Sharing, Relationships and Facebook’s destruction of traditional human behaviour.

Sharing.
It’s a word that is now more synonymous with self-marketing on social media platforms, rather than the sentiment of the act itself.

I come from a group of people who began their internet use in the early to mid 90’s.
I spent most of my time from 1995 to 2001 on mIRC, chatting with my group of likeminded friends and occasionally physically meeting up with them for awkward fun times in the line outside HMV, waiting for Marilyn Manson’s signature.

I had an opendiary from the age of 16, a livejournal from the age of 18, and a myspace, about a year or so before Facebook became the juggernaut that it now is. “Sharing” is something I’ve done since the internet first entered my world.

All of these online hangouts cultivated a genuine sense of community, of togetherness, rather than the self-marketing narcissism that we now encounter on Facebook. Behaviour I am guilty of displaying on a daily basis.

Until Facebook, the internet felt fairly safe. Small, yet full of possibility. It felt like the things you said, the pictures you posted – all of that was yours. It was under your control. And it was very easy for you to see who had access to view such things. There was a sense of fairness and transparency that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – not just on the internet, but in the world in general.

Everything is so tangled up in hidden terms and conditions, or language so convoluted that you need a degree in Contract Law to understand even the most basic transactions. I think most can be summed up as such: “You, the consumer, are getting screwed, and paying for that privelege”.

In Facebook and Google’s case, you, the user, are not the consumer, you are in fact, the product, which means that Facebook only gives enough of a shit about you and your rights to keep you using their service, so they can keep selling your behaviour to marketing companies.

Fine. They exist to make money, like any other corporation, and they haven’t exactly lied about the fact that it’s you who makes them their money. It is what it is in this day and age.

My problem with Facebook is what its dominance of society has done to people, and is doing to entire generations of people who know no other way of life.

Around two or more years ago, a very good friend of mine decided to delete her Facebook. Her reasons behind it have always stuck with me.

“I realised I was using my friends as my own personal Entertainment Roll”, she explained.

She found herself getting annoyed if a usually-funny friend was mediocre that day, or was posting something serious and depressing. She was seeing them not as her friends, but as objects that existed to entertain her in the way she expected them to, and she was not engaging in their lives, merely watching as an outsider, liking here, commenting there.

I’ve found myself either being treated in that manner, or absolutely hating people I barely know, based on their Facebook posts.

Beside that point, humans, naturally, as they age, lose friends. Our social circles shrink to allow us the mental, emotional and physical space to raise families and focus on careers, or whatever it is that is most important to us. Facebook forces us to acknowledge and interact with people we didn’t even interact with when they existed physically in our lives, even if the interaction is just a mental one – acknowledging that they are on your friends list, and whatever you say may offend them. You may not really care about offending them, but that anxiety is there, in the back of your mind.

The problem is that with such social pressure to add people, we end up sharing things with the people who would least like to know that information. People like our families and coworkers.

There are certainly solutions to the problems outlined above. We can always remove people from our friends list, and then deal with whatever social fallout may come of it. We can create filters, and spend hours arranging our friends and family members into groups, which will further allow us to pick and choose what we share with whom.

But all of that is a lot of work, and quite frankly, it takes up time that could be put to much more constructive uses than maintaining unnatural relationships simply because “that’s the way the world is, now”.

I can’t deny that Facebook has given me positive things, including wonderful connections with people I didn’t interact so much with in my former, face to face life with them.

Unfortunately, I just feel that Facebook is now taking more from me than it is giving, and it is encouraging me to take a back seat in regard to the manner in which I maintain my friendships.

Most of what it is taking, I’m not even entirely aware of.

Facebook’s ability to reach large numbers of people with your message is only as effective as the audience with which you share that message. I may have 370 Facebook friends, but unless I actively engage with each and every one of their personal pages on a constant basis, or vice versa, my posts will disappear from their NewsFeed. If you Facebook solely via your NewsFeed, you are only interacting with the same, relatively small number of people – people with which you are most likely to already share common opinions on most topics.

So what’s the point of sharing on Facebook?

Is it to get a pat on the back for being one of the first to show it to your friends? Is it to generate that warm feeling of “I’m right. A lot of people are agreeing with me”.

It certainly made all the sharing of ideas I did in the run up to our recent Federal Election rather pointless – everyone who actually spoke about it on my NewsFeed all had the same opinion as I did. I wanted to reach those who were indifferent, or those who wanted to vote Liberal. I wanted to be able to at least provoke thought or discussion. Unfortunately, most of the discussion that was provoked was “Facebook is not the place to discuss politics”, or “I wish the election would just be over, I’m sick of hearing about it”.

Thankfully, that same person who deleted her Facebook a few years ago is still very much a large part of my life. In fact, she is the person who taught me that true relationships are about engaging. They are about being honest, even when it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings. They’re about having integrity. And they’re about you, going out of your way to make the effort to share your life with someone else.

Facebook makes it easy for us to tell a whole bunch of people something. It generates conversation. But it’s all surface bullshit. It’s the narcissistic mask that the user wants to share with the world. It’s always on that person’s terms.

This morning, my non-Facebook friend sent another article she found interesting to the mailing list she has created of her friends and family with whom she frequently discusses well, anything, actually. That email generated real sharing amongst relative strangers who have come to know each other through our mutual friend’s stories, and through our own Reply Alls.

We come from very different backgrounds, with very different life experiences, which creates such a large picture of what are usually society’s most complex issues – everything from gender equality to mental health, fitness plans and pop culture. In that tiny little environment known as our inbox, we are throwing ideas, opinions and observations at each other, opening each others eyes to pieces of the puzzle that would never have occurred to us otherwise.

We are sharing knowledge and experience and it is exciting. It is meaningful. It engages our thoughts and interest for more time than it takes to click “like”, and I feel far more gratification from these email exchanges than I’ve ever felt from any response to my Facebook posts.

I’m not threatening to leave Facebook right now, though I am definitely considering it.

Besides, I’m too old to have 270 friends. As if I can be bothered writing that many “heartfelt” birthday messages when my NewsFeed prompts me to…

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