So, Facebook — it’s the worst, right?! It makes you lonelier, fatter, stupider, uglier, monosyllabic-er, etc. Every day there’s another study, another headline, another TV news segment about how awful and addicting this horrible site is. Every day I see people (on Facebook usually) snarking about other people’s usage of FB or even (bless their hearts) swearing it off. This is all fine. Really it is. And all the reasons why people complain about FB are probably smart and valid. Facebook clearly simplifies our connections down to clicks and LOLs. It both encourages us to overshare our most mundane activities and undershare meaningful time with flesh-and-blood people. Yet, in all our hating of this FacePlace of ours and Zuckerberg’s, we might be missing some of the positivity that virtually inhabiting such a space can create.
Now, in the rhetoric of our social media “everyone’s a celebrity” culture, here’s my very important story about how Facebook is meaningful to ME. You may commence eyeroll, but do keep reading.
Embarrassingly, I’ve always been a people pleaser to the point of doormat-ism. I would gladly let anyone walk all over me if it meant winning their friendship and securing their approval. In college, I recall suffering a bit of an identity crisis when I realized that given a simple decision (what to wear, what to buy, what to eat, who to date) I’d freeze up, panicked and at a loss. Did I like that movie? Would I wear those jeans? I had no idea. Pushed to actually rely upon some internal reaction, some meter in my gut that measured desire, I’d find that I had nothing there except an overwhelming wish to be right, be normal, be exactly whatever other people wanted. This, of course, is difficult when placed in the presence of multiple people.
He hates Pearl Jam.
But she loves them.
What do YOU think?!
I think I’m peeing my pants and having a heart attack, is what I think. I cannot possibly continue this conversation and have to go cry, now. Thanks for inviting me to this kegger! Goodbye, good time friends!
Dramatic? Maybe. Was my social anxiety and need for acceptance that warped and wacky? Definitely.
Somewhere in me I knew what I was about, but I was always so terrified that being myself — my own weird, silly, smart, and nerdy self — would never be enough for others. Though I’ve outgrown this sad state quite a bit with time and painful real life experience, presenting myself authentically (whatever that means) remains difficult. Ironically, I find that Facebook, this internet non-place, becomes a useful tool for pushing toward realness. Yes, we can tweak our status updates and erase information, photoshop pictures and lie in so many fun ways online, but the physical distance from face-to-face encounters and the reliance upon writing that comes part and parcel with using social media also creates a comfortable zone in which to practice being myself. As an introvert, I can throw ideas, jokes, and opinions out into the ether — things I might think quietly to myself or whisper to a close friend in “the real world” — and I can deal with the responses in my own time and space. The risk feels smaller because I won’t have to nervously wait for a laugh at my quip. If someone disagrees, I have time to think, assess, formulate an answer. In more typically social scenarios I might just bend to my audience; on FB I can push myself to keep it real, be a little bit braver.
One could argue that I’m taking a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, and yes, to some degree this is true. Like most folks, I’m writing and constructing an online persona that is not 100% tangible. Much of this “me” is built out of wishes and fantasy. However, a great portion of this persona is also getting at, unearthing, a me inside that’s quite real and viable but covered up. This me is angry, strong, unwilling to put up with bullshit. She’s the one that hates being catcalled, the one that wants to go up to that catcaller and eviscerate him with a feminist diatribe that castrates his will to yell. She’s also incredibly emotional and okay with this. She wants to preach empathy, teach everyone that people and relationships matter, that listening takes many shapes. She’s funny. She wants to be playful, childish. Her head’s full of silly songs, she performs operatic renditions of “Froggy Went a Ridin’” while taking a shower. She loves puppy pictures. . . like, a lot. But that pretty much squares with all versions of myself, I suppose. Anyway, all these selves have a little more room to breathe, grow, figure themselves out, and go public on Facebook. I have to dare myself to be as true as I can be, and sometimes, yes, I worry and bite my nails over the backlash, the gossip, the whispers that will come in response.
Ugh, can she take another picture of herself? Vain!
Complaining about patriarchy again? Feminazi!
Telling her sad sap life story again? Selfish!
And sometimes I get those negative responses crystal clearly on my page or passive-aggressively in my feed and I’m forced to deal with them and this is good. Having this place where my audience is not only my closest friends, but colleagues, old teachers, family, strangers, I can’t possibly cater to them all and I’m further forced to find the shape my self takes and can take. With each post I can push my role of daughter and sister, teacher and friend, writer and feminist out of its comfort zone and hopefully, with this stage set, I can outgrow the limits that the scary, judgey, immediate “real world” presents for me and better represent that online me I really like.
Is Facebook a timesuck? Yes. Is it evil in many ways? For sure. But if you’re telling me that I’d be better off in olden days with my sick sad lonely scared self, I’m not buying. Yes, I could have hermited myself away and written glorious poems to my depressive wounds and people could enjoy my posthumous diaries — neat! But, I’d rather FB friend all the modern day Emily Dickensons, build a group page, share our poems, and maybe one day, if we’re really feeling up to it, go out and warm our pallid bodies in the delicious sunshine. Or just continue to chat from home for a while, because, to me, that’s fine, too.
Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.