Facebook has its strong points, no doubt. For many, it can be a harmless way to pass a little time — if you ever wondered what your best friend from the sixth grade, who moved to Kansas, is now doing at 35, it’s a fun and easy way to reconnect. For others, it can even be a career-boosting, social-networking strategy — suppose you made a great work connection at a recent party, but forgot to get his email …
Facebook cuts through all the usual boundaries of time and space and takes you directly to the virtual doorstep of the person you’re looking for. It’s a cultural phenomenon, with more than 400 million users, that some would say has improved our quality of life and brought us all closer together. Others, however, might strongly disagree.
Two Real-Life Examples
Valerie (not her real name) is an unemployed music writer in her 30s. Her live-in boyfriend Max is at an ad agency job full-time. Valerie is alone at home for hours, scouring the Internet for job listings. Says Valerie, “On ‘the Face,’ I don’t have to go searching for company. I can talk to my family or my friends back home. They’re at my fingertips.”
For Valerie, it’s also a place to make connections with record labels, musicians, and as she puts it, “people of my tribe.”
Her boyfriend, Max (not his real name), has a slightly different take on the situation: “Every time I turn around, she’s on that thing. It’s like she’s on a constant Facebook IV drip. She will sit staring at the screen watching the updates on the damned feed, or check to see who ‘liked’ her postings. I am beginning to think she doesn’t like me.”
Darcy (also not her real name) broke up with a guy six months ago, and discovered, via Facebook, that he is in a new relationship. “Last week, he changed his relationship status. I’ve seen the pictures of him with this new girl, and it kills me. I wish he’d block me to save me from myself,” she related.
Says Paula Pile, a marriage and family therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina, in a CNN interview: “Last Friday, I had three clients in my office with Facebook problems. It’s turned into a compulsion — a compulsion to dissociate from your real world and go live in the Facebook world.”
According to Joanna Lipari, a clinical psychologist at the University of California (from the same CNN interview): “Facebook is a fun, pleasant, happy, beautiful world. People only present the crËme de la crËme of their lives … And these people want to be your friends! It’s very seductive.”
For people like Darcy, who have a tendency to fixate or obsess about past loves, Facebook provides the negative excitement she craves.
Some Pointed Questions
Asking yourself the following questions may be helpful in figuring out if you’ve degenerated into a full-blown Facebook junkie:
1. Are you spending less time with family and friends so you can be online?
2. Do you procrastinate or put off work to just get a little more Facebook time?
3. Does the thought of being off of Facebook for more than a day make you extremely anxious?
4. Do you think about Facebook when you lay in bed at night?
5. When you’re tagged, do you feel on top of the world?
If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s time for a little DIY rehab.
How to Fix the Problem
Just as they do in AA, the first step is admitting you have a problem. The second is asking the universe for some help, and the next is inventorying your activity. Record how much time you’re spending and what you are actually doing when you are on the website. Next, form some boundaries. Limit your time and have some goals, for example: “I will do half an hour a day, max” or “Today, I will comment on only two friend’s posts.”
Most importantly, start fortifying your three-dimensional existence. Attempt to make it as interesting and fulfilling (or more) than your virtual life. Take a walk in the sun, volunteer, see a therapist, read a book, plant a garden, start that novel you’ve always wanted to write, change the color of your hair, and talk with and touch the ones you love. Life goes by too quickly, and with a little work and courage, reality really doesn’t have to bite.