There are three major positions as far as social media is concerned: those who don’t have a facebook account and don’t ever plan on getting one (until they finally give in to the pressures of their loved ones or their business coach), those who believe that life and business IS social media (and without it you basically don’t exist), and the rest of us who do our best to use social media in a way that enhances our lives without falling prey to its pitfalls.
I use facebook on a daily basis—for business, for communication, for friendship, for expression, for entertainment, for inspiration, for boredom, and for absolutely no reason at all. I’ll go ahead and admit that I use it pretty compulsively. As in, I check facebook habitually in the morning, when I need a mental break from tasks at home, when I come home from work, and before I go to bed. Unless of course I put myself on a facebook diet, which I don’t do often because, why try to control something that is not a problem, right? So when IS using facebook or other social media a problem? How do you know when it has slipped from entertaining and helpful to hazardous to your mental health?
This is my personal experience of the ways in which facebook has helped me and the ways in which it has been counterproductive to my wellbeing.
Real Life Contacts
One my favorite things about facebook is that I’ve made many real life connections that were initiated through virtual friending. I’ve made friends with new people in new cities, reconnected with old friends, and traveled to stay in other countries with acquaintances. The majority of my 891 facebook friends are not people I pal around with in real life (I’d be a very busy woman indeed), however, many of my real life friendships have been formed or maintained in one way or another through facebook. This is the original point of facebook after all: to create social connection (that and spying on exes perhaps). Through facebook I’ve created events or gone to events that led me to people who have become important to me in my real, everyday life. So for me, social media has not only created virtual superficial relationships, it has also led me to many meaningful ones.
Making real life connections initiated through social media has also been very valuable for my career. How did I find my web developer? Through a contact I met at a networking event which I found out about though facebook. How do people find out about my events? Mostly through facebook. How did I find the integrative psychiatric center I work for? Through a contact I met on facebook, who then introduced me to someone that worked for them. The list goes on and on. Business is reliant on network building and information sharing, and facebook is very good at facilitating this.
A lot of the valuable content I read or watch on the internet generally pops up on my facebook feed, rather than me seeking it out myself. You could call this lazy, but I call it efficient. Most of the facebook contacts I have are contacts because we have common interests, so it is likely that much of the content my friends share will also be valuable or interesting to me. There are some friends that are really good at sourcing valuable content, and I am thankful that they do the legwork for me and sit it on my screen.
Cute animals on my facebook feed never gets old for me. Awwwwwwww. Tee-heee. Sqeeeee! Keep on bringing em. Facebook can be a wonderful place to find inspiration, share humor, and create some warm-and-fuzzies.
Facebook offers so much information so quickly, that one minute scrolling through your feed can have your brain starting off on a million tracks. Before you know it you find yourself wondering what you sat down to do in the first place and wondering why you feel slightly depressed, distracted, and unfocused. This is your brain on facebook. You have just had so many thoughts and emotions triggered in the last minute without you even realizing it, no wonder you feel confused. The brain simply can not handle this much information very efficiently. It is time to close facebook and reorient yourself to this present moment in time. You will feel refreshed once you finish that one simple task.
Why is everyone going on vacation but me? Wow, he really has his act together, I should really be doing more. Everyone is having babies and getting married, why can’t I have that? Oooh that’s cool, maybe I should buy that. Oh she’s really pretty, is she prettier than me? He’s already doing what I want to do, I should just give up. They look like they are really good friends, when did that happen, and why wasn’t I invited? As social beings these kinds of thoughts are our primal nature. Facebook (and its users, including me) has a way of so brilliantly advertising our lives that it can be a breeding ground for comparison. You may think this doesn’t apply to you, but I can be pretty sure it happens to most of us on a subconscious level unless we keep it in check. I might not ever utter those words aloud, or even think them aloud, but it might just register as a funny sensation in my belly. Next time you feel a funny sensation in your belly, close facebook and remember that you are comparing yourself to an idealized, facebook-enhanced version of another person’s life. Open your notebook and start focusing on your life vision regardless of what anyone else around you is doing.
Communication Gone Awry
One could argue that all communication is flawed, but virtual communication is more so. Feel disappointed that so-and-so didn’t come to your event? But I invited them on facebook! Some of assume that if it is on facebook, it shall be seen. I’m guilty of this, which is why it is on my list. A reminder that what makes facebook so valuable is the real-life connections it facilitates, however it can’t do all the work (and it doesn’t). Want to make sure your friends know about something? Pick up the phone or send them a personal email. I know I certainly fall into the trap of being to reliant on media to get the message out. I’ve missed out on my friends events as well because the invitation sat in the unread pile of hundreds of upcoming events. Show a friend you care and make the extra effort to invite them personally.
Even if we are floating in the happy flow of making friends and business contacts, reading insightful articles, and laughing at pictures of naughty kitties on facebook, we may find that minutes accidentally turn into hours and once again we ask ourselves, what was it again that I planned on doing today? Perhaps timing your facebook usage might be a helpful way to keep the facebook experience helpful rather than distracting.
Feeling More Disconnected
If facebook is so good at connecting us, why do we feel so disconnected? I think what facebook does is disconnect us from ourselves. As we get transported into the images and stories of other people’s lives, we disconnect from our own vision, voice, and purpose. Just as much as we need to feel connected to others, we need to feel connected to ourselves. To do this, we must spend time by ourselves, quieting the mental chatter, and listening to our own inner guide. We need to find time alone everyday to dream, to tend to ourselves, to be the active creators of our lives. If I sit and free-write before I open facebook or start my day, I am poised to continue my day with confidence from the core of my being, because I have taken time to start there. If you are a morning facebooker, try meditating, doing movement, free-writing, or making art for 10 minutes before you do anything else. Notice the difference it makes.
In conclusion, facebook can make us feel both more connected, and more disconnected. Take the time to notice when each is happening. Make a plan that works for you so that you can utilize facebook for what it is brilliant at, while taking control of the ways it makes you feel disempowered. I’d love to hear more about your relationship with social media in the comments below, and any tricks that work for you to rein in your usage.