I originally accepted her friend request to be polite, but I recently un-friended her. I “neaten” my Facebook friend list once a year, removing people who never post, who post too frequently about subjects that I care little for, or people with whom I never really had a solid interaction. It tends to optimize the flow of information on the screen and increase the number of quality interactions I can have.
Facebook is supposed to connect me with people and places and ideas, but sometimes, I just feel inundated with useless or uninteresting information. I was mulling this over when I picked up a book and read the following: …when it is made over easy for men to communicate with one another, they learn less from one another.
Words written in 1837.
Questioning the value of human interaction is evidently not new. A reminder which led me to understand that Facebook isn’t necessarily the problem. If anything, social media is merely provoking natural and very common human insecurities that have always been there.
The quote is pulled from a biography of Margaret Fuller that I’m currently reading. This influential writer, thinker and women’s rights advocate was a sceptic when it came to progress, specifically fretting how social innovation – that is, the arrival of the railroad and steamships – would impact the individual. The triumph over matter does not always or often lead to the triumph of the Soul, she cautioned.
Over 175 years later, we’re still having the same concerns about communication, knowledge and the development of the individual. Except in this context, Facebook is the steamship – or the catalyst – forcing us to question who am I talking to?, what am I saying? and why am I saying it?, as well as what am I reading?, why am I reading it? and what am I learning from it? A common reaction that’s spurred all kinds of theories about how the use of social media is turning us into a bunch of sociopaths, lonely narcissists, simpletons, etc.
We’d like to think that our reaction is unique, but Margaret Fuller and the other transcendentalists were probably having similar reactions in the mid-19th century. Any massive trend that changes human behaviour – like Facebook – will ultimately touch on our fears, failings and ego, making us question our personal motivations, as well as whether society as a whole is moving towards progress or decline.
But social media – like steamships and trains – are fuelled by humans. Blaming Facebook or Twitter for our behaviour is like blaming lettuce because it won’t grow. If you’re truly concerned about how the online world is transforming humanity, the key is to question and modify how you, as an individual, use social media.
Lines of code are not making us egotistical idiots, our reaction to them is.
So rather than rant and rave, we should try to be more mindful when using social media.
Being more discerning when posting content.
Taking three deep breaths before hitting the send button.
Engaging less, but engaging better when you do.
Reading and reflecting, rather than hastily reacting.
Posting when you have something to share, rather than when you’re bored or lonely.
Resisting the urge to be passive-aggressive because you’re hiding behind a screen.
How can you be more mindful in your use of social media?