Losing Touch in the Facebook Era

imageI have a confession to make. Yeah, another one.

I don’t really like Facebook.

Okay, okay, these days that’s not so uncommon. It seems like hoards of people are jumping up and down to decry what was certainly once the world’s premier social network. And I have a lot of the same concerns as those people. I worry about issues of privacy. I get tired of the same inane links doing the rounds. I don’t need to know what someone I once went to primary school with had for their lunch, nor hear about their child’s potty training exploits. And for an infertile, Facebook can simply be an enormously painful place, full of scan pictures, bump pictures and happy announcements, the like of which I’ll never have another opportunity to annoy others with. The Facebook timeline can easily become a constantly updated reminder of your infertility, and surely no one willingly wants to expose themselves to that torture over, and over, again.

Beyond the hurt and upset all that baby news can bring, however, is a greater potential for my heart to ache, and a deeper cause of my current dislike for Facebook and the methods of tenuous social connection it’s spawned.

You see, it takes just a few minutes of clicking around to find out a good deal about the lives of people who were once really important to me, and to whom I was something more than a “friend” on a list, picture on a screen or short status update. It takes just minutes to find their wedding pictures, and the fact that they have a beautiful baby now. All four of their sisters are easy to click through to, also with spouses and almost enough kids for a football team between them. I can chart their moves around the country, and stops around the world. All without having spoken directly to any of them in several years. In fact, to the youngest of those sisters, I’m almost certainly an unknown, for she was just Thomas’s age the last time I saw her in person.

This isn’t heartache about the “one who got away” in a traditional sense. It’s not wishing I were married to that person instead (In case you were in any doubt, I wouldn’t change my husband or child for the world – my ending may be differently shaped than I imagined, but it’s still happy). It’s more the reminder that they once were there, and thanks to the online world that reminder is almost impossible to suppress. Sometimes I guess we’d all like to know what ever happened to those friends and lovers of yesteryear and even lose ourselves in the fantasy of what our lives might have been like if we’d taken a different path. But there’s a difference between idle daydreaming and actually being able to see how the story unfolded. Thanks to the interent, it’s pretty easy to get a real idea of that.

And that’s great. It really often is. But also it leads to wondering. Wondering if you hadn’t moved from friends to lovers, whether you’d still be good friends now. Or worse, to realising that you almost certainly could have been friends still. That you’re over the moon for them that everything seemed to work itself out after that shaky start to adulthood back in the late nineties. That you get real pleasure from seeing their happy ending.

And then, inevitably, you wonder just why it all faded away.

I can’t help but think that, wonderful though social media can be for relieving isolation and creating new connections, it actually does a disservice to those vital, long-established and well-worn, real-world connections that we’d fostered in the old fashioned way for years, the relationships that made up our past and contributed to who we are in our present. Thanks to the ease with which we can now find our classmates of thirty years ago, or that person you met on holiday and wrote – pen and paper style – to for months after you got home, we tend to assume that everyone is still within easy reach.

That’s the problem. That’s what I dislike.

In short, I think that Facebook makes us feel far more connected than we really are. It makes us lazy about keeping up the connections. Sometitmes we’re lazy about it until we realise that they’re gone. They slipped through our fingers whilst we were busy wading through game requests, memes and endless personality quizzes. And then, as the final insult, Facebook rubs it in our faces, showing us those lives we were so nearly privy to and intensifying the sense of sadness.

I know it’s not all down to Facebook. Obviously friendships take work and effort from both sides and at the end of the day I only have myself to blame for the people I’ve allowed to slip away. But I do think that social media doesn’t really promote cherishing the old. It facilitates the new. The always moving forwards. Despite the hoards of people that we haven’t seen in years that populate so many people’s friend lists, it doesn’t really help us keep up those relationships in a true sense.

The internet gives us more connections. But often they’re more tenuous, or more more fragile than any of us are willing to acknowledge. And despite all the ways there are to keep in touch, amongst the crowded webs of connections, it sometimes it feels harder to actually do so with the people that actually mean something in our life stories. Harder than ever before, when landline telephones and envelopes and stamps forced us to make the proper effort.

It seems sad that these days we all move on so quickly. I’m sure it didn’t used to be this way.

(This post is dedicated to Simon – I’m sure you’ll know who you are – and his sisters, should any of them every happen to stumble across it. I know that the cracks in this particular relationship pre-date Facebook, but I’m still sad about it, and sad that I can see the pattern repeating over and over for others around me.)


2 Replies to “Losing Touch in the Facebook Era”

  1. I really get this post, I find myself rarely using Facebook anymore and those lost friendships are one of the main reasons. Finding out one of your so-called oldest friends had had their second baby via a Facebook status update was a hard pill to swallow and certainly nailed the coffin for that particular friendship. So sad xx

    1. I think it’s nice for just catching up with acquaintances from your past who you wouldn’t otherwise have any contact with, but beyond that it has the potential to be more damaging to relationships – or rather to what “friendship” actually means these days. It’s hard to explain without making myself sound like a bad friend, so I’m glad you get what I mean! (Although sad you’ve seen friendships fade too)

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