I’m really not a big fan of Facebook. I joined in 2008 shortly after moving from New Jersey to Texas as a way to stay in contact with my New Jersey friends. Looking back over my timeline only took a couple of seconds because I so rarely post and didn’t post anything in 2011. If you have ever seen those articles about the Types of Facebook Users, I am The Shy Retirer – “You know those people who loiter on the fringes of a party or conversation and contribute so little that they might as well not even be there? This type of Facebook user is even more of a non-entity, with weeks or months elapsing between blips of activity” (http://www.splicetoday.com/digital/the-31-types-of-facebook-users). This is so funny to me because in real life I am the farthest thing from the Shy Retirer. I am the person who mingles with everyone, telling funny stories, in the conversational loop, bringing others into the loop and generally having a blast. But on Facebook I am a Shy Retirer, which is really just a nice way of saying a stalker/lurker.
So I asked myself, “Why do I find it so easy to socialize in person, but impossible on Facebook?” I don’t really have an answer. I think the answer lies somewhere between being afraid of being boring and seeming narcissistic. And then there is the fact that I don’t really feel like I’m friends with some of these people anymore and don’t think they’ll care too much about what I have to say. And finally there is the fear that something I write might offend someone so it’s easier to just keep my mouth shut. However, when I read my friends posts I don’t particularly think of them as either boring or narcissistic. Their posts are usually a good blend of interesting and amusing, sometimes mundane, sometimes bragging, but all in reasonable limits. Other people think everyone on Facebook is their friend who cares and they don’t seem to worry about offending. So what’s wrong with me?
And, I’ll admit I sometimes feel isolated and depressed when on Facebook. Everyone else seems to have more fun and interesting lives and things to say. This description from Stephen Marche’s 2012 Atlantic Monthly article, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely,” sums it up well: “Non-personalized use of Facebook – scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the world on your activities via your wall, or what Burke1 calls “passive consumption” or “broadcasting” – correlates to feelings of disconnectedness. It’s a lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear” (p.65). I do believe Facebook contributes to feelings of loneliness, inferiority, and disconnectedness. I have felt these feelings while on Facebook and I am an outgoing, confident, well-liked person with a pretty terrific life.
However, I had a major revelation while conducting my social media evaluation on the Harris County Public Library (HCPL) – when I look at the HCPL Facebook page I feel happy, included, welcome, inspired, informed, and part of a community. How strange? Why would I feel more comfort and enjoyment with an institution than with my own friends? Well, it is in the public Facebook page’s best interest to be welcoming, informative, humorous and engaging. And HCPL’s page is all of those things. The public Facebook page is like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men – it wants us to like it, it needs us to like it. Through Facebook, HCPL tells me things I want to know, asks for my thoughts, connects with me through our shared love of books and libraries, and always invites me to the party. Who wouldn’t “Like” a friend like that?
- Moira Burke ran a longitudinal study of 1,200 Facebook users to examine the effects of Facebook over time.
Marche, S. (2012, May). Is Facebook making us lonely?. The Atlantic Monthly, 309(4), 60-69