The truth is Facebook is not a bad thing. I really harbor no resentment against anyone’s cat photos, YouTube links, or tenacity for stalking exes. And Facebook is also very useful for many reasons we already know. However, as our friends can be the best of mirrors to us, I had a conversation with a friend that changed everything for me. For the first time in a few years, I have found myself in a difficult situation with two very close friends and this idea to get off Facebook is actually not directly related to said situation. But the power that difficulties in friendship has for communication and reassessment of the nature friendships is incredible. For the first time in years, I was having an open discussion with a friend about why we are friends and I realized how little this happens in my life. So much about friendship is unspoken but I’m not entirely sure that’s a great idea. Pointing to some fundamental differences in each of our personalities, it was brought to my attention that people can keep up with me on Facebook and take what they see there at face value. Which is totally a fair assumption, if we can all assume that we’re presenting ourselves with honesty.
The sharp realization was that I do not. I have been struggling with various degrees of depression for years but you would never truly be able to ascertain that by looking at my Facebook wall, full of photos of dice games, hikes, and witticisms. And truly, I have a fantastic life that I am incredibly grateful for. I’m not ashamed to say in public that I struggle with happiness, even in the face of abundant happiness. Depression is a deep, internal beast that is incredibly immune to external influences – especially the best ones. Of course, it is nothing that I update about on Facebook because 1) I have always disliked people airing their dirty laundry on social media sites and 2) 140 characters or a few lines couldn’t even do it justice. No one likes reading “I haven’t gotten off the couch in days” or “I am a talented, 29-year-old who feels essentially un-hire-able and it’s all my fault.” Instead, when dealing with tough times, I simply “go dark” – no posts, no online presence.
In the face of constant stimuli, people recognize the presence of people more often than their absence. So it didn’t surprise me when my friend told me that she never would have guessed that I was suffering based on what she sees on the Internet. And, being that I hadn’t returned her calls or emails in quite awhile, my Facebook profile was all I left her with (well, and my Twitter feed, my Instagram profile, my Flickr photostream, and the ever-evolving http://www.racheldemy.com). In fact, these are all I leave most people in my life, passing this off as connectedness, insight into what makes me me, an incredibly lazy form of friendship and intimacy. And for someone like myself who is deeply phobic of being misunderstood, I’ve played into my own worst fear. My online life has begun to feel like something separate from me that requires maintenance – something akin to looking busy in a retail shop when there are absolutely no customers because someone somewhere is watching. I’ve created the illusion that I so fear. Facebook is not a communication tool; it’s a broadcasting tool. There is a massive difference.
I remember when I first joined Facebook. It was 2008 and I was spending a dark month in Germany. I was one of the last holdouts amongst my friends, never having been on Myspace, Friendster, or LiveJournal. I remember thinking I could use Facebook differently. It was an excellent forum to “put myself out there” and hoping that by people getting to “know” me, my freelance work might get more abundant and I might finally get the confidence to show people what I do creatively. So I put up photos and received tremendous validation by kind comments and lots of “likes”. I started to get messages from people who think I’m funny on Facebook and want me to write similarly funny things for their website or newsletter. People would want advice on how to be a tour manager because I had posted the bands I’ve toured with and they were impressed with my CV. And to this day, I love receiving 150 birthday wishes even if Facebook prompts people to do it. I don’t see it as any different than writing someone’s birthday on a calendar. It seemed to be working. Facebook was a great tool for me to let many people know where in the world I was on tour, being too busy to write a whole email or even call my mom. The point is, I am now 3 years on and after completely dismantling my life last year and rebuilding it, my priorities have changed. I know that I’m a good photographer (even if not everyone likes what I do) and a good tour manager (even if not everyone likes my style). I know I’m a decent writer, but could be way better if I actually practiced. And I know I can be pretty funny in conversation…
I remember reading something about how it takes an investment of 10,000 hours to master something and I could very easily say that I am a master of Facebook. I have clocked in the time, am aware of the spatial properties of the forum in which I write, and know how to work all the appropriate plugins to make myself look like a productive member of society. I’ve even had people say upon meeting me, “I’ve heard about you on Facebook!”, which is in some ways flattering as all notoriety is. Suffice it to say, I didn’t grow up wanting to be good at Facebook. I want to be creative, working with my hands and engaging my senses. I want to learn how to play the bass. I want to take more photos. Most importantly, I want to be a good friend. And none of those things I am doing if I’m sitting in front of the computer, absentmindedly trolling Facebook.
Here’s a fun fact: I’ve had at least 3 of my best friends quit Facebook and I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE. The truth is, I don’t look at what anybody else does on Facebook. I don’t have the time or the evolved mental capacity to assimilate all those facts. However, the fact that I’m spending time trying to assimilate this info half-heartedly is actually depleting the energy I would normally give to the 3-dimensional world. I’ve always been an explorer and I’ve always been incredibly social. This has significantly changed over the last few years as I’m invited to countless events and know what everyone is up to. My relationship with the world has always been largely based on awe, surprise, synchronicity and, most importantly, limits. In the world of Facebook, there are no surprises, no chance encounters, no not-knowing. We all know something about someone before we actually meet them in person, whether or not we want to. And some people are embarrassed when they tell me that they knew who I was before meeting me, but how can that be helped? We’re ALL accidental voyeurs.
In fact, I’ve always been largely indiscriminate about who I accept as a Facebook friend. I mean, no one can truly “touch” me there so who cares if I hit ‘accept’ and let them see my photographs or my stupid updates, right? Except that mystery is one of humanity’s greatest motivators. And we’re diluting it. The more people you let in, and the more half-baked ideas you let out, the transformative power of mystery becomes negligible. The urge to truly get to know someone is intoxicating and can become physiologically obsessive, but not if it’s freely given by everyone. With regard to creativity, there is nothing triumphant than presenting the world a project you’ve been working on, fully formed, when no one knew you were up to anything. Like, “Hey, my novel is getting published!” and everyone’s like, “You write?!?” Those are the best kinds of surprises. The act of constant updating has significantly diminished my ability to cultivate ideas and build a body of work. I’m not a truly proprietary kind of person when it comes to my ideas, but the point is that I’ve had a lot of good ideas lost to the abyss of Facebook (and Twitter, for that matter) and I don’t actually know who I’ve given them to. Fragments, normally given the status of “thesis” in a well-written essay or “chorus” in a song, get diffused. Facebook has become the public premature ejaculation of my brain.
I have done the hard work of deep, personal inventory to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t; the act of redefining love, home, family and friend in a way that’s applicable to my life; and seeking the elusive work-life balance. In fact, I’m still figuring those out because they’re always evolving. The one thing that has kept me on the path is the recognition that one must be what one aspires to – the old Chinese adage “Don’t aspire. Be.” I always say that the work I do on the computer is only supposed to make it possible for me to get off the computer and get out in the world – it’s a necessary evil. But all I’m doing by investing time in Facebook is seeing to it that I have to sit on the computer for even more time, maintaining something I don’t actually care about. I struggle more trying to convince a network of people I’m a photographer, when I can go out and just BE a photographer, letting the work speak for itself. I’m not going to be a better writer if I keep blowing my load on 140 character observations about Trimet. I’m certainly never going to be a better friend if I have to look at my Facebook friend list to remember who I want to invite to a dinner party (sad, but true). And the truth is, my business doesn’t need Facebook because I’ve never gotten any work from Facebook.
I was thinking the other day about how cool it would be to not need Facebook to enhance my freelance work or to appear to be a cool member of my community. And then I realized that this stuff is really all about the weight you give it. The illusion that we need social media to make money or to be productive members of society is merely that – a construct – and it doesn’t offer freedom. We created it and we can systematically dismantle it. The fun of being an adult is getting to choose who you hang out with, who you work with, what you do for a living, and how you spend your free time. And I’m choosing real friendships and real creativity over the “appearance” of either. I want an honest, whole life where the face I show the world is actually mine, regardless of the demons I’m battling right now or the pride I feel when writing something that I may never share with anyone. And I want my actual friends – those that have loved me at my darkest and most unloveable – to be the first ones I share those experiences with because their opinions matter more than the combined opinions of my remaining 875 friends. I am always empowered to find choice where there appears to be no choice, as though I’ve willed a path to open up where there was previously no path. The will to choose is what I aspire to and, look! It’s what I be.