A curious thing happens when a group of young people get together. Those who would classify themselves in my generation usually gather around a general place of meeting and discuss what they would like to do for the evening. The meeting is characterized by the usual rubbing of the chin, staring up into the sky for answers from Above, and a common brainstorming of activities which is usually the same ideas posed, though perhaps said in different ways so as to provoke excitement of some sort. “There is nothing to do in this town,” we proclaim knowing all the while that the statement applies to all towns unless you have a trustworthy source of income. My generation lacking this source, the options become quite slim, and what usually happens is the settling for a movie. But what one truly finds when he enters into one of these grave meetings is that today’s young person is eternally bored. All the while rubbing his chin and staring off into space for a divine answer as to what can possibly entertain him and his buddies this evening, the poor chap has seemingly forgotten that the answer to his troubles is found in his buddy. I believe this is Facebook’s mission, yet it is exactly what Facebook hinders.
The above example is just that. By no means is it universal, and, likewise, the following argument as to why I am leaving Facebook is based on my own experience and feelings and is by no means supposed to be a blanket statement against the website.
Surely, there are many arguments against Facebook, but this is not intended to be a laundry list of the evils of social networking. On the contrary, social networking is at its core a good thing, though for me it has become some sort of evil. If we return to that above example, we will discover that the answer to the riddle of my generation’s being forever bored and finding nothing to do is that my generation makes up what is perhaps the most narcissistic, indolent, and entertained society that has ever graced the earth with its presence. That of course is not meant to be universal, but a reality of what our world has slowly devolved into. Facebook is by no means to blame for this, but I do believe that Facebook plays a role (once again, in my own experience), and the major characteristics I have found to be true in both myself and perhaps as a general rule is this indolence, narcissism, and entertainment driven mindset that describes today.
That Facebook fosters narcissism cannot be debated in my mind. My own experience displayed a slow growth of narcissism when I first entered the social networking world that was MySpace in 2005. In 2006, according to Facebook’s records (which adds to why I am leaving), I joined Facebook and my love for myself seemed to know no limits. My favorite quotes, movies, books, TV shows, etc. were documented and had to be constantly changed to better display who I was to my peers. It was not until 2008 or perhaps 2009 that I really began to realize that all this updating, all these “likes” and “favorites” were creating, not so much a false image of myself, but a god. The most common god alive today is ourselves and our fascination with who we are. It is ingrained in us from the start: we are special. I furthermore discovered that, though I loved looking at myself in the mirror, no one else really got too excited to gaze upon the same visage. I was the only one who really cared what my favorite quote was let alone my favorite movie or book. And I knew this because of the amount of time spent gazing at myself in comparison to others (once again, my own experience). For if I was only looking at myself, surely that was the case for everyone else.
This narcissism was on full display even after I decided to let go of all the “likes” and the “favorites” as I will call them. For what better way than to display my uniqueness than creative and witty status updates? I will admit, I had a good status update or two, and there is nothing wrong with status updates as there is nothing wrong with Facebook so long as we do not corrupt it. However, I recognized that something seemed to swell up inside my soul when I would log back on to my page and see that people “liked” my status or even took the time to comment, and a bit of shame would creep over me if they chose not to do so which is in the least pathetic.
Therefore, I decided to end all status updates and eventually I found that my narcissism did begin to diminish though this was actually a response to something else rather than Facebook. Nevertheless, I found I was wasting too much time on the site and decided to set up the email system so that I could get updates and only worry about the dumb site if I was notified via email, and I would no longer have to log on to see what was happening in the world. This greatly diminished my time on the site, and eventually I discovered that unless you talk to others, no one really talks to you all that much (my experience). It all led up to my final decision to quit the thing entirely.
This personal, and for the record narcissistic, little testimony of my life on Facebook is to display what Facebook had become for me, and I am now going to explain just why I strongly feel the need to be without it until death (or until Big Brother forces me to join as my Orwellian fears are fostered). This narcissism that I suffer from is coupled of course with the two other characteristics I mentioned: the entertainment driven mindset and laziness. I truly love Facebook as an incredible tool for a quick overview of what is going on in the lives of loved ones. “Seeing” people get married, or the news of a newborn is absolutely delightful, but the problem is that these little flashes of updates are just that: updates. It is something like studying history. We read that Washington crossed the Delaware, but that does not display anything other than a physical fact that occurred on a random date. We have no ability to really know the particulars such as what Washington felt, what were his inner thoughts and emotions, or what was stirring in the man’s soul. Of course, these are abstract ideas that can not really be known, but they can be displayed, and the best way to see them in all their glory is to view Washington during the moment he was on the boat. To actually be there or to interview him ourselves is a much better way to experience what he went through than to read about it in a book or even watch a movie about it. And this, unfortunately, takes a bit of work, requires some effort on our part which Facebook destroys allowing us to merely glance at an update and forget: I no longer have to put forth any time into catching up with a friend if his life is on Facebook, for my other friend in the social networking business has done this work for me. And this is the tragedy of our generation.
I am merely trying in my life to figure out a bit of perspective. If I was born when I was born and no time had elapsed (i.e. if it was still 1990), catching up with loved ones would require more effort. All of human history has dealt with this issue of leaving people, moving around, and having the lone means of a letter to find out what is going on in their lives. Social networking is revolutionary in this sense making the process much less awkward and more convenient, and for socially awkward people like myself, this is pure bliss. But if it was still 1990, I would not even have this option. Though I may be criticized for trying to live in a different time period than I actually do, I would have to ask if that is such a bad thing after all. There was a commercial I once saw where this man (Bill Kurtis) was prancing around the middle of nowhere with his laptop and a special card declaring that “the internet cannot hide anymore,” but I ask “What if I would I would care so much as to hide from the internet?”
Not to declare that I want to hide from my friends, but this whole obsession with the internet being with us all the time, and consequently Facebook, does give me a small bit of fear for what the future may hold. Our smart phones now have internet and Facebook is now in our pocket. Furthermore, my “life” is documented on Facebook signifying when I lived where and worked where and met with certain people. Marriages, birthdays, deaths (?), events attended, graduations, down to what I am reading is all available on my timeline. I am no George Orwell in the sense that I believe there is some conspiracy putting us into captivity. On the contrary, I feel that we are offered the fetters and gladly administer them to our bodies willingly. (M.T. Anderson’s Feed, though in my humble opinion not great literature, gives a fascinating argument regarding this.) The narcissism that drives me will eat me from the inside out as everything I do is documented on my timeline. How creepy will it be when Facebook’s generation starts dying off and we see the new flag at the end of the line signifying that this man died at this time on this day! How he spent his life! Just study his timeline. You can see exactly what he did and when he did it with the click of the mouse. There is no need to ask a loved one of who this man truly was, for Facebook has the final say.
I am leaving Facebook, then, not because I so desire to run away from my friends but because I desperately need to flee from myself. It is unfortunate that a beautiful idea such as Facebook — with the ability to see what my friends are up to — can be turned into a machine which devalues those relationships. How much better to find out your friend is getting married through a personal greeting! Instead, the friends become little blimps of updates. Another person gets married, someone has a baby, another birthday is celebrated: All on the timeline of life that blends into obscurity. I do not want my friends to be nothing but abstract updates but real intimate relationships, and this is why I have to leave. When we return to our first example at the beginning of this post, which is now far too long, we begin to see the problem. Our generation highly values entertainment, but we have lost sight of the true entertainment: the individual. Though it does actually happen, people do not seem to sit around and enjoy conversation for the sake of conversation anymore. To wit we rarely gather around and enjoy the person, but instead there must constantly be something that entertains such as a movie or a game. It is this mindset that I must destroy as I likewise destroy my Facebook profile and yet another chain of narcissism is severed from me and a new field of freedom greets me with open arms: the freedom of knowing, cherishing, and loving people while you are with them physically and presently. For we are only alive at a precise moment, and no past or future events can materialize so as to satisfy the deep longing we have for community, but community must be present, must be momentary, or it is not community at all but a cult. Dear reader and friend, if I meet you not on this side of the internet, I will gladly shake your hand and have a very physical and fleeting drink with you on the other side known as real world while we gladly discuss the glories of love, life, and (Lord willing) literature!
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. — C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”