November 17th, 2015

Legolas - do I please you?

Facebook: breeding competition, not relationships

I'm feeling like I'm harping on the subject of cutting back on Facebook, and I apologize. BUT. I also want to elaborate on my reasons for too-casually comparing FB to a toxic friend in the last post.

What I did not mean: that the people on my friends list were, themselves, toxic friends. To my knowledge, they weren't. Mind you, the vast majority of them, I haven't seen in real life in years; haven't even met some of them at all; so to be completely truthful, I can't judge what kind of friends they are.

But that's part of the problem. My daily free time--and to too great a degree, my daily work time--was being spent involved in the posts of people I hadn't seen in years or possibly had never met. Sure, that's life for us all, this day and age, right? What's the problem? Am I condemning the entire internet because it's composed primarily of people I've never met?

Well, no. I see great value in lots of the internet. I'm picking on Facebook in particular. Not even the professional-page side of FB: I actually think it works fairly well for groups, where everyone has an interest in common, and also works pretty well as a professional notice board for us artists and other businesses (assuming FB shows our posts to our followers, which I'll bitch about in a minute). It's the personal pages, and their associated friend feed, and the culture thereof, that I am mainly disillusioned with. Why, then?

Because of the likes. And the algorithms, which are tied in to the likes.

Every social media site, through its design and through the possibly unpredictable alchemy of its users, develops a feel. An ambience, a mood, an ideal. On FB, the ideal is to get as many likes and comments as you can. Well, sure, that's the case on most sites. But FB makes the game a little more diabolical, because if you don't engage your friends and followers, FB actually does not show your posts as often to them. That alone is one of the major reasons I lost patience with the site. It's really simple, FB, and it's what we all want: just show us every one of the goddamn posts from all the people or pages we're following, in the order they were posted, and don't filter them, don't re-sort them, don't fuck with them in any way. (Look, it's making me swear; that's how irritating it is.)

But FB does filter them and hide them and boost them, according to the algorithms, and we all feel the effects. Because then what we often find ourselves trying to do, subconsciously, is support the popularity scheme. Boost our friends! Get them to boost us! You better not forget to click "like" on the good stuff or else it might actually disappear! And how can that mood NOT result in a deterioration of quality of interaction? In short, what I've concluded is that Facebook breeds competition, not relationships. As a result, people are snarky more often than they'd be in real life, because a funny, snarky response will get likes from other commenters--never mind how rude it is to the person whose wall you're posting on. It also means people will post whiny, trendy, or obnoxiously controversial things more often, because those get more attention and interaction than a quietly thoughtful post would. (And if you do post something quietly thoughtful, brace yourself for the snarky commenters fishing for likes.)

"But Molly, then you were doing it wrong," you might say. "I use Facebook to empathize with my friends and family far and wide, and to feel comforted and uplifted by staying in touch with them." Okay. If that's your FB experience, I won't doubt you, and I'll count you lucky. What I know is that for me, it became anxiety-provoking. And not just for the usual reason the articles give: the ones that say "Facebook is depressing because it makes you see only the awesome side of your friends' lives, and thereby makes you feel bad about yours." That actually didn't happen to me too often, though sure, it makes the list of my grievances.

I actually had the opposite problem, as someone prone to anxiety: I'd see posts about something upsetting happening to someone I sort of know somewhere, and I'd feel my worry ratchet up. Not just worry for THEM, but worry for my own family: if this upsetting thing happened to an actual person I'm reading about right now, WHAT IF IT HAPPENS TO US? IT TOTALLY COULD. Because that is how anxiety works. Yes, it's stupid, but it's also very common, which is why I think FB is doing a lot of harm to an awful lot of people, because, remember, thanks to the interaction algorithm, you get a lot of comments on passionate complaint/rant/life-is-unfair posts. So people post them a lot on FB. They actually don't post stuff this whiny on all sites on the internet. If you spent most of your time on Pinterest, you'd think the world was mainly a pleasant place devoted to baking cupcakes, collecting pretty clothes, and squeeing about fandom. (If only! Ah, I do like Pinterest...)

By the way, as a psychological aside, the more time you spend fielding commiserating remarks about your annoying problem, the longer you're spending thinking about it. You're giving it life. You're choosing to feed the wolf of anger instead of the wolf of serenity. You're *wallowing*, when you could be doing something else.

I could have been doing something else instead of scrolling and liking my way through the friend feed, and monitoring the likes I was getting on my own posts. That right there is probably my number one grievance against FB. There was writing and reading I longed to do. Family and neighbors to talk to face-to-face. Exercise to get. Things around the house to sort out and fix up. A whole real, actual world to look at and get involved with. So why had it become so seemingly important to ANSWER ALL THE NOTIFICATIONS several times per day--per hour, even?

It wasn't. It was not important. I finally grasped that. And life has become so much more peaceful, my outlook so much more reasonable, after letting the FB fog clear from my mind.

This whole post is probably pointless. Most people either fall into the "Yep, I already hate FB" camp, or the "Noooo! You're wrong and I heart FB!" camp, and I won't change anyone's mind. But it was on my mind, this bit of statement for the defense, so I wrote it down, mainly to sort out my own thoughts. If it does spark any useful ideas in anyone else, so much the better. I do wish you all peace and happiness, whatever your camp.

Now I already feel like I'm wallowing in anti-FB resentment, so I'll go read one of those books I so wanted to read. :)