Facebook has become an icon, a symbol for our times. We are lonelier than ever — disconnected from family and friends in offline life — yet at the same time we are more connected online. Various recent articles have suggested that Facebook makes us sick, narcissistic, depressed, lonely, and anxious, partly because of the shallowness of Facebook relationships. But honestly, does anyone consider “liking” a comment an actual relationship? I doubt it.
Facebook is good or bad depending on how you use it. An article in The Atlantic that suggested Facebook makes us lonely used Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie star (best known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) as an example. Apparently, the actress had been dead for almost a year before anyone realized she was gone. (This is hard for me to believe. Perhaps all her bills were automatically paid out of her bank account every month, but what about taxes? Wouldn’t someone from any of the various tax collecting bureaucracies have noticed her delinquency?)
Still, the story goes that a neighbor found her and was so concerned about Yvette’s ignominious end that she scanned Yvette’s phone records and discovered that the former actress’s last calls were to old fans who found her via Facebook. Ignoring the neighbor’s decided lack of concern for the actress while the woman was alive, what business was it of hers how Yvette spent her last days? What business is it of ours? There is no way of knowing how Yvette felt. Perhaps it made her happy to connect with her past, to remember that she once had a life, to know that she once touched people. Perhaps everyone she knew and loved had died, and she needed to reach out and connect somehow. We don’t know the truth. We can never know another’s truth. The story is only pathetic because of our own fears of ending up alone.
Facebook doesn’t create loneliness. It might exacerbate a loneliness that already exists, (and face it, if we really had full offline lives, would we be spending so much time online?), but it also gives us the opportunity to connect with our past and maybe our future. I know several people who fell in love online, and the connection continues offline even now.
Facebook makes us informed. If it weren’t for Facebook, I would never have seen the above-mentioned articles, hence I would never have known about the deleterious effects of Facebook. Nor would I have seen these incredible before and after photos of Nagasaki.
Facebook makes us humble. You’re feeling thrilled that you sold ten books that day and then someone boasts they sold 10,000. Brings you down a peg, that’s for sure. Is humility such a bad thing? In a world that seems to revere aggrandizement, a bit of modesty is good for one’s soul.
Facebook makes us grateful. Mixed in with all the brags and too-cute animal photos are the heartbreaking posts. People talking about how their chemo is going, sharing their angst at the death of a loved one, giving updates on their hospital stays, telling us about the traumas their children and aged parents are facing. Such posts make us realize that no matter how bad things are for us, someone has it worse.
Facebook makes us aware of community. Or at least that’s the goal of my various groups. In the Suspense/Thriller Writers Group, I’m trying to keep writers focused on the craft of writing, on helping each other attain our writing goals. Perhaps together we can do what each of us can’t do alone.
In other words, Facebook doesn’t make us do anything. We make of it whatever we can.