The Perils, Pitfalls, and Joys of Facebook

As i mentioned before, i am participating in the Winter Practice Period of the Center for Transformative Change. As part of that practice, i have committed myself to intentionally do (or not do) certain things including

Effort: Choosing Life Every Day
I will shift the way I show up through the cultivation of consistency and sustained intention. My fearlessness practice is to change the following behavior by applying myself daily to not distracting myself with Facebook. To support this practice, I will stay off Facebook for this 27-day period.

It’s been about 10 days now since i started this and i want to share how it’s going. Well, if success is measured by actually staying off Facebook, i’ve failed. However, i am succeeding in observing myself around Facebook, which to me is much more juicy and contains way more possibilities for learning.

I am on Facebook only briefly a few times per day. I log out every time i leave, which helps me to get a reminder when i go back: Logging in again forces me to stop and contemplate what i am doing. There certainly is something addictive about Facebook – i am drawn back again and again.

What is an addictive behavior? This seems to describe it fairly well:

Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person’s life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially is considered an addictive behavior.

I read something online – and i want to post it to Facebook. Somehow it’s not enough to just read something. And sometimes, i want to share even before i finished reading. Since i am less on Facebook, i am noticing how much more time i have for other things because somehow i used to get stuck on Facebook. There always was one more thing to read, one more thing to comment on… So, i didn’t just share something. I got stuck.

And then the shootings in Connecticut happened. Afterwards, I was on Facebook for a little bit and noticed how grateful i was to be able to share there, to read from others about the pain and confusion they were feeling. I realized that Facebook wasn’t “all bad.” As Brené Brown points out about numbing/addictive behavior: “It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference.” (2012, 146).

If i go to Facebook with an intention to connect or even to share, Facebook can be a helpful tool. If i go to Facebook out of habit, because i am bored, because i don’t want to face what is going on in my life, it becomes an escape and turns unhealthy. What i have noticed, though, is how quickly Facebook turns from one into the other. If i am not very careful, very mindful, quickly signing on to share something can turn into half an hour scrolling down the newsfeed.

Aside from watching out for this transformation of intention, i also remain curious about this urge to share. Why do i think that sharing something that excites me is so important? “I share therefore i am,” seem like a rather troubling identity. (And what about my urge to find a link to add to the quote? What makes it important for me to find the article where i originally read about this idea? I don’t think it was this one. But why does it matter?) What needs of mine are met by sharing to use some NVC lingo? Well, hmm. I like to share what i learn in other contexts, too. So, maybe it’s a sense of community that i get when i share because i assume others listen. So, this sense of community really only develops when there are interactions. I get annoyed when i post stuff and people don’t react to it – maybe that is because the lack of reaction reminds me that this isn’t really a community?

Just like with the sense of connection that Facebook can create, there seems to be something about sharing that’s tapping into something very deep, very human. And just as with connection, the Facebook-version of sharing does not fully meet the need because the in-person interaction is missing. That is probably why Facebook becomes addictive: We are trying to meet our needs for connection and sharing (whatever multitude of needs that meets) and it cannot meet these needs fully. The story of hungry ghosts from Buddhism comes to mind. Thich Nhat Hanh renders explains: A “hungry ghost” is

a wandering soul who is extremely hungry and thirsty but whose throat is too narrow for food or drink to pass through.

A hungry ghost is unable to become satiated because it can never get enough – in the original story because its throat is too narrow and in my interpretation because our need is met a little, not fully. So, we keep coming back for more. It is also not a matter of building up, like drinking water throughout the day and you are no longer thirsty in the end. It’s more like drinking salt water: It seems like the real thing but no matter how much you drink of it, you cannot quench your thirst. As long as we see Facebook as providing superficial connection and limited sharing, we can ensure that our needs are met, truly met, in other ways by, say, sharing a meal with friends. If we loose track of the fact that it cannot meet those needs completely, we get into trouble. In other words, it can enhance existing connections, it cannot replace them. The danger also lies in the time-drain of Facebook because the more time we connect on Facebook, the less time we have for deep connections.

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The Perils, Pitfalls, and Joys of Facebook — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Rethinking Facebook | Rachel's Musings

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