I remember the time I initially signed up for my Facebook account, in 2009.
I didn’t know much about it, and didn’t know exactly what to expect. Facebook, and all of social media was relatively new. It was in its infancy, and no one knew exactly how to use it. The operators of these sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, had no idea how to monetize them, which would quickly become necessary if they were to continue. There were no rules. They sprouted organically, and nothing like them ever existed before. There was no master plan on what to do or how to operate this new style communications medium.
Over the years, as so many of us have used Facebook, it’s place in our lives has evolved, as has the actual business model. It is now a profitable business. And we as users have established basic rules of engagement. Just as radio (and later on TV) grew up to become fixtures in our lives, so has Facebook. It is now a commercial medium, selling us things we want or need in our lives. And it is, at the same time, a place where we gather (virtually) to meet and talk about our lives. And that is where the fun, and danger of Facebook starts.
You see, we all love to post pictures of our beautiful families, our fabulous vacations, and announce our life’s accomplishments. What we usually don’t announce is the bad stuff. Arguments, with our spouses, disappointments at work, money problems, and other less than perfect things are not topics most people want to share with the public. These are private matters. We all have them, but no one wants to put them out there for the whole world to read. And that’s the problem.
We all have problems. That is the inherent nature of life. But on Facebook, we only see the good stuff. We forget that all of those people posting their perfect moments in life also have the same problems we have. All we see are their perfect moments, and we compare our less-than-perfect lives to “Everyone Else’s Greatest Hits”. It is a recipe for a serious bout of low self-esteem.
On the other hand, it has provided a way for my generation to reconnect with friends we have lost touch with. I have found people, and they have found me, after 50 years, childhood friends who were once an everyday part of my life. It is fun to see how our lives turned out. I have been able to actually see some of them face-to-face. Many times I have found out they live within a short distance from me, or they are visiting my town. It’s not that we pick up where we left off, but we get to be together again, if only for a short time. Getting a hug from a long lost childhood friend warms the soul. It’s comforting to know that we made it to the other side of childhood, and had a fulfilling life. Most of these people will only be Facebook friends. But seeing their accomplishments while share ours is fun, as long as we keep it in perspective.
There are so many other good things Facebook brings into our lives. We share music, interesting news, and discussions on the topics of the day. On the other hand, there are heated political arguments also. I wish people would keep the politics off of Facebook. Nothing gets accomplished or resolved. My vision of Facebook is a place we can have fun, discuss interesting topics, and share our lives. Occasionally, someone asks for prayers for a particular challenge they are facing. It is comforting to see how many of our friends offer words of comfort. Recently, a very close friend announced the untimely death of his 21year old son from drugs. It took great courage for him to do that. The warmth he received from everyone was overwhelming. We collected money for him to assist in the burial, from all over the world. That would not have been possible without Facebook.
So, back to my opening question, is Facebook a friend or foe? The answer is yes to both. But that answer is in our own power. How we react to the posts is our choice. It is important to understand that our posts are usually very superficial, and need to be taken that way. If we don’t get hung up on the “their life is so perfect, and mine just sucks” frame of mind, Facebook will enrich your life. But if we compare our everyday lives to the greatest hits we see from others, it becomes a negative force.
The young people of today have grown up with social media. It is an everyday part of their lives. They use it to create a community. They are the first generation who will never lose touch with friends because of distance. Their social media accounts follow them wherever they go. It is up to us as educators and parents, to help them (and ourselves) keep it all in perspective, and encourage them to use it in a positive way. It will be here forever, and it has a very important place in our lives. But we also have to keep it in its place, and not let it take over our lives.
Perry Goldstein is an electronic industry veteran, with experience in the consumer, Pro AV, and broadcast fields. Perry is also a widely published writer and speaker for the electronics industry. He is a guest lecturer in the California Community College system, specializing in Digital Marketing. He is also a volunteer at Friendship Circle, and organization serving the special needs community.