Facebook has been accessible to the masses for less than ten years. Some love it, some hate it. I’ve had friends log off for good, saying it was taking too much of their time. GeekMom Patricia shared her feelings about Facebook a little over a year ago. A close friend texted me the words ‘Facebook is ugly’ recently, when a very personal event happened in her family and she was afraid more people would find out once it hit Facebook.
I get it. It truly is a place where information can travel fast. It’s a place where incorrect information can live forever. It’s a place full of tempting links full of awful viruses. It’s a place where bullies can run wild and have no consequences for their actions.
But that’s not all Facebook can be. Just like the internet in general, the good stuff is there, along with the bad stuff. It’s our job to make the choices.
I began thinking more about the impact Facebook has on my life after reading a post from Wired.com, called “The Weird Way That Facebook and Instagram are Making Us Happier”, by James Wallman. The author points out that in the past people generally ‘kept up with the Jone’s’ by acquiring things. In recent years the push has changed from amassing the right products to having the best experiences. As people tweet, Instagram, and share on Facebook their front row seats at a prime concert, or their perfect feet-in-the-sand picture from the tropics, the desire to experience their adventure can be powerful.
Through all of the criticisms I hear, I remain loyal. I have several reasons for my loyalty. In fact, here are the top 5 reasons I don’t have negative issues with Facebook:
1) Let’s start with one of the top reasons I am addicted to my Facebook feed—my 15 nieces and nephews, who live all over the country. Before Facebook I had to rely on rare phone calls, or a few prints in the mail to know what my distant family was doing. Since I’ve been on Facebook, I know when my niece wins yet another horse show. I know that my nephew broke his arm and picked a bright orange cast. I get to see my niece’s wide grin as she hugs the man who just proposed to her (a picture I got to see just moments after the question was popped, in another state!) I am in the loop. With very little effort on my sibling’s part, I know what their kids are up to (and how fast they are growing). I get to feel close to a lot of children who I care very deeply about but rarely get to see. This is reason enough for me to have my Facebook account.
2) I know how to read other people’s posts with perspective. I know I’m not the only one who rarely posts the terrible things that happen in our family. For one thing, it’s private, which is a huge deal when you have teens in the household, and generally helpful when it comes to long term marriages. For another, who wants to read a bunch of whining? Most of us would stop following those posts immediately.
I get inspired by happy posts from those around me. It makes my day to see another smiling baby, growing in some faraway place, a place I may not see for many more years. At this point I’ve watched several of my friends’ babies go from announcement of conception, to first day of kindergarten pictures. In my pre-Facebook world, I would have been lucky to have a couple of 4×6 prints for my fridge. Once I’m lucky enough to be with those people again there will be more time for fun, and less time spent filling each other in on the past few years. We’re already caught up, we’re Facebook friends.
3) I pick my friends strategically. In the beginning I vowed not to accept any friend request unless I knew the person well enough to pick up the phone if they called. I was not out for quantity. I’ve relaxed that rule just a bit, as I’ve added some new amputee friends from around the country, but I’m still pretty tight with my friend requests.
The side effect of this decision is that the people who are my friends on Facebook are people I respect. I don’t allow negativity or harsh political rants on my feed. If a friend starts that pattern, they are immediately un-followed. The majority of my friends don’t post pictures of their vacation so they can brag. They post because they are just so thrilled to finally have a chance for a break, and want to share their joy. Or they’ve seen a really interesting place and want to share it with the rest of us (like virtual travel!). My friends aren’t worried about impressing me, or their other Facebook friends. We share with each other online to keep in touch, not to keep score.
The friends I have in my feed on a daily basis tend to post about a variety of things that interest me. I have some who are knee deep in raising little ones. They post precious pictures, but also the latest articles about child development and what issues are facing families these days. I have many amputee related posts in my feed – 5K races completed, new sockets broken in, and small personal victories I like to share in. I find many interesting stories (and writing ideas) from the links my Facebook friends post. From the yoga loving friend I get links to informative articles about healthy living. From my mountain neighbors I get articles related to quality trails or wildlife management. Several of my husband’s archaeologist friends post links to fascinating discoveries. I have older friends, and younger friends, which offers a wide perspective. I am friends with a few X Games athletes and Paralympic athletes I respect, which keeps me pushing forward when my old body wants to slow down.
I am seeking a term for the equivalent of ‘well read’, but related to Facebook. Most days, if I read the intelligent versions of the links in my Facebook feed, I feel pretty caught up on the latest news and events, locally and around the world. It’s a quick way to feel in the ‘world loop’.
4) I’ve found just too many long lost friends, that I once again cherish, to ever write off the value of Facebook. In recent years my husband and I have reconnected with many friends we’d lost over the years, and have loved catching up on their lives and seeing their children in online albums. Several of these friends we’ve met up with in person again, thankful for the chance to keep quality people in our lives.
5) One word – support. There are so many ways that Facebook is a beacon of hope. If it wasn’t for Facebook I would have never known that my childhood friend’s dad had begun to slip into dementia last fall, and quietly passed away just after the new year. She has a large family, and young children, and she never would have had time for dozens of phone calls or hand typed emails. One post on Facebook, and we all knew the situation, and what we could do to help.
My friend who is a new mom and a military wife can be reminded every day, by those of us who love her, that ‘this too shall pass’. As a group, we can tell her that some day soon that baby WILL sleep. And some day soon he will have his first belly laugh and she will find tears streaming down her face from pure enchantment. I would have devoured those kinds of daily messages on my computer screen when I was raising our four little ones, far away from extended family.
On our local town’s page everyone shares pictures of their lost dog, or recently released fire ban updates. My son wanted an inexpensive used mini fridge for his college dorm. Our local area’s buy/sell page found him one within 24 hours. When there was a carjacking suspect in our area, I found out through a Facebook feed update and was able to walk my son home from the bus stop. One comment on Facebook last fall, related to the fact our son was returning from Afghanistan, led to a local Facebook uprising, which led to a huge welcome home party.
I choose how I interact with Facebook, and I choose to see the good. I choose to make smart choices with friend requests, and be brave enough to push the delete button when necessary.
I do believe the author of the Wired Magazine article. I think there is a strong leaning toward embracing experiences vs. material items lately. I think it’s a good thing. Even if a person can’t afford the latest concert tickets, motivating someone to look around and find some local activity to do, offline, is a move in the right direction.
I know it works for me. After I’ve checked in on all those long distance kids I love, then bookmarked the interesting links I want to explore later, I like grabbing the dog’s leash and being motivated by a friend’s picture, posted after her walk along a local meadow. No need to be jealous of her experience. I see it as a reminder that there’s a big world out there. Someone needs to explore it… then share it on Facebook.