I joined Facebook back in 2007, and it continues to fascinate me because it offers me insight into the human experience that was beyond my comprehension only a decade ago. In fact, I believe that Facebook might be one of the greatest inventions of the computer age – but not in the way you might think (after all, this is The Bob Angle).
Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post called Facebook Characters. It was a light-hearted look at 26 distinct personality types, based loosely on the wall posts of my friends. Since that time, I’ve realized that Facebook is much more than a community bulletin board – it’s a social tool that can actually make our world a better place.
When I look at Facebook from The Bob Angle, I see an immensely powerful tool – one that gives us an unprecedented and detailed glimpse into the lives of our friends and acquaintances. After I graduated from high school, I still kept in touch with a few of my classmates, but as the years passed and we travelled on our separate journeys, we slowly but invariably drifted apart and our communication became less frequent. Now, thanks to Facebook, I’ve re-connected with dozens of my high school friends, and I know much more about them now than I ever did before; I am privy to great swaths of their lives though their words, photos and even videos. Obviously some people share more of their existence with others, but Facebook often makes me feel as if I am looking over the shoulders of many of my friends and living their lives along with them.
Private To Public, In Two Generations
One of the most ironic and amusing things about Facebook, is that many people use it was their own personal diary. There are the “schedulers” who fill their walls with a detailed list of everything they have planned for the day (or week), and then there are the stream-of-consciousness folks, who post whatever thoughts pop into their heads.
When I was growing up (and certainly during my parents’ generation), teenage girls often kept personal diaries, in which they would write their most private thoughts. In fact, many of these diaries were sold with locks and keys, to keep their contents away from the prying eyes of little brothers or other family members. Now, only two generations later, countless thousands of people (including teenagers) are writing similar personal thoughts on their Facebook walls. I will admit that I’ve never read the diary of any teenage girl, so I don’t know what they actually contain, but I imagine that their contents are similar to what teenagers are posting on their Facebook walls today.
Now, after spending several years reading these personal thoughts on my Facebook news feed, and viewing my friends’ photo albums, I’ve learned several important things:
How Am I Spending My Time?
As I get older, I think more about how well I’m spending my time. Am I accomplishing enough with my life? Am I packing enough living into each day? We receive a skewed representation of the accomplishments of others through the media, when they feature celebrities, world leaders and various movers and shakers who have made an substantial impact on society – but what about the lives of ordinary people? That’s the best barometer for me – a glimpse of how my friends are spending the hours and days of their lives. Not only can I make numerous comparisons, but reading their Facebook posts also gives me dozens of ideas for squeezing a bit more out of my own life.
Facebook Presents a Distorted View of Reality
“Calamities are of two kinds: misfortune to ourselves, and good fortune to others.” – Ambrose Bierce
The more time you spend using Facebook, the more dissatisfied you are likely to become with your own existence. Although we are each responsible for our own happiness in life, happiness is rarely absolute; it’s relative. Our sense of personal satisfaction depends not only on the good fortune that befalls us, but also (and somewhat incongruously), on how wealthy, successful and happy our friends, neighbours and colleagues are. Facebook makes it ridiculously easy to compare our lives with others, and in the process, we usually feel that we are lacking somehow. This is not Facebook’s fault – it’s our own fault for focusing on what we don’t have instead of appreciating the good things in our lives. To quote Sheryl Crow’s song Soak Up The Sun “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have”.
There are also two additional things that keep us at a perceptual disadvantage:
Crafting An Impression: As I’m sure you’ve noticed, many people take great pains to construct a positive and glowing image of their lives on Facebook, in order to convince others that their lives are much more exciting and glamourous than they actually are.
Comparing One Against Many: Facebook can often make us dissatisfied with our lives because it displays an aggregation of events. Every two weeks you may be looking through someone’s tropical vacation photos, and feel that you have no life. However, those are different people each time. The same person may not go on another photo-worthy vacation for two years, and do nothing of interest until then. You are watching the highlights of 100+ lives, and then comparing them against your own.
The Grass Is Not Always Greener
I can usually see right through my friends’ attempts to create an enviable impression of their lives, which are probably as dull and as ordinary as mine. The harder they try to portray their existence as idyllic, the less likely I am to buy into their stories. After reading and viewing hundreds of posts, photos and videos over the years, I now have a very detailed picture of the lives of my friends, and I have discovered that we all have challenges in our lives or even crosses to bear. In fact, many of my friends’ challenges make my own problems seem insignificant by comparison. I had only a cursory knowledge of this before Facebook.
.The Most Important Thing I Learned
“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Rev. John Watson
The above quote represents the most important thing that I’ve learned from Facebook. This, in my opinion, is Facebook’s true power and perhaps even its legacy. By bestowing upon us, an unprecedented, detailed, and almost God-like view of the day-to-day lives of others, we now have irrefutable proof of their struggles and challenges – ones that easily outweigh our own. Therefore, I believe that it is our obligation to be kind, not just to the ones who are forthcoming about their life’s obstacles, but to everyone. Offer a sympathetic ear or an encouraging comment; help out when you can, and let your friends know that you’re there for them.
As of May 2013, there were about 1.1 billion Facebook users. Imagine if we all made a commitment to be kinder to just one of our friends each day – that’s 1.1 billion additional acts of kindness, daily. Now imagine how much better our world would be if we were kinder to all of our Facebook friends.
This is why I think that Facebook is the most powerful software application, and perhaps even the most powerful tool that Humankind has ever developed.