Using Facebook

Despite its ubiqFacebook for the rest of usuity, Facebook isn’t popular with certain trend-setters, technocrats, reporters, teachers, anti-bullying advocates, pro-privacy advocates, or psychologists. Even share prices are lower than we expected. Bad Facebook!

As if we needed any more convincing of its relative worthlessness, a new study making the rounds reports young adults who rely on Facebook for social interaction take a hit to their self-esteem as they read about the exploits of their more successful and well-connected friends.  Whether those exploits are exaggerated for the benefit of the Facebook audience was not discussed; my guess is they are.

The 87 volunteers for this study were all in their late teens or early twenties, a time in life when neither self-esteem nor the ability to distinguish between reality and bullsh*t has been fully developed. The researchers found their subjects felt more depressed, more dissatisfied with their own lives, and more envious of the successes they think are enjoyed by their online peers. Boo!

After perusing the study, I’ve reached my own conclusion:  Facebook may very well be bad for high school students and for post-graduates, whether in or out of college, who haven’t reached the age of twenty-five.  But for the rest of its 1.5 billion users, most of whom appear to be older than that, it seems to be working pretty well. In fact, for those of us who understand both the virtues and limitations of social networking, it provides a substitute water cooler or an online salon, a casual get-together, or a reunion center.

In other words, it does what it’s supposed to.  It connects people.

I’m not suggesting that envy and low self-esteem are exclusively the province of young people. Nor would I propose that mature adults are immune from the need to self-aggrandize, shock, titillate, bully, or measure their worth in terms of either their professional achievements or their material possessions.

There’s a fitfully amusing ad for Nokia that shows thirty and forty-something parents  behaving badly while jockeying for position at a middle school performance, trying to one-up each other with their phones’ cameras. Naturally, the hip, young people holding the new Nokia phone are in the back, unhurriedly watching the proceedings with the sort of detached irony that signals ultimate trendiness.

As far as trendiness is concerned, there are endless sites and apps that allow us to opine, spout off, share, show off or otherwise make noise in a world so overcrowded we may fear we’re disappearing. I can’t pretend to keep up; I’m thankful I don’t need to.

What I do need—and what social networking offers—is a community. I don’t pretend that community provides all the advantages of a close-at-hand group, but it gives me quite a few. My online friends are people who seem to like other people and enjoy the novelty of connecting with other human beings.  A great number of them moved onto Facebook after meeting at an online writers’ forum. We have in common our love of words, our efforts to be creative, our struggle to earn a living, our desire to be read, and a fair amount of mileage on our life odometers. If there is envy (we are, after all, human), it is not just tempered, but generally subsumed by our support for and interest in each other.

This past weekend, I met a group of those friends in Washington, DC. Previously, I’ve connected with online acquaintances in Miami, Amherst, Woodstock, Manhattan, and San Diego. Each gathering has been a joyous  discovery of our common bonds, first forged online.

Social networking is a technology, which means it’s a tool.  It can work for you, against you or with you. It can be used to connect or deflect, encourage or discourage, inspire or disparage, steal or share. I agree with the psychologists who insist it’s no substitute for face to face interaction. But when those sorts of exchanges aren’t readily available (and sometimes even when they are), Facebook manages to host the world’s biggest block party and supply the opportunity to meet some fabulous souls who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with you.

Which is, to my mind, the best way to use it.  Nikki with Facebook friends DC, 2013

About Nikki

Author of non-fiction books HOPE IN SMALL DOSES and BECAUSE I SAY SO as well as numerous published essays. Her new novel, THE FORMER ASSASSIN, is due out January 2018.
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10 Responses to Using Facebook

  1. Art James says:

    Fun DC, Bethesda, Md, Fellowship.
    I am happy to know Matt Paust is okay.
    I change dirty t- shirt and read more Here.

  2. Andy says:

    Lots of people say the world has become a smaller place. The virtual community that I have become a part of would never had existed 30 years ago. After attending a seminar last May, our peer consulting group decided to meet once a month. Our group members live in Australia, Columbia, the UK, California, South Carolina and Connecticut. While our on-line meetings are not quite the same thing as meeting in person, the emotional and personal connections are still there. And the commitment to stay in touch is, too.

    It is remarkable and quaint at the same time.

  3. Jaime Franchi says:

    Yes. It’s about connection, support, and very real friendship. I’m so honored to “know” everyone in that photo. And love them.

  4. AJ Calhoun says:

    Nailed. It’s all already said. I love this, and the fact that we’re grown up enough to appreciate Facebook for its intended purpose. The face-to-face meetups make it real. Family is where you find it.

  5. Richard Brown says:

    I came to Facebook kicking and screaming. Though I occasionally gripe about aspects of it, I’d be kicking and screaming if it suddenly disappeared.

  6. Larraine says:

    Facebook is a great way to get information from blogs, sites, etc rather than email. You do have to make sure you check “get notifications” though. I’ve actually met some new people on Facebook. Meetup is the same way. Kind of fun.

  7. Matt Paust says:

    And what’s really remarkable about the photo above, besides the bright, familiar and friendly faces, is that nobody is discretely taking peeks at smart phones under the table!

  8. GabbyAbby says:

    ba-baaam! you hit it squarely, Nikki. The face to face meets have always been delightful and as others have posted and written about the DC weekend, it’s been reaffirming that we are not all virtual friends. We’re friends who have plumbed the depths together over an extended period of time and meeting in person is the cherry on top!

  9. Sheila Luecht says:

    Exactly. You can leave groups that you out grow and join ones that stimulate you more. You can chose who you really want to interact with and if your schedule allows you can actually spend time in person with those you have interacted with. I keep waiting for people to find another Facebook, another place to interact and congregate. I am certain that Facebook is not the end, but just the beginning. Great piece.

  10. Tom Nolan says:

    “We have in common our love of words, our efforts to be creative, our struggle to earn a living, our desire to be read, and a fair amount of mileage on our life odometers. If there is envy (we are, after all, human), it is not just tempered, but generally subsumed by our support for and interest in each other.”

    Nicely stated. I’ve found my Facebook connections, limited though I keep them, a great way of staying in touch with writers, relatives, and close friends. As a tool for broadcasting things I’ve written, it’s given me a fairly large audience, which can’t be bad.

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