Now that I have been off Facebook for three weeks, I have to say that I have a feeling of calm that I could not have predicted. The first few days of not being able to check it literally felt like withdrawal, like the time after my junior year of college when I cut out all soda and caffeine, resulting in withdrawal headaches for weeks. The reality is that I was so much clearer and more focused my senior year without being constantly propped up by Diet Coke, as I feel now without the quick fix of Facebook. Today’s students use Adderall as study aids, even though they don’t have ADHD, because they want a competitive edge. The fact is that Adderall is just speed in a pill, no different in terms of how the brain receives it than street meth. As our society speeds up faster and faster, we think that we have to and that we even can stay on top of everything, but the reality is that we can’t. We can’t do it all or learn it all or see it all, but we think we can. Facebook and social media in general plays into this, this belief that we can be friends with everyone and be seen and celebrated and not miss out. It’s kind of sad really, if you think about it. Because having real friends takes time. Georgia O’Keefe once wrote: “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” In spite of the fact that O’Keefe died over 30 years ago, it seems as though she could have written it today.
The reality is that we have the same bodies and brains that we had fifty years ago, when there were no personal computers, or internet or social media, and yet we think somehow that we can go faster. When I was in my twenties in the 1990’s and worked at a law firm to support my music, the firm hired messengers to deliver packages and to hand out last minute messages about meetings from office to office. Today, documents would just be emailed. But the pace then was slower because it had to be. We think progress is great, but we couldn’t envision the downside of cyber bullying or 24/7 work or “friends” who are not really friends. One hundred years ago, we couldn’t image such cheap and easy air travel or the idea that most Americans would own their own car. But we also couldn’t imagine endless international business trips that our bodies are not frankly designed for, crossing oceans in hours when it took our ancestors months, and expecting our bodies to react to the time changes easily. Or traveling by car at such high speeds, and being confronted with the dangers of texting or other myriad distractions. One hundred fifty years ago, most people lived and died in the same place and married someone who grew up near them. Only the very wealthy got to visit great sites around the world. For everyone else, they lived in the same place and knew the same people. But at least they knew who their friends were and didn’t waste time corresponding with fake friends on Facebook.
If you think about Facebook as a concept, it mainly provides noise and distraction. There are exceptions, of course, in which old buddies or distant family can find each other again. I was able to find my third cousin and get the details of a funeral that my father wanted to attend for his second cousin, since my grandmother had been very close to her first cousins. But Facebook also has allowed me to reconnect with old flames (with my husband’s permission of course), only to find that they haven’t aged well, which reminds me of my own mortality in a strange way, even as I gloat that I look better than they do. But mainly it’s all the endless information that none of us needs to know. One of my “friends” is a guy I musical directed once in college. We weren’t friends even then, but he was a guy with a good voice I once knew, who is constantly posting about how evil Trump is. Even though I don’t like Trump, do I really need to be hearing from this guy I knew once at age 20? What about my favorite post, which is “Had such a blast at so and so’s wedding! So glad to be invited. Here are some awesome pictures!” when in fact you weren’t invited but had to wade through dozens of pictures from the party you didn’t make the cut for? The reality is that I don’t need to know that the woman who was a friend at age 16 but isn’t anymore is selling her couch and her daughter has Lyme or that the guy from junior high has medical issues. If someone doesn’t want to tell me, then I don’t need to know it, any more than I need to cyber-stalk celebrities about their lives. Because in the end, who cares? What does Kate Winslet’s life with kids from three different husbands have to do with me?
The answer is to shut it down, get off, breathe and look around at your own wonderful life. And if your life isn’t what you want, then roll up your sleeves and get to work. But having the breathing space to just focus on you and your immediate world is so incredibly freeing. To find your world stage, remember that you don’t need to know what everyone else is doing and what parties you haven’t been invited to. Just focus on what matters in your own life and enter more fully into it without distractions.