I remember the day my youngest sister told me about Facebook. It was Fourth of July and we were sitting on my Dad’s old boat named Grand Cru. My sister was wearing a gray t-shirt over her swim suit. Her hair was in a ponytail and she was sitting directly across from me in the Captain’s chair playing DJ. I was wearing my favorite pink Target tankini. My now husband, then fiancé, Brian, had his shirt off drinking a beer. It was about 8 years ago, and I don’t have a photo, but I remember every single detail.
“Facebook is a college thing,” she told us. “You know, so we can connect with other students.” Brian and I laughed, “college is so ‘techie’ now. We had to walk down our dorm hallway to see what our friends were up to.” We told her Brian’s friend just joined Facebook. She said, “I guess you could, but its sort of weird at 30. Facebook really isn’t about that.” Brian and I both agreed we would NEVER join Facebook.
A year later we, and about 500 of our so-called “friends” were on Facebook. At first it was exciting, it was an easier, more accessible version of classmates.com, which just never took off with my generation. You could connect and see people from your past you had not spoken to in years! You checked it once a week and it was like Christmas. “Over 50 friend requests?!?! OMG I AM SO POPULAR!!!!!” The status updates felt like a game of Madlibs, Kara is___ (fill in blank). It was a mental challenge to construct your posts around the word “is” and it was hilarious when people epically failed: “John Brown is can’t wait to go on vacation.” Once we all got over the reconnecting part, it became a place where you would post your most outrageous life updates. It was a secret club your parents and work colleagues were not members of. You felt 20 again, bragging to the world about how much Tequila you actually drank on your cruise! (20 likes) Or how your “kids” just drew crayon all over your white couch. (30 likes) You could get immediate validation of how entertaining your life was.
Three years into being a user, I was checking Facebook daily. At first it wasn’t a bad thing. Sure it was taking time away from my life, but it was also helping my company. The recession had happened and Facebook helped me promote my blog and my documentary. My husband was diagnosed with cancer and I was able to reach several people with our story and several people reached out to me. There was a certain comfort from the sense of community and support I could receive by a “click”. I was not alone, I had 700 “neighbors”. Then came “checking in”. I never did it. However, people “checked ME in” all the time. Suddenly, I found myself reading other people’s “check-ins” more frequently. I knew what everyone was doing all the time and sometimes it made me sad. “Why wasn’t I invited to brunch?” or “How come ‘Suzy and Mary’ had time to see each other and I haven’t seen Mary in weeks?” Logically speaking, these were things that happened since the dawn of man. Facebook did not make them happen. However, the “check in” was changing the dynamics of how we treated and looked at friendships. Once you checked in or someone checked you in, your intent was to let the world know exactly where you were and who you were with.
I was no longer hearing over cocktails or a gabby phone call about my best friend’s impromptu get-together last weekend. I, along with 100 other people, were watching an evening unfold on Facebook that we were not invited to. It became urgent to “check in” as if whatever we were doing didn’t count unless the world saw. As the months progressed, conversations with my friends became less “present.” The Facebook craze made it ok to keep your head down, check your email, scroll TMZ, or text someone while you were out with friends. We spent more time taking 50 pictures in order to document the “perfect selfie” than we did taking in the scenery.
By now, we were all refreshing Facebook constantly and our memories though heavily documented, started to slip away. It became increasingly hard to remember the specifics of certain events over the last 5 years. I could remember every single detail, phone number, and conversation before 2009 but recent years … holes. Did I have Alzheimer’s? Was there something wrong with me? No, it wasn’t me. It was everyone. No one was watching a movie anymore, they were texting, tweeting, reading FB AND watching a movie. Scientists have proven the bombardment of information is actually changing our brain chemistry and making us forgetful. And to make matters worse, Facebook started selling our memories to the highest bidder.
I started to notice Facebook was causing conflict in my life. If a guy posted a long diatribe professing his love to his wife, I would snap at my Brian, “You never say that to me on FB!” I watched as people I admired and looked up to had their confidence rattled by how successful other people were. Facebook was exposing our insecurities with every post. Somehow it could make a smart, educated person believe that whatever someone else was posting was the whole “truth.” Some days Facebook made me feel fat. Other days; stupid and unsuccessful. At a rapid pace we were starting to filter our photos and our lives, only the “best” made the cut. Then last year, while I was pregnant with my daughter Delaney, I actually lost a friend. I made the mistake of posting an album of pictures from my baby shower. One picture included a shot of her that she felt was unflattering. At the time, I thought how outrageous it is to believe that someone would post a pic to deliberately hurt someone! And while I don’t agree with what happened to our friendship, I understand how FB was making all of us believe that every word, every post, and every check was a deliberate and calculated move and a reflection of how the world sees us.
So two weeks ago I woke up and on an impulse I deleted FB from my computer, my phone and my iPad. Maybe it was the dozens of times I judged mommies who had one hand on their phone and their other hand was being tugged by their daughter (while I secretly knew there were many times I nursed my daughter while trolling Facebook). Maybe it was the advertisers and the awakening “they were listening” (by snooping our metadata). I suffered an ectopic pregnancy recently, a fact I shared with only close relatives and friends, and suddenly advertisements about fertility issues were all over my screen. It was all just too much. I decided to take a break from FB and get my life back and reflect.
So this is my letter of apology to all my Facebook friends. I am sorry if I ever made you think my life was better or more exciting than yours, trust me: it is not. And believe it or not, I thought the same about yours. I am sorry I didn’t tell you about my Facebook crash diet, but I want you to know, as soon as I dropped the app in the trash, I was less stressed. I am sorry you have been going through or experiencing things I don’t know about lately. But, we should talk more, I would love that, lets make an effort. To everyone’s B-day I missed, I truly feel bad. However, shame on me, I shouldn’t need Facebook to remind me the day you were born. I want you to know this year I am going to work on it.
I wish I lived in a world where I could “unplug” from FB forever, but sadly I do not. You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post if it weren’t for FB. So as a writer and director I need you to understand why I will still use FB for your support. But in return, here is what I promise you. I am going to be a better person and friend. I am going to use this social media platform to post and write bout how we can all be less stressed and have a better sense of community. (and maybe some an occasional sports updates – go Blackhawks!) For now, I am keeping my FB off my iphone and ipad. I am going to go “old school” and log-in on a desktop. When I do spend time with you in person or on FB, I hope we can be more present. And most importantly, I want you to know you are wonderful, smart, successful, beautiful, handsome, good parents, great daughters and sons and supportive and amazing siblings and spouses. I don’t just “like” you. I like you.