by: Chris Warren
I strain to understand why, in a world where everyone is more connected than at any time in human history, there are concurrently so many people who are going through life out of touch, lonely, and mostly devoid of meaningful human contact. It seems that it doesn’t take much to be someone’s “friend”.
Those who defend the proliferation of social media (mainly Facebook) will argue that it allows us to maintain connections to people we might otherwise not have on our radar: Old high school friends, former coworkers, distant relatives, etc. I have to surrender that point to the Facebook fanboys. It is a great medium for keeping in touch with people who you don’t mind having around as long as they don’t get any closer than your News Feed.
And I hate to break it to the serial News Feeders, but if the internet is a way to “keep in touch” then we also have to accept that it provides an easy excuse to avoid genuine relationships while giving the appearance of a normal life. Can’t have it both ways.
Every now and then a Facebook post will pop up that goes along the lines of “my Facebook friends have helped me through my troubles and are always there for me….” The sappy verbiage varies but the ending always sounds like middle school gushing: “Facebook friends are real friends! Repost if you love your Facebook friends!“ How pathetic and forlorn does a soul have to get to reach a point where they allow themselves to become emotionally attached to people they rarely if ever deal with face to face, and then affirm the “relationship” with a cyber version of a chain letter? I don’t know if I should hug them in consolation or give them a bitch slap. I tend towards the latter.
I have close friendships that might not have happened if the internet was around at the time. The internet makes it too easy to remain at a distance while at the same time giving some semblance of a real relationship. Giving a damn about someone and wanting to be their friend requires more effort than a few clicks on a screen. That which is valuable is worth working for.
When I pull it all together, what I conclude about the “Facebook phenomenon” is that it attracts a few specific types of people:
The Loner: Facebook is a haven for their socially lazy and unskilled ways. Of course that does not mean everyone there is a misfit, but it’s a safe bet that the concentration of “people with issues” is much higher on Facebook than it is anywhere else outside of group counseling. Loners will often only respond to others’ posts and seldom start topics of their own because their existence is so empty they have nothing to say, but still want to feel like they are participating in a conversation. It’s totally lost on Loners that people with strong, meaningful real-world relationships don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, because, uuhhmm, they don’t have to? And those who are isolated, lonely, or do not have much going on in their lives never seem to leave.
The Attention Whore: Where else but Facebook could they tell the world about their new lover/car/house/job/Nobel prize, health club triumphs, and rescuing damsels in distress? It’s a never-ending monologue of me, me, me! Their abilities and accomplishments are so superlative that it makes me wonder how they find time in their awesome lives to post regular updates. They always claim to come out on the winning side of every challenge and truly believe they are inspirational figures. Attention Whores love to tease interest in their upcoming adventure: “Leaving for the gym! Those (insert name of exercise equipment here) are in for a rough night!”. There is a 100% chance that a follow up post will be made a few hours later declaring supremacy. They characteristically have large numbers of “friends,” most of whom are also Attention Whores. They spend most of their time “liking” and commenting on each other’s missives, which serves the dual purpose of making them appear to be popular and assuring the circular neurosis of ego masturbation never dies.
The Whiner: The least harmful species of Facebooker, Whiners are sometimes misclassified as Attention Whores. The difference is that Whiners are not necessarily looking for attention; they are mostly trying to blow off steam. How many people are paying attention is not the point, which is good because few people actually are. They like to post numerous short items as opposed to long rambling speeches. The whining is often about small hassles most of us experience every day but are emotionally stable enough not to broadcast on the internet: “I can’t sleep,” “I hate this weather,” “I have a headache,” “My pizza was cold,” “This cab driver is a dick,” are all common whiner-style gripes.
The Therapist: There’s always that one person who seems to have an endless supply of unsolicited internet wisdom. No matter what problem it is, they’ve got a meme or quote that will fix it. Photos of rainbows, waterfalls, puppies, and fields of flowers are on their greatest hits list, with pithy sayings front and center. If your mother is an alcoholic, or your spouse is cheating on you, or your son is on probation, just look at the nice picture of the sunset overlaid with a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote and your troubles will melt away. The reason Therapists should never be taken seriously is because they tend to be pretty messed up themselves, which brings forward the obvious question: If their condescending clichés couldn’t resolve their issue, what makes them think it will work for you?
The Political Screecher: This is the only class of Facebooker whose level of vanity is equal to Attention Whores. Screechers are masters of cherry-picking ideas and facts and whipping them into what they think is an unbreakable fortress of logic. Screechers sincerely believe they will win others over to their side, one meme at a time. Anyone who does not concur is a moron. It’s a kick to disagree just to disagree with them and then watch them fall over themselves trying to pick apart your argument, as if Facebook was a forum for meaningful discussion. It goes right over their head that you are only messing with them just for the fun of it. For what it’s worth, most screech posts are anti-conservative because Facebook has a disproportionate number of young internet-saavy liberals who have plenty of free time to grace our newsfeeds with insightful political analysis while the rest of us are out all day working legitimate jobs. Screechers should be avoided even when you do agree with them: Any acknowledgement, whether positive or negative, only encourages them to keep at it.
I’ve been called a snob, and worse, for my disdain of social media. That’s ok. If anyone sees themselves in the above categories, or is embarrassed to admit how much they are on Facebook and think I am talking about them: You’re right. I am talking about you! My deepest respect to Mark Zuckerberg for becoming a billionaire off others’ harebrained mutterings. I cannot deny that there are some valid uses for Facebook, but the ratio of garbage to good is so high, it’s not worth it. It’s like sticking your arm in a porta-potty full of fermenting shit to pull out a ten dollar bill.