Ever since the end of my Facebook hiatus, I’ve been thinking about social media. My frustrations could be summed up by saying that social media no longer feels social. I log on and see that I have 15 new notifications, however, half of them are friend’s birthdays and the other half are likes. Our definition of the world “social” is changing, and that’s what I’ve been contemplating.
If you’ve noticed, the amount of time people spend talking on the phone is disproportional to the time they spend texting or on the internet. Rather than calling a friend on their birthday, now we just write them on their Facebook page. Instead of saying, “hello”, we just “poke” each other.
The original purpose of Facebook was to connect online with friends and family. We wanted to see what’s going on in one another’s life without the need to call 50 different people. It’s made sharing information incredibly easy. Last week, my cousin had surgery on his appendix. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have seen the gruesome pictures of his stomach. Since moving across the country, Facebook has given me the ability to keep in contact with my family and see what they’re up to while I’m gone.
However, the underlying reason of why we use this site is starting to change into a monster. We seek social connections through Facebook but the connections aren’t about communication or interaction. Instead, we use the site to view other people’s lives. It isn’t about our real life, it’s about a secondary life online.
Take a moment to imagine Facebook as a physical reality, a town or city populated by your Facebook friends. As you walk down the main street (the equivalent of a NewsFeed) you walk by a friend eating at an ice cream parlor. This would be a status update, your friend is out and has written that she’s “enjoying downtown today -at Ice Cream Parlor”. Now you have an opportunity here, you can keep walking, you can make eye contact with the friend, or you can start a conversation.
If you start a conversation, that’s like making a comment on the status update. Choosing to walk by without looking is the equivalent of scrolling down your NewsFeed and ignoring the post. The most important action though, and the one I want to focus on, is if you make eye contact with that person. When you look at them, you acknowledge what they’re doing. They see that you saw them, and you both carry on your merry ways. It’s the middle ground between blatantly ignoring the person and stopping for a conversation.
This action would be called a “like” and is the foundation of Facebook. Without this system of “likes”, Facebook would be no different from MySpace or any other social media. It is what characterizes the advertisement idea behind Facebook: every store you walk into has a “Like us on Facebook” with a giant thumbs-up next to it. I even ordered a pizza today and the back of the box demonstrated this.
Let’s return to that imaginary city we were just talking about. The reason we use Facebook is to see what our friends are doing in town and to stop and interact with them. We want to have conversations and communicate. However, instead of stopping to talk, we just look at them and keep walking. When we “like” a post, we acknowledge the person but we don’t interact with them. You say, “I saw this” but it doesn’t have any meaning.
The reason that Facebook has become lonely for so many people is because fewer people are stopping for conversation. Each person is walking down the street and looking at one another. We aren’t fulfilling the reason why we started using social media: to be social.
This is why people on Facebook can have 100 likes on a post but only one comment. In that town, 100 people walked by, stopped to look at that person, then continued to walk. The “like” doesn’t symbolize anything. It doesn’t mean that they view your post as funny or beautiful. Linguistically, “like” has become transparent. Everyone is walking down their street (NewsFeed) and looking at other people. They don’t stop to make conversation, they just keep walking in hopes of finding something more interesting. On the computer, they’re just scrolling and scrolling, clicking “like” after “like”.
We mistake this eye contact as interaction, but rather than having a conversation we choose to keep walking. Next time you’re on Facebook, look at your notifications. How many of them are “like” related? People can even “like” your comments. Which means that they acknowledge what you’ve said but they don’t affirm this through commenting.
“Likes”, in concept, are not bad but they generate loneliness over time. Everyone is walking past you but they’re looking at you. They acknowledge what you’re doing but they don’t care enough to stop. Each person is guilty of this, it’s easy to continuously click “like” without leaving a comment. And there isn’t anything wrong with doing that. It just negates the purpose of Facebook and the reason that many of us use the site.
We want interaction, people who comment on your posts care about what you have to say. Instead of walking past you, these people stop to say “hi”, even if it isn’t a long conversation. I think everyone wants more comments on their posts. Nobody uses Facebook with the sole purpose of gaining “likes”. We want interaction.
If you’re one of the many people on Facebook who are becoming lonely, I have a challenge for you. Even if you don’t believe in my “like” theory, try this: for two days, starting after you read this, don’t like anything on Facebook. If you see a post that you want to “like”, comment on it instead. If your cousin, like mine, went through surgery, tell ‘em to “feel better soon”. Your comments don’t have to be long or full of meaning, they just have to be personal.
What you’ll find is that people appreciate interaction and you’ll get more enjoyment out of Facebook. Your loneliness will subside. I’m positive that after only two days, you’ll come to the same realizations as me. When people “like” your posts on Facebook, you’ll see how empty and meaningless “likes” are. The real purpose that we use Facebook is not to “like” one another, we already do that, but to stop and make conversation. To say, “wow, what flavors of ice cream did you get” or “haven’t talked to you in a long time, that ice cream looks great, how have you been?”. After only two days, you’ll be amazed how you actually haven’t been social on social media, and you’ll make a change to use Facebook is a better way.