Falling Out of Love with Facebook
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Facebook has changed the way we love. It has made the strongest of human emotions into data and commodity. This is a problem.
Part of the problem is that I am part of a generation that has never known a social world without Facebook. When I was in HS the site had just become available to students and quickly became the regular method for how we “socialized.” I have, and others like me have, always had Facebook as the premier tool for fostering our social relationships. After watching the trend become an addiction, I decided three months ago to abandon facebook, leave my cell at home, and read emails sparingly. For three good months, New York was my only social medium, and here’s what I learned:
1. Silence is good
because it lets us think and decide with clarity. Not in the heat of the moment or under the pressure to respond immediately. Apparently, before Facebook and texts, you would wait for phone calls to be returned, letters to be written, and responses to be crafted. And in that silence the little anxiety that sat there would yield yearning and discovery. These two yields have been replaced with immediate gratification and solitude. Our brains are now patterned to become uncomfortable with waiting. We want to know what you think and how you feel NOW, not realizing that what one thinks and feels, is usually not their first impulse. When you wanted to see someone, you had to arrange for the space and time where both of you could be present. Over the course of several dates the full puzzle of the person sitting across from you would come into focus. Now this joy of delayed clarity has been muddled by the always accessible and available profile picture; the replacement to the person.
2. People are nice
but profile pictures have replaced the need to approach people. Giving oneself permission and confidence to approach a stranger and be vulnerable to rejection is no longer the spatial activity. The new activity is logging on and clicking in a space that is not the real-world, but the www’d version of it. Searching for people that you find exciting and erotic is limited by your WPM, not the amount of courage mustered. The beauty sought is presented as pictures, representations of your curiosities.
If you wanted a picture before, you had to acquire it. Which meant you had to interact, and within that interaction, communicate the fact that, “I like you so much, I’d like a picture of you for those moments when you’re not around.” And you’d only have access to that picture when you could hold it, use it as a bookmark in the paperback you read at night, and felt a great loss when a rip tore into the corner — when you recognized it as a possession and that it would not last. The myth that people, and our relationships with them, are as permanent as the internet has made our interactions with each other unrealistic. The suffering caused over the loss of a relationship is delayed and blurred when you are able to falsely construct a continuation of that relationship online. Where there used to be white-space and silence after a loss, there is now the noise of immediate access to an e-album of that person’s life, available by smart-phone, wherever you are, whenever you want. Immediately and always.
And in staring at a digitized version of someone you start to fill in the narrative and fill in the puzzle with your own pieces. A puzzle whose education, job, last name, birthday, and “status,” have been reduced to researchable data. There is no need to risk failure when you can trick yourself into thinking you already have the complete picture.
3. Rejection will always suck
but online cruising has left this potential reality out of the equation, which is to say, it makes you think you’re solving for love, when in fact it has made us lonely by quantifying and imitating our drive to find love. It makes us feel safe to observe by distance, unlonely by accumulating friends (“one joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy”) with clicks, not an investment in time, removed from the anxiety necessary to approach someone and say “hi” because you can send them a poke — with no clear intention or prompt to respond.
Our generation will search from the safety of removal — scanning pictures of profiled and potential lovers long before you’d ever speak to them. Speaking, “to utter or pronounce words or articulate sounds” is not texting and typing. Facebook has made us unspeak to each other, reduced human contact to the mediums of business and turned our humanity into data. It has altered the way in which we fall in love. In which we find and flounder and ultimately rejoice in each other’s imperfections. Something the data will never show. And you can’t call me a romantic for my positions because what’s love without romance anyways?
It’s Facebook. And we’re addicted to it. And we’re falling out of love.
— Craig Moreau, author of Chelsea Boy, has just finished a book tour and is currently drinking a beer. He is interested in identity, democracy, and word-clouds.
Facebook image by Demian Rosenblatt.