It has been seven years since that fateful day we got together. In the beginning, things were fun and exciting. We played games and embarked on spontaneous adventures. Eight hours with you sometimes wasn’t enough. Not a day went by without me thinking about you. You swept me off my feet and took over my world. Call it young love.
You were Mr. Popularity. You seemed to know everyone and were always invited to the coolest parties. Thanks for introducing me to hundreds of new friends, and even locating some of my childhood classmates.
Over the years, I’ve relied on you to the point that now, I’m afraid we may have slipped into a co-dependent relationship. Not only are you heavily involved in my personal life (I can’t have a conversation without bringing you up: “Hey, how’s your Mom? Facebook told me she has been in the hospital for a week. You OK?” ) you’ve also entered into my professional zone. Some stories I cover as a media producer are based on tip-offs I receive from the newsfeed you’ve set up for me. I’ve snagged jobs and joined groups facilitated by your networking skills. You’ve even help me promote my ventures, so please don’t think I’m ungrateful.
You’re a wealth of information and because of that, I’m now more aware of the world at large, sometimes more than I care to know. Granted, there’s something about you that causes people to open up, divulging some of their deepest darkest secrets. But truth be told, when I’m with you, you share things about others I really have no business knowing. If it’s not something they would discuss with me face-to-face, then why should I know about it? Consequently, I find it distressing when people blame you for their relationship break-ups or make vague passive-aggressive statements when they really just need to directly confront those involved.
Initially, it was amazing having access to so much information, but now I feel overwhelmed. What if I didn’t watch the latest viral video you posted? Or read up on what’s trending at the moment? Isn’t there more to life than never-ending data streams? I hate it when you unrelentingly remind me that you’re all about connecting. What if I want to disconnect and just hibernate?
The more I hear about people’s blissful lives, the more jealous I become. I find myself striving to create the image of a happy, successful world traveller who meets scads of celebrities. I fight for invites to noteworthy events and have since learned the art of the humble brag.
Deep inside, I’m exhausted from working so hard keeping up this self-made public image. All those Instagram filters and location check-ins belie the truth that I’m battling rejection, insecurity and profound loneliness. And yes, I deal with the pain by distracting myself: browsing through photostreams and updates. I have turned my life into a voyeuristic stalker.
Let’s call a spade a spade. I’m addicted to you.
It doesn’t matter where I go or who I meet. Everyone asks me the same thing, “Are you on Facebook?” It’s nuts how inseparable we’ve become. Some days I can’t imagine what life was before you entered the picture.
Which is why we need to call it quits. I recognize our relationship is dysfunctional and I need to rediscover my identity apart from you.
This simply is not working out.
I’m sorry, but it’s over.
OK. So I never wrote Facebook that sappy letter. I did, however, send them a note around Valentine’s Day. Here’s why.
For Facebook’s 10-year anniversary, I was bestowed a gift: a month-long friend request block. Now before you break into hysterics, asking, “How is that even possible?” let me explain. Due to the nature of my work as a media producer, I meet a ton of people. So it’s perfectly normal for me to add new “friends” to social media platforms 24-48 hours after I’ve met them. It’s part of my modus operandi. So when Facebook curtailed my freedom from contacting new acquaintances, I flipped.
Apparently, Facebook has an algorithm that determines when friend requests look unusual: for example, lots of friend requests that have gone unanswered, or (worse yet) marked as unwelcome. If you cross a certain line, Facebook will block you from sending any new friend requests for a set amount of time. That’s what happened to me. Although recognizing my pleas would fall on deaf ears, I hearkened to voice my disgruntled state.
Despite my written petitions to lift their ban, I received nary a response and had no choice but to wait for 30 days to pass. I could have missed a number of potential business connections. But the imposed silence got me thinking: how did the world operate pre-Facebook? If it has been done before, perhaps I could do it again.
At some point in this whole fiasco, I recognized the restriction was perhaps a blessing in disguise. It forced me to ask some gritty questions: Why do I have a compulsion to collect friends religiously? What does “friend” really mean? Who actually knows me?
In all honesty, the level of intimacy with my nearly 3,000 Facebook friends equals the depth of a sheet of paper. This obsession to appear successful, confident, liked and accepted — all within the guise of my friend tally — only bleeds the reality that amassing virtual connections perpetuates loneliness.
Because connection isn’t conversation with real people in real time. It’s all edited personal promotion in order to project the most desirable image of ourselves. And yet speaking as someone whose livelihood is dependent on the amount of people I reach, the social network provides an interesting conundrum: quantity over quality. Now there’s the rub.
I’m not here to supply you a list of top 10 ways to defeat a Facebook addiction. I’m here to pose the question of whether it’s possible to keep social media as a tool, not as a source to meet our need for belonging and acceptance.
So let me ask you: What’s your relationship status with Facebook?
Photo (Flickr CC) by dawolf-.
Article originally published in Issue 18 of Converge Magazine.