch is flipped to ‘on’. Facebook now has you hook, line and sinker.
The news feed churns out non-stop content and acts as a window into the lives of those you know, those you thought you knew and even those you’ve never met. It’s a deluge of content exposing the deep levels of vanity, self-promotion, conceit and self-pity that seem to have become the benchmark of our online vernacular.
The Facebook Avatar
When Myspace and Friendster were the pacesetters, there were limitations on the depth you could give your online persona, or ‘avatar’. You could hope to influence another’s perception of you through a contrived list of bands and movies, but you always kept a few cards close to your chest.
Facebook has forced us to go all-in by enticing us with the opportunity to develop a far more sophisticated avatar. An avatar that can convey where it goes, who it goes there with, what music it’s listening to at the time and what it looked like. All while working symbiotically with that seemingly innocuous query: ‘What’s on your mind?’.
By giving you and your avatar a blank canvas, it doesn’t feel like there is any imposition on your life. You can login and logout at your own discretion, say what you want, post what you want and be where we want while doing it.
A list of ambiguous privacy settings makes you feel like you’re in control. Using your laptop, desktop and cell phone you’re invited to spend as little or as much time on Facebook as you like. You select the blue-ribbon content you’re happy with and you create a fragmented production of your life.
The innocence of Facebook & the burning desire to feel important
While conceit and vanity are strong themes in the news feed, others have simply been taken along for a ride. Not being able to resist that question: ‘What’s on your mind?’. It’s a question that they are unlikely to be asked with with the regularity that Facebook seemingly does.
This kind of pressure can be insurmountable and can result in the person being brought to their knees and forfeiting personal content at an alarming rate.
I’ve seen photos of a bride and groom exchanging their vows at a wedding, followed by photos of them relaxing on their honeymoon and eventually photos of them playing with their children. The projection of their perfect life was eventually tarnished after a scornful status update informed Facebook of the divorce.
I’ve been at a dinner table where 7 out of the 8 people spent the majority of the evening using their iPhones to document what was taking place around them, without really being conscious of the surroundings themselves. This kind of content is being constantly boomeranged into cyberspace with in hope that it will return with a few ‘likes’ and ‘comments’.
One morning you log on and you’re greeted by a new notification. It’s a friend request from your mom. You realise your avatar now needs to project itself in a far more conservative light, so you start to water down your content.
Another friend request appears from an ex-girlfriend of four years ago and all of a sudden your avatar needs to project itself in a confident, successful, fit and healthy light.
Then one day your boss adds you. You find yourself hastily altering your privacy settings before accepting. By now, your avatar has had so much self-censorship imposed on it that Facebook no longer serves its purpose and you can no longer feel important.
You realise what you do in the Facebook world can dramatically affect your real life. The life you have to physically exist in. The warm adulation is no longer in your veins and all you can feel is the cold from the contrived realm you’ve been apart of. You deactivate your page.
The future with Facebook
While some of us were introduced to Facebook in our later life, it will be congenital for many. Younger generations will not have an alternative paradigm to compare and contrast against.
This means the ‘What’s on your mind?’ question will exist intrinsically in their makeup. In years to come these people will be running the companies, delivering the verdicts in court, stamping the forms and educating the children.
These sentiments may ring through next time you tell us what’s on your mind.