Okay, so I'm going to let you know right now: I don't have a Facebook page. I know you're probably thinking exactly what one of my colleagues said to me last week when I told her that I didn't have Facebook. She half-laughed and said, "What?! Who doesn't have Facebook? Even my mom has a page!" Generally, that's pretty much the response I get when someone asks me the inevitable, "Are you on Facebook?" and I am forced to reply with a curt "Nope!" or a quick "No" followed by a change of subject. For those that love Facebook (and, realistically, that's a good majority of people), there's nothing more intriguing than someone who, when asked about it, quite literally has just said no. It's for this reason, that I typically try to avoid the conversation (or is it confrontation?) about why I don't have Facebook. Most of all, I like to avoid the question so many ask (or want to): How do you survive without it?
Clearly, Facebook is an integral part of many people's lives. So much so, in fact, that many people cannot fathom life without it. In truth, I've given it a try. Awhile back, I logged on and created an account, happily uploading my favorite pictures and feeling that little burst of glee when someone requested me as a friend. And then reality set in. As a pretty private person, I realized quickly that I didn't want people to know what I was doing, what my relationship status was, or which "friends" were close enough to me to write on my wall. In the same vein, I didn't want to know what everyone else was up to either. Sure, there were people I cared about -- but those were the people I talked to often, shared actual offline time with, and I certainly didn't need Facebook to keep in touch with them.
After maybe a month on Facebook, I deactivated my account, telling myself I was much better off without it. Without that website tacked to my browser as a Favorite, I could live my life without worrying who was watching me through the online binoculars of the web. I could be free from wondering (or worrying) about what other people were doing. Of course I wouldn't have some of the up-to-the-second details my friends would, and I'd certainly miss out on a ton of great photos ("Oh," they'd say when I'd ask to see the pictures from a fun night out, "They're up on Facebook!"), but I felt free when I finally deactivated my account. And it's that feeling of freedom that's served as a reminder never to log on again.
However, my story is of the rare variety when it comes to tales of Facebook. Most people love it. Can't get enough of it. Log on first thing in the morning and last thing at night. According to Facebook itself, I seem to be in the ever-growing minority as the numbers of users continue to grow. In February 2010, a mere six years after its initial launch in 2004, Facebook reached over 400 million active users on the site. Whether or not you participate in it or even like it, it's undeniable that Facebook is a pretty potent force in the online world. Even though I have chosen not to take part in it, I cannot ignore the wonder that is this website and I cannot help but ask myself the one question I ask about almost everything: Is it positive?
I've decided to take a closer look at Facebook and determine what I think are the good and bad aspects of the site. As happy as I am to be Facebook-less, I won't deny that there are some benefits to logging on and taking part in the social movement that most seem to love. And I also can't deny that I can see some big time negatives when it comes to the site. As with most things, there is a negative and a positive side when it comes to life on Facebook and, today, I'm going to take a little time exploring these to opposing views...
Connecting with those who live far away. In the society we live in today, our relatives aren't a mere stone's throw away. They could be in different states, different countries, and sites like Facebook provide a great way to keep in touch with loved ones who are far away. Of course, there is always email too, but there's something about Facebook that allows for ultimate understanding of what's going on in someone's life. The pictures, the status updates, the postings all render a better picture of what's going on. For this reason, Facebook really is an amazing tool when it comes to keeping in touch.
- More social interaction. For those who are less than super-social (um, like me), Facebook and other social media sites provide a great way to integrate more social interaction in their lives. Social interaction is key for human happiness; after all, we're designed to be social creatures. So, for those not as keen on the face-to-face stuff, Facebook provides an alternative way to get a daily dose of being social. And, for those who are super busy, Facebook is a great way to add some social interaction to a day that might otherwise not allow for it.
Keeping up-to-date on friends' lives. You might live only a few blocks away from your best friend, but life can get pretty hectic sometimes and it can be really hard to keep track of it all. Facebook allows you to stay up-to-date on whatever's going on with your besties without having to talk to them or see them every single day. Useful? Yes. Absolutely necessary? Probably not. While it might be nice to know that your best bud just saw an awesome concert last night, it's probably not a vital piece of information. That being said, it can still be a good way to keep current on what's going on with those you care about.
Opportunity to meet new people. Social networks like Facebook provide opportunities for you and others to meet new people, which can be a really great thing. By making new connections, you're not only being the social creature you've been designed to be, but you're also broadening your horizons and (hopefully) learning new things about yourself and the world. Meeting new people can be incredibly difficult, even if you're an extremely outgoing person, and Facebook is a great way to make connections -- and to do so with a little more background information about the person. You instantly have an opportunity to see what you have in common and to understand that person on another (albeit potentially superficial) level, making Facebook a great tool for making friends.
Ability to create large social network. There are plenty of people you probably would never call up and have a chat with, but you find them situated nicely among you friends on Facebook. This is one of the great beauties of Facebook; you can create a large social network without having to put in tons of face (or phone) time. Not only does this save a ton of time, but it also allows you to stay in touch with people who may be able to help you in the future. No matter what your needs might be -- a used couch, a job change, or a last minute idea -- if you have a large enough network on Facebook, there's probably someone who can help you out. Regardless of your age or interests, Facebook is an excellent networking tool.
- Lots of great resources and information. Of course, you can always find information online, but sometimes there is information out there that you might not even know you are looking for and, on Facebook, it may present itself to you. On Facebook, you keep in touch with your friends and family and they might post some information or links that really interest you -- information you might otherwise have been unaware of. And it's all there, all in one spot, a tool to learn not only more about your friends and family, but also about the world of your social network. You can gain great understanding of those you surround yourself with (and, indirectly, of yourself) if you take a look at what's being posted on Facebook.
Connecting with those you don't really need to. It seems to me that most people have a lot of friends on Facebook. Hundreds. Thousands, in some cases. And it makes me wonder: do you really need to have all of those connections? Sure, some of them are important and some are useful, but aren't some of them just a waste of time? I really believe it's a huge plus to be able to keep in touch with those that live far away, but I don't see much value in keeping up-to-date on a some guy you met in a bar. And never saw again. I'm sure there are many people out there who socialize only with close friends and family, but, for some, Facebook can be an endless string of information about people that don't matter.
Less face-to-face social interaction. Above I mentioned that there's great value in the level of Facebook-based social interaction. It allows people who otherwise might not socialize or who are too busy to socialize often to get their fill of social interaction. However, it really can take away from the amount of face-to-face interaction one has in his or her life. Facebook can sometimes serve as an excuse not to see someone in person, since you're already up-to-date on his or her life. Without the absolute need to go out and interact with friends and family, it's possible that Facebook may take the place of all social interaction for some, which is definitely not a good thing.
Keeping up-to-date on your exes' lives. When discussing the positive aspects of Facebook, I talked about how great it was to keep up with your friends' lives. However, there's a flip side to this coin: you also have the privilege of keeping up to date on everyone else's lives, including your exes and enemies (if you have any). From what I've seen, this is the absolute downfall of Facebook for many people. It is a serious problem when people keep track of their exes, checking their statuses and knowing way more about them than is healthy or acceptable. I've seen some pretty heavy heartaches as a result of checking Facebook, and, for that reason, I have to say that this is a big negative when it comes to thinking about how the site affects lives.
Opportunity to lose all privacy. Facebook offers the opportunity to meet new people -- and connect with old friends -- but it also offers you the lovely opportunity to take your privacy and throw it out the window. Yes, I know there are settings and Facebook does work on creating the most privacy for those that want it, but, no matter what, information about you is still available on the internet and even if only your very best, best friend is allowed to see it, there's still a chance that someone, somehow, will see it too. Some people are very careful with what they put online and I'm sure they have nothing to be private about...but others... well, there are plenty of people who have suffered from a lack of privacy due to Facebook and that makes it a really hard site to want to be a part of.
Potential to be addictive. Now, if we're honest, we all have our addictions. For some, it's ice cream or crack or cigarettes. For others, it's the internet. And, for those who like to get really specific with their addictions, it's Facebook. I wouldn't be surprised if there are already self-help groups for Facebookers, because there are some people who are seriously, detrimentally into it. They cannot get enough and find themselves checking it constantly, updating themselves on the statuses of people they probably don't care all that much about. It might sound silly, but Facebook and other social media sites absolutely have the potential to be addictive. If one is prone to this type of addiction, creating a Facebook account is just like playing with fire -- there's a serious risk involved and the effects could be dangerous.
- Overload of information. As great as Facebook is for information (there's tons of it!), there can definitely be too much of a good thing when it comes to checking up on the status and posting of others. In addition to all of the information you can gather about friends and family, there's also all of the links they post and tidbits of info they share via Facebook. It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you choose to filter the information. For many, it can be extremely overwhelming and it's difficult to determine what's useful and what's not. Less is more when it comes to online information, and Facebook certainly isn't providing less.
As you can see from the bullets above, there are both positive and negative aspects of using Facebook and, depending on how you look at it, one might be able to outweigh the other. Personally, Facebook isn't positive for me. When I was using it, I found myself wasting time, knowing too much about people I didn't need to know about, and wondering obsessively if private information of mine was being spread like wildfire across the internet. No matter what I rationalized, when it came down to it, I determined that using Facebook did more harm than good in my life. But that's just me. For some people I know, it's the best thing since the invention of the internet. It's something they can't imagine living without. Whatever your stance is when it comes to Facebook, it's important to consider both the positive and negative aspects of everything you do in life. Whether you have a Facebook page or you choose not to have one, it's essential to ask yourself the following question about using Facebook (or any social media site): Am I making a choice that's positive for me?
What do you think about Facebook? Do you love it? Hate it?
Do you think Facebook (and similar social media sites) has a positive impact on society?