Facebook: Anxiety-Feeding Addiction

April 6th, 2012

“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.” ~Edward Wallis Hoch

 

My teenage daughter has removed herself from Facebook. Her cold-turkey drop of a technology that had dominated many of her free hours caught my attention. “I noticed how anxious it makes me,” she replied simply when I asked why. “I just want to see what its like; to see if I miss it.” There was surprisingly little withdrawal she said enthusiastically, back to re-reading her favorite books.   “I feel so much better not doing it. I don’t miss it at all.”

As the days passed, she shared a little more of what happened when she would be on Facebook that made her anxious. The ultimate life voyeur, many people post profoundly intimate details of their life, seemingly without understanding that it is now a broadcast medium. Teens make their plans and share their after-party stories for all those who are excluded to watch in despair.  Even many adults revisit their teen angst witnessing where they are excluded among their peers.

The anxiety-producing quality of Facebook was in fact deliberate. Founder Mark Zuckerberg, a social outcast at Harvard as well as a brilliant young programmer, designed the first Facebook in retaliation of all the girls that spurned him and for all the frat parties he was excluded from. It became popular overnight because, in our deepest and most vulnerable place what we are all trying to achieve is a sense of belonging. We all need a tribe.

Our need to belong is matched only by our need to be seen. This isn’t new. Gossip and voyeurism have influenced history and society at every level since recorded time. We study each other’s lives, comparing ourselves and talking about each other because there is nothing more interesting or instructive than our human stories. Tragically, combining these two needs in a fast, glossy digital form like Facebook is a sure recipe for not only losing touch with the very needs that pulled you in to begin with, but walking away with less than you entered.

It is no wonder that Facebook, which is nothing more than a screen destination that has been loaded voluntarily with our most precious photographs, epitaphs and stories of our personal lives  is one of the most valued stock offerings in history. A nerdy, social reject tapped into the most highly prized, yet simultaneously vulnerable need of humanity to feel accepted into the tribe of other humans. Facebook is nothing except what we give it of ourselves and yet we all give the wealth of our intimate lives to the sales and marketing mechanism of digital advertisers to sell us what they think we want.

Facebook friends are different from real friends. Real friends are the ones who know your number and have usually been to your home at least once. Real friends have seen you laugh and cry about things that actually happened to you in your daily life. They didn’t need to read about it on your page. Real friends have real time for you. They help you move or drop your old couch off at the dump, or sit with you in a yard sale. By all means, grief  is a reasonable response when a real friend lets you down, but not when Facebook friends don’t invite you to their random margarita event that might not even have happened except on a Facebook wall.

So next time you think about going on Facebook to update your status, call a real friend instead. Take my daughter’s lead- take a Facebook Fast and see if you don’t feel better.

9 Responses to “Facebook: Anxiety-Feeding Addiction”

  1. LuAnn Says:

    OMG, this is so true. I just never could find the right word/s to express the idea.

  2. Rhys Says:

    While I agree with your general statements about Facebook as an oft-used replacement for real friendships, I have found a very different use for it. As someone who meets new people and often keeps friendships with individuals who live far away from me, or whom I may only see a few times a year, Facebook has become a valuable tool that allows me to remain connected to them when we must go for long periods of time without seeing one another, and also to remain connected to and be reminded of places, which is more difficult over the phone. For example, I live far away from the location of my spiritual community, but can have conversations with the people caring for the land and see images of the places I miss when I’m unable to be there in person.
    Every person I have ‘friended’ on Facebook is someone whom I have met and had in-person conversations with. It is absolutely true that many of them I don’t know well, but having some idea of major events going on in their lives means that when we do get to see one another, there’s that much less time spent playing big-events catch-up and that much more time spent just being together.

  3. Sherri Glebus Says:

    There is much truth and wisdom to what you have said, but I find it to be a bit extreme. I have found Facebook to also be a wonderful tool for finding and connecting with my real tribe. For example, I have recently found a soul sister–a valuable friend who found me by contacting me on Facebook. And yes, she has been to my house at least once and called me on the phone many times. I also found my Women’s Circle this way and the women are able to stay connected with one another and continue to process our time together between our gatherings via the Facebook group. I have found long lost friends and family via this modality too. I believe there is a middle ground. There is the dark side of Facebook, that you have related and there are also healthy ways of using it.

  4. Elaine Says:

    This is true! I’ve done a month long social media fast myself and didn’t realize how often I was checking Facebook until I STOPPED checking it. For the first week, I had this underlying sense of missing something, borderline agitation like I was missing something crucial. It was ridiculous.

    After getting done with it, I’ve learned how to manage Facebook better, like quarantining it to once a day. Really helps.

  5. Travis Ehrenstrom Says:

    I think Facebook, like anything else, is best when used in moderation. I have found many days where I have easily wasted 3-4 hours updating my status every fifteen seconds just to make sure I’m not “missing” anything. The irony that we need to take Facebook with us everywhere we go has only contributed to this addiction. Now we are plugged in everywhere we go. I think Facebook because of its voyeuristic nature is very much like a drug, that can be addictive if not used properly. People long to belong, and Facebook offers that place for many people. Unfortunately for some, it becomes there only place. Your daughter rocks!

  6. Emily Kane Says:

    All of these things are true.

    However.

    I also agree that facebook is a double edged sword. It is both anxiety-inducing and a lifeline. Five years ago, before its explosion with the general public when it was still sort of a college kid thing, I went through an awful break-up and had moved to be with this dude. It was through the support of my friends that I was able to keep my head on.

    And before Facebook, college kids in the 2000s had Live Journal (EXACTLY like in the Social Network – I almost peed my pants during that scene in the film because I had many nights like that in the early 00s). However, looking back, Live Journal was far superior, because it wasn’t everywhere, and because it was able to foster real connections through real (written) communication.

    Whatever is The Next Thing after Facebook (and there will be one), it will serve the same purpose and be both good and bad. It might just not have a multi billion dollar IPO.

  7. miss candi Says:

    I am such a fan of your writing! Thank you for sharing your ideas, thoughts and guidance about so many relevant topics. I find your writing clear, loving and comprehensive.

    I agree with the prior comments that Facebook can be a double edged sword. It surely is a tool, and the user decides how they wish to use it. Whether or not we use it in moderation or tap it like a drug, is personal. Either way, it feeds our innate need to connect with other humans, whatever the medium. It can be the rose, and the thorn.

    As a cancer survivor, I was able to use Facebook to inform those closest to me about my illness. I could open up and be very vulnerable about my journey and in turn, received a stream of support that was crucial to my healing. I’m not sure of another forum that I could have created that would have been so accessible and immediate for my loved ones at that point in my life. Facebook was invaluable.

    What I’d like to hear more about is the website’s impact on relationships and how to navigate the challenges it can stir in coupledom. In my observation, that’s where people’s anxieties and insecurities are challenged. Consequently, if your relationship is “on” Facebook, and then comes to an end, there is a fishbowl effect to the split. In the history of dating, this is a relatively new concept for us which I feel many people, including myself, stumble around. I met my current partner on Facebook and while certain posts on his page mock my ego from time to time, at the end of the day I know I am in a secure and loving relationship and just remind myself…Facebook is just a website. I’m the one adding meaning to the content I am reading.

  8. facebook subscribe hoax Says:

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  9. Giorgio Bafino Says:

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