June 2nd, 2011
Facing Facts: Inspections by a Social Addict
I am a Facebook addict. I compulsively report my life, post pictures, comment, check in… It doesn’t take up a lot of my time, but since I juggle a lot of tasks, it feels good to take micro-breaks of 20-40 seconds. I suspect a lot of other people are the same.
As a result of this hyper-use, I am acutely concerned about what these interactions make me seem like to others. These interactions are “public,” and some subset of viewers must surely disapprove of them. But who? Why?
The most common complaints about Facebook statuses fall into three categories:
(1) Showing Off
People seem to have a negative view of people who show off. “Having a great time at the best party, or the best concert” or whatever.
There is also the whiner. People seem to have a negative view of those of us who share negative feelings. Some of these, I concede, are quite dramatic.
It becomes even more annoying when people combine showing off with complaining by engaging in “stealth show-offs” which are show-offs disguised as complaints. “Sucks to be stuck behind Yao Ming at Miller Outdoor. He’s so tall, I can’t see around him.” This combines the worst of (1) and (2) but is really a variation on (1) and doesn’t deserve its own category.
(3) Banal Sharing of Minutiae
The last activity that people have a negative view of is the banal sharing of minutiae. I had a sandwich; I went to the pool; I am about to take a walk. Who cares?
So I thought I must try to avoid those three categories. Here is the resultant problem: There is very little left to talk about. Basically, things can be going well for you and you’re happy, things can be going poorly for you and you’re sad, or things are neutral, and you’re neutral. Those are the choices for your emotional states. When people complain about those three categories of expression, they’re essentially complaining about the full range of human expression on Facebook.
So what are we supposed to talk about if we can’t be happy, sad or neutral? The reader is tempted to come up with counterexamples like jokes, or news. But that misses the point. This is the crux of the problem: we don’t really understand the purpose of Facebook. We don’t have a theory of what it is supposed to be, so we can’t comment on what people are supposed to do on it. It is a bit like asking what a play is for, or what a novel is for. You have as many theories as there are disciplines: psychological explanations, moral ones, aesthetic ones, anthropological ones, and so on. This author finds none of these particularly compelling or satisfying, and they certainly don’t provide a better answer than the experience itself.
The only saving grace here is that the person logging on to Facebook, and reading the post understands it. On some level, they’re choosing to log on, choosing to read through, choosing to respond. They can complain about what they read but that is their rational mind, sans any reasonable theory, that is trying to grasp it. On an emotional level, they’re connecting with the show offs, the whiners, and the borers. So I am going to have to continue to post for those of my friends who continue to read.
Social media dilemma authored by Omar Haneef