Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is Facebook Stealing Something Important From Us?

she says, leave me alone
tonight i just wanna stay home
she fills the pot with water and she drops in the bone 
she says, i've got a darkness that i have to feed 
i got a sadness that grows up around like a weed and 
i'm not hurting anyone 
i'm just spiraling in and then 
she closes her eyes and hears the song begin again....Ani DiFranco, Jukebox

I am really not trying to be a bummer here, but I think we need to ask ourselves a question. Is Facebook stealing an important question from us? Is Facebook stealing the phrase, "How are you?" from our vocabulary?

I have been wrestling with this one for a few weeks now. Like all of us, I have just as many personal dramas as the next person. Illness, death, accidents, disappointments, etc. I tend to vacillate wildly between intensely private and ridiculously open. I have both clients and friends liberally mixed together in all my social media sites and no matter how many lists and circles I deal with, there is always some overlap that I can't get past.

Most of the time, I don't post exactly what is happening with me. I notice you all do the same. Chipper notices about travel or recipes, dogs and cats and kids is certainly more socially palatable than, "I cried my way through decorating my Christmas tree this year."

My fear is, social media gives us the illusion that we know what is going on in someone else's life. We really have gotten good at promoting the professional personas we have adopted, and we know what the rules used to be for "appropriate for the workplace." But social media is changing the equation. We are getting the idea that social media can actually give us emotional support. But getting that emotional support back from the system requires a radical transparency and openness that some of us aren't comfortable with yet. I'm not comfortable with it in my face to face personal life - some people have the whole story, some have half the story and others have none. What I wonder about is how we have created this expectation that Facebook is a window into our personal lives, when really it's only a window into what we choose to share. Maybe Facebook isn't telling us the whole story. But we think it is. And so, we stop asking, "How are you," because we think we already know the answer.

The past few months have been particularly challenging for me personally. But I find myself posting things on Facebook and Twitter just like normal. Links to articles, blogs, stuff you would normally see. One day, I kind of lost it a little bit and posted on Twitter that I needed a minute because I was having a bad week. That was my way of saying, "Things are not okay here." Stephanie Reeves, God love her, reached out and gave me a little encouragement. And when I got that Tweet, I realized it was what I had been desperately needing and had been unable to ask for. Support.

A few days later, I was looking at my Facebook feed. Nobody would ever know what is really happening with me by reading it. It seemed so false, even to me. Like I didn't even recognize myself. I seemed like a stranger. So I decided to post on Facebook that we had lost a friend of ours in a house fire. That was what my "needing a minute" Tweet was all about - I had just heard the news. But I wrestled with that Facebook post. Will people think I am looking for sympathy? Will people think I'm just being dramatic? Isn't this harsh to see in the middle of dogs dressed as Santa and hey-can't-wait-to-see-my-family-over-the-holidays messages?

Finally, I decided there was really no way around it. It seems like it's up to us to tell because nobody seems to ask anymore.  I almost felt compelled to post just so people would stop laboring under the false impression that everything is fine with me. I am still unconvinced that everyone needs to know all the details of my personal life or my moods but I have rededicated myself to making sure I keep asking the question, "How are you?" to my friends and colleagues. I might not get the full answer, but at least I've given someone the opportunity to say, "Not good....I wish things were better...." I will be watching more carefully for people who post frequently yet suddenly disappear. I will be watching more carefully for subtle hints and clues that might indicate someone is reaching out for support, but isn't comfortable with telling the entire story yet.

I imagine I will continue to wrestle with the line between public and private.  I am no closer to the answer now than I was three weeks ago.  I haven't embraced the idea that everyone needs to know everything all of the time.  However, I did feel less lonely when I was able to share.  And that felt good.

All I know for sure we just can't assume everyone is fine based on what we see in social media.  We have to remember to genuinely ask, "How are you?" and listen to the answer. I believe our friends, business associates and members will appreciate us for it.

Here is the link to Ani DiFranco and a live version of Jukebox for those of you who can't see the embedded
video code.



  1. Robert - I'm glad you liked the post...you are just the greatest....

  2. Thank you for this, Shel ... brilliantly stated!

  3. Shelley--so sorry for the loss of your friend.

    Maybe that's why social media works for me--because I'm not great at sharing stuff even with good friends in real life? Or maybe because I've been burned before sharing and being told--by real friends--that they couldn't deal with my "stuff." or maybe I'm just bad at picking friends!

  4. Auburn - Thanks so much - I'm not sure what I would do without you....

    Maggie - These are all great points, it is so hard to know who wants to hear what or how to be safe from being burned...social media does have its uses and sometimes it does really help....

    All my best to you both

  5. Well said.

    Great minds are thinking a lot on this topic this week. Check out this HBR blog post that asks if Facebook is making us unhappy? http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/12/facebook_is_making_us_miserabl.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29

    I can't help but wonder if the question is about Facebook taking away something from us, or are we wittingly giving something away? FB is a tool, a technology, a device. We're still the humans determining how to use it.

  6. Jeffrey -

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting and for the HBR link, what a great post!

    We all have a responsibility to figure out how to use these tools and technologies. I guess sometimes it just takes us a while to put a finger on what it is that is bothering us about them....


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