Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Anti-Social Network

I haven’t been able to put my finger on what bothers me about Facebook, but then Stanford University did a study and nailed it for me:

Here’s my favorite line from that article: “Facebook tends to exploit an Achilles heel of human nature.” A.k.a. You Are Not Invited to the Party.

Yes. My friend Barb and I talk about this all the time. On days when we’re low energy, feeling like we haven’t seen anyone for a while, and wonder if everyone is getting together for dinner but not inviting us … Facebook is the nail in the coffin. It confirms our worst fears: everyone is having more fun, is happier, and, by the way, is better looking, than us.

Luckily, I’m a woman-of-a-certain age, in a relationship, with work I love, so on those low energy days I have much to fall back on and bounce right back. But if I were a teen?

OMG. Forget it. I don’t want to think about how I would have felt, 35 years ago, if there had been Facebook. I would have hated seeing pictures posted from all the parties I wasn’t invited to. I would definitely have felt that everyone in my entire high school was better looking and more popular than I was. What got me through those years was not having it shoved in my face that I was “out of it.” I could content myself with having a few wonderful girlfriends, a handful of activities I enjoyed, music to practice, homework to complete …. That’s how I survived. Ignorance is bliss. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

I think it’s ironic that the biggest global “social networking” creation of our age is the brainchild of a 20-something who, for all his achievements and brilliance, is a disaster at relationships. Yes, yes, I know, Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, does have a real girlfriends, so the depiction of him and his ex in the movie “The Social Network” is not accurate. But … pretty much every other interaction he has with real live people is fairly disastrous, don’t you think?

I’m trying to get my head around what this means for our kids who are coming of age in the age of Facebook. Of texting instead of speaking. Of emailing instead of slowly, thoughtfully, by hand, composing letters. I have boxes of old letters from when I was in college: letters from my parents, my now-deceased grandmother, old boyfriends … They are gems. Did you ever notice how someone comes to life for you when you see their handwriting? I have an impulse sometimes to strokes the words on the page; as if pieces of their souls inhabit the ink.

I think it’s fair to predict that when my son graduates from college, I will not have a single letter from him in my possession. I will, however, have received thousands of texts and countless emails from him. Frankly, that’s one of the benefits of sending kids to summer camp where there are no computers: they have to write letters home.

Sometimes I wonder if I should print out his emails, and save them in a box.

Anyway. I don’t plan to delete my Facebook page any time soon. But thank you, Stanford researchers, for helping me better understand what’s been bugging me about the whole “posting my wonderful life” thing. And in all fairness to Mark Zuckerberg, he does appear to have more of a sense of humor than Alan Sorkin gave him credit for:

Mark Zuckerberg on SNL

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