One of the reasons for the success of Facebook is that friends are supposed to be such. Usually, in social networks and dating sites we meet people who are alien to our real-life narratives. Even though these “just online” contacts can bring interesting connections, in most cases such “friends” come and go and the connection doesn’t go much in depth. Missing a real-life narrative beyond the Net, the connection between people doesn’t sink as deep as in an authentic and almost “organic” place.
So Facebook came to the rescue as a way to connect with people we know and those we knew in the past but with whom we lost touch. Even though the invitation game of picking friends and friends of friends expands and I ended up with some contacts I barely know, with maybe half of them I shared important parts of my life, parts of our histories which shaped our lives.
But I am resistant to participating in Facebook games with them, for the very reason that some of them are real friends and we had such important connections. So until now I didn’t look for friends to add on Facebook and I seldom open the site, not much more than accepting the requests I had until now.
Since most of the people who request for friendship know I’m a long-time Internet user and former Internet book publisher, sometimes I feel like telling them that I rarely go to Facebook and I’m not deliberately ignoring them. Actually, the situation poses an inner strife, a sort of double bind: since people are there on the site, it doesn’t look nice ignoring them, but at the same time I don’t want to be engaged further in one more online toy.
Of course, we can say that for every level of communication there are different areas and that we can choose the medium according to the depth and intimacy we need. With intimate people I can choose other ways too for communicating. The medium can vary greatly from telephone calls to personal meetings and body/mind contacts at any level from hand-shaking to making love.
But Facebook, like many other Web applications, tends to expand its scope and include more aspects of our lives, and can also easily become addictive. It starts with a cool way to connect, then it adds feature after feature, then it becomes essential to not get isolated from the group of friends and, finally becomes one more window that feeds on our time and scant attention. In being active much on Facebook I sense the risk of digitalizing even those real and important relationships and consequently of trivializing our rich histories. I also sense the risk of creating a cyber-elite and excluding friends who aren’t on the Internet or who access the Net quite rarely, friends who don’t have the time or the desire to get wired or locked in social networks.
Even though I have, at the moment of writing, 45 friends on Facebook, a small number compared to most users (around 150 friends on average), anytime I connect to the site I can still get a certain number of updates about “What they are doing now.” As I browse through those short sentences, my online experience, like that of many other people, is made up of other open Web pages and applications competing for my attention. While one friend is planning a trip, another is going to sleep, one more is sad (even though “negative” feelings aren’t expressed that much, generally speaking) and yet another is enjoying music. It seems to me to be more like TV, where tragic news are immediately followed by gossip and vice versa, where everything melts in an anesthetized flow of news with no connection with our inner states.
I don’t want to become numb in the felt connection with my friends as I might be with a TV or movie character. Every input we get from a person who is a valuable connection for us takes time and attention to assimilate and interact with, especially if it’s something which isn’t trivial. But time and attention are scarce resources when we are on the Net and depth is mostly avoided. Perhaps this is the reason why we read much less about difficult and challenging inner states on Facebook and in general on other social networks. The “hugs and love sending” applications look a bit, well…unsatisfactory.
I sense as well the risk of considering myself exempt by keeping more direct contacts with people, substituting them with writing a few updates about myself on Facebook. Even in this case, we could say that one medium doesn’t have to substitute another, but our time and attention resourses are limited and don’t grow at the pace of computer speed.
One other risk I sense is to homogenize the rich variety of ways with which I interact with individual persons. With every friend whom I interact with in an open way, a unique relationship is being created, almost an entity in itself, shaped in time from the alchemy of two souls meeting.
On a psychological level we can say those are object relationships, which drive us in the construction of our personalities. People who follow a spiritual path make themselves aware of the role of those relationships in their lives and eventually they can be transformed, making either the relationship evolving in a more authentic way, free from past conditionings, or eventually end it.
Homogenizing our relationships and canalizing them through Web applications and options weakens the construction of our personality through object relationships and doesn’t help us in becoming aware of them either.
One other resistance I have in meeting people on Facebook whom I knew a long time ago is about the recognition that what shaped our relationship is not there any more, since we’ve probably both evolved our personalities in different directions. And it isn’t easy to find a new point of contact through Facebook which fits our current inner states. At the same time, we can’t just re-enact the past: once our psyche has evolved, going back to the same shape becomes impossible, like growing baby teeth back again.
In the meanwhile, I rediscovered plain old email communication, which was the only way to communicate when I started working online 15 years ago. From time to time I email updates about my life to a group of friends who are more present in my life. Email is simple and more environment-friendly, uses little bandwidth, and is accessible from any computer, even very old ones, by very slow Internet connections and by most mobile phones too. Facebook pages usually take a long time to show if the Internet connection is not fast. Email is more direct and personal, giving almost the feeling of letters.
The lack of gimmickry in email writing gives space to more direct connections between words and internal states: we need to fill words from the inside, rather than choosing applications or giving a quick update about “What I am doing now.”
However, I sense that a part of my resistance toward participating in Facebook is also to be found inside some of my conditionings and beliefs which don’t match with reality. I want to explore them for the sake of knowing those parts of myself, so I’ll probably start to participate more in the games to see where it takes me.