If you peruse Facebook posts, flip open your iPad, or read a news aggregator’s website, you will likely happen upon the observation that the sky is falling and we are no longer able to look each other in the eye because of the great evil of social media. Ironically, it is often social media that delivers this message to me, because I am an avid and grateful user of Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook. (I have an Instagram account, but I really don’t use it. I prefer that my purposefully unflattering pictures sent to my daughter disappear forever, even though I think the NSA is probably getting a good laugh at them, too. Your welcome, government bureaucrats! And enjoy my DubSmash hits!) I don’t know about the degredation of social skills and the collapse of society due to social media; perhaps we really are heading toward floating around in recliners with screens in our faces as depicted in Wall-E.
(Uh oh. I fear I am growing ever more like these animated folks who are not too animated. Note to self: take a walk.)
But, large societal and evolutionary forces aside, I have to take a stance on social media. I love Facebook. There, I said it. It’s almost like admitting you sneak Nutella out of the jar by the spoonful. We all do it, and we have collectively agreed not to discuss it. But, I’m saying it loud and proud: I LOVE FACEBOOK. But, why? I am sure there is some very scientific and accurate study that discusses the rewards delivered to my brain by engaging in Facebook activity and that this creates a cycle of addiction. Still, I think there are more significant reasons why it has become important to me.
1) Family – Through the magic of Facebook, I am now in touch with family both near and far. The tangled web keeps growing and now includes cousins from a generation once removed, the grown children of scattered and various family members, and a smattering of family folk who have remained in ye olde hometown. Social media has not pushed my family members away (except when I sometimes ignore my kids, but I ignore them with my nose in a book, too, so what’s the difference?). It has brought my family near, right to my eyes and my fingertips. When my father passed away, I posted a photo and message on Facebook. The condolences were a real and actual comfort – they were not virtual. People who may not have known about his passing until weeks later found out that very day and they reached out to us. It was a great solace. And the quick communication allowed several relatives who live in other parts of the country to arrange travel plans and attend services. For this, I am ever grateful to Facebook. On a lighter note, pictures of babies, new puppies, graduations, and risque someecards that reflect the humor of my extended family brighten my every day. One of the most surprising types of connection has been with my mother’s family in Germany and Hungary. These are people that we have had little to no contact with for many years (my mother left Europe in 1959), and now they are part of our daily lives. Amazing. You cannot put a price tag on the connectivity fostered by my real Facebook family and it’s all for free (thanks, Mark Zuckerberg!).
2) Friends – I moved away from my hometown, then we moved away from our adopted home state of NJ, and I have changed jobs many times. But, due to Facebook, I have reconnected with high school friends and acquaintances, former coworkers, old neighbors and friends of various sorts. It has been a wonderful surprise to find out how some of these high school friends of yesteryear have turned out, and though we do not see each other, there is a kinship. I hated high school (feelings that are strong enough for a blog post but far too whiny for anyone to read. Ugh.). But, yowza, I love how some of these people have turned out. One friend is a writer, one teaches at a university in Singapore, another teaches at Harvard (yes, THAT Harvard), many have gone on to have beautiful and accomplished children and some have great, quirky senses of humor. What a gift they are! My new Charlotte friends have also been a great addition to my Facebook feed. Through their photos, posts, jokes and check-ins, I have learned more about these new friends and their interests, which has enhanced our burgeoning friendships.
3) Former Students – My favorite category of Facebook friends is my former students. How very proud I am to have played a role in just 5 minutes of their lives. They give me hope. This generation that is decried and derided for being so entitled may have expectations of reaching financial goals years ahead of reality. But, so many of them are active volunteers in their communities and committed to their families (as evidenced by wishing their parents a Happy Anniversary and posting photos of nieces, nephews and their own newborn babes). Some are dedicated to military service or ministry. A few have bravely come out of the closet, and it feels great to let them know that some long ago religion teacher loves them just as they are. There are some doctors in the making. And, last but not least, they still teach me something and make me laugh every day. I know that as the years pass, they will drop off my newsfeed. But, for now, they are still a part of my life and I am so grateful for them.
4) Politics – Just kidding! No one in the history of the Internet has ever changed someone else’s mind about political and social issues via a Facebook post. I do my best to avoid these squabbles completely because I think it is all too easy to lose our compassion for others when we hide behind a keyboard. When face-to-face with a political or social opponent, you see the eyes of a real human being who lives, breathes, loves and is worthy of respect. We forget about all of that when we angrily type away at a screen. My policy is to keep Facebook light and positive. It may make me kind of a coward, but I rarely get unfriended.
5) Recipes – Chicken and dumplings inspired by Facebook are simmering away right now. Thanks for dinner, Mark Zuckerberg!
6) Humans of New York – My favorite Facebook page brings us daily doses of regular lives. HONY proves that every person has a story, many of us secretly carry deep pain, there are moments of pure joy out there, and what we perceive as a mundane scene might be anything but. HONY makes me laugh and cry and as a middle-aged woman, those are two of my favorite things.
Facebook is a great time suck, it draws me in, it calls my name like the aforementioned jar of Nutella, and it sometimes makes my thumb hurt because I am scrolling down my phone for too long. It will surely morph into something else and technological innovation will continue to change how we stay connected. But, thanks to Facebook, now we are connected. After all, I know you somehow, from somewhere and you are reading this.