– If Facebook were a country, it would have the third largest population.
– It only takes one week for Twitter users to generate one billion tweets.
– There are over 105 million Tumblr blogs, which have collectively created over 49 billion posts.
– As of this second, I currently have 394 Twitter followers, 161 followers on Tumblr, and 735 Facebook friends—yet, I’m sitting here, writing this, alone.
I feel it is important to preface this blog by letting you know I love social media, and have for a while. I wear the vintage badge of “MySpace kid” with pride, some of my favorite classes at university revolved around social media use, and I can be regularly heard saying, “Hold on two seconds, that needs to go on Instagram.” Social media plays a big role in my life; one could say I’ve come to see it as a friend. Facebook is where I go to tell others what I’m doing, Twitter tells me about the world in return, and Instagram is the photo album of memories I can take with me wherever I go.
However, this relationship is very one-sided—and sometimes, not so healthy.
At TWLOHA, we’ve seen firsthand how social media and online tools can be used to create meaningful community and start important conversations. Balanced, intentional use of the internet can have far-reaching benefits. But research also shows that extensive time online can sometimes contribute to feelings of loneliness and anxiety, or “Facebook envy.” Another unfortunate byproduct of social media is the rise of Internet bullying, and not all information and communities online are positive for the participant.
When was it that we starting feeling connected by summing ourselves up in 140 characters or less? When did the amount of likes or comments one gets on their status equate to their worth? Why can I remember my best friends’ Twitter handles, but not their phone numbers?
A couple months ago, I wrote my TWLOHA intern bio and included these lines:
“We live in a world where it is so easy to be connected, but often hard to have connections. We can check in, but not know where we are in life. We can have hundreds of followers, but no direction.”
I feel the weight of those words.
I recently graduated university after completing a three-year communications bachelor degree. While I loved the majority of my time as a university student, there were plenty of times I felt alone, abandoned, and lost. The majority of those sessions occurred at about 3 AM before a big assignment was due when, in an attempt to procrastinate, I would log onto Facebook and scan through profiles, scrolling through peers’ photos, noting how “together” their lives seemed, how they seemed to always be smiling and having fun, collecting multiple likes and comments—while I sat there, in my pajamas, alone, crying about how I didn’t care about historic communication theories.
In a Huffington Post editorial “I Facebook, Therefore I Am”, Pamela Newton posed the question: What is it all for?
“… What exactly are we all doing it for? Is it some kind of frantic competition to out-perfect each other, or are we filling some kind of existential void with the prettiest stuff generated by our own lives? … Perhaps Facebook gives us this same sense that we exist, in combination with the freedom to define that existence however we choose … And if everyone likes our vacation photos, then our existence has been doubly validated.”
Is the only way to find real truth and maintain certainty of my sheer existence and value really through social media? I don’t think so.
Mark Zuckerberg himself said that when he made Facebook, his goal was “… to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better.” I agree and am thankful for that, but even that sentence alludes to a bigger picture—and it’s that bigger picture that helps me through the confusion and doubt. The idea that there is life beyond the screen. The idea that your life doesn’t need likes, comments, reblogs, or retweets to mean something. The idea that being a follower doesn’t mean you can’t lead. The idea that life can’t and shouldn’t be confined to pixels and characters.
So while Newton posed the idea that “I Facebook, therefore I am,” I would like to say, “I am, therefore I Facebook.” Social media is a great, and sometimes even necessary, part of my life—but it is not my life. Life is so much more. You are so much more. Let yourself shine both on and off screen; the world wants to see it.
—Clair, TWLOHA Spring 2013 Intern