I left Facebook this weekend in the name of Finals Week self-improvement.
And I was overjoyedy to learn that the same day I dyeactivated, The New York Times’ Roger Cohen (my future employer) posted an op-ed about over-sharing on social media, to which The New Yorker’s Richard Brody (and I rather like him, too) wrote a commentary in response a few hours later. So though Facebook critiques are nothing new — I know you’ve heard all about virtual self-aggrandizement and the problem (is it?) of over-sharing and the potential superficiality, if not falsity, of online friendships — if Cohen and Brody are writing about something so ever relevant, so can I. Only they get more than 800 words. Not fair!
Anyway. Cohen’s piece complained about today’s “unctuous ooze of status updates” and our general tendency to over-share, calling them “the two great scourges of the modern world” (the first world, that is — so many problems). The culprit for these woes, he said, is a society-wide anxiety that our personal statuses in our various community sects might be falling or “— the horror, the horror! — disintegrating.”
And you know, it’s funny: when I turned off my account on Thursday morning, for a second it felt like I’d fallen off the edge of a very flat world and ceased to exist, like I’d just poof! disappeared mid-sentence at the table and left my poor friend Kubs talking to himself and his coffee.
Naturally, I had a few fits of withdrawal. I accidentally visited the site a number of times, because typing “fa … ” into the URL box on Firefox is most often the first thing I do whenever I open my computer. (Similarly, the little blue app is the first button my thumb hits after I turn off the alarm on my phone in the morning. Instagram is the second. I’m an enlightened and modern human being, obviously.)
“Come back, Jack,” said Kubs. So I did. I set aside “Paradise Lost” and reactivated. I signed onto Messenger. And then, suddenly, I freaked out and re-deactivated. I had failed. I had broken my covenant. Kubs later said that was a very Annie Hall thing to do, and I felt cool, singular. But more than anything I was surprised that a day’s worth of abstinence had actually quelled my desire to be part of things for the weekend. I wondered if something was wrong.
Cohen argues that we overshare to stay relevant. And I almost wonder if my thus-far-brief leave of absence from Facebook isn’t actually a test of my own staying power. Not just to others, but to myself, too. Like, am I still alive sans social media presence? Am I less present in the world without an online presence? If there’s not a picture of my Saturday night meal on my wall, did I really eat it? Are Kubs and I still friends without daily spamming of each others’ walls? Are my thoughts still important if they don’t have 14 “likes” attached to them? Did I really have such an awesome time in Prague and Vienna if I don’t have any pictures to prove it? And does my boyfriend really love me if all I get are Facebook messages and no roses? Etc.
I’m guessing my communication and public relations internship supervisors, for whom I have tweeted my heart out and managed internationally visited social media pages, would say no.
Why? Because these days, sharing legitimizes things. Privacy is so pre-Timeline. Life is less fun when you have to keep it to yourself. I want people to know where my friends and I went last night, how funny my Christmas lights look un-hung and lit up on the floor and what a great time I’m having on my travels over Christmas break. Sorry you guys. I can’t help that my life is really, really international and awesome.
Cohen didn’t write about the positives of oversharing, about the interconnectedness afforded by status updates, and likes, and comments. That’s where Brody comes in, reminding us that social media is actually a positive thing because such interconnectedness is “a fundamental human condition and value.” Facebook does foster friendships and communities. Everyone likes “Happy Birthday!” posts and filtered photos of artisan lattés with foam poured into the shape of a heart.
For this reason, I want to share. I want interconnectedness. I want people to know how cute my cousins are in their Christmas sweaters, I want to re-post The Paris Review’s latest poem because I found it moving and I think everyone should watch the video I just watched of Britain’s Got Talent’s Charlotte and Jonathan singing their hearts out. (Watch it — it’ll bring tears to your eyes). Admittedly, I like newsfeeds, because for the most part, I like knowing what people have to say. All of it — the great, the boring, and the ugly. Facebook is social studies. And I am a social being.
Yes, there rest those questions of whether or not the touch screen has replaced real human touch, “as cars replaced buggies and assembly lines replaced craftsmen” (Kubs’ insight). It’s possible that Facebook only supplies a mere pretense of the familiar and an un-genuine one at that. But I don’t have room on the page to go deeper into this. I’ll ponder later with Kubs over iMessage.
And I’ll try to stay away from Facebook just a little while longer. I’ll be back soon, to keep in touch with Kubs over break and write a few notes of Christmas love to my surrogate family in Germany. But for the time being, I need to stop wasting minutes wondering if I should push the “share” button, and spend the holiday break on other things, like grad school applications or my reading list (without telling you what’s on it, though I promise it’s a really good one, you’d approve) or lunch with my Uncle Bob, all without updating my status.
Anne Whiting is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.