What Facebook Tells Us About Human Nature
With looming deadlines and constant activity it’s easy to drown out the loneliness. When the busyness subsides, it’s scary what we find. A recent injury drastically altered my summer plans and I immediately fell into a sort of zombie mode. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to set goals and accomplish things — but I didn’t want to do anything. My to-do-list just sat there silently.
This kind of indifference terrifies me.
I checked Facebook more times a day than I would ever like to admit. Honestly, I was too embarrassed to count. Is reading a “friend’s” page really going to solve the aloneness? How ridiculous it is to think a tiny red box with a little number 1 or maybe even 2 would help. Not even a 7 or 14 could erase the problem. What do we think Facebook can give us anyway?
Some have deemed Facebook the best thing since who knows what. “It’s great. It connects you with old friends and helps you make new ones.” Others condemn it with a passion. “Facebook is the devil. It’s an enormous waste of time.” But what does Facebook teach us about humanity? There’s actually a lot we can learn about ourselves from observing the dynamics of this social network.
We are self-protective, lazy and afraid of commitment
We all hunger for relationships, but true relationship takes work. Real love costs us something. Getting to know people always involves an element of risk. We might get into a conflict. They might reject us. They might betray us or hurt us. Facebook seems to offer an alternative to the difficult path of sincere friendship. It promises relationships with no commitments or risk.
You log onto Facebook whenever it’s convenient for you. You choose who to friend request. You only talk to whomever you feel like talking to. If someone ignores your wall post, well, maybe they were busy with something else. If someone is angry, well, you can’t hear him or her through the letters in the chat box. All this makes it easy for us to interact with people without having to address our self-centered perspective.
We probably do want to know others. We might even want them to know we care deeply. Our selfishness keeps us from speaking to the core of somebody in person, but on Facebook it’s less awkward. We desire relationships that go beyond the superficial, but we also want our own space. Facebook allows for this paradoxical way of relating. We can control the distance between others and ourselves. It all seems less painful and so easy. You don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t even need to get dressed or brush your hair. No need to commit to being at a certain place by a certain time. If you need to leave, you just leave.
Can we really have genuine friendship with so little effort?
We are afraid, but we want to be known
Despite the layers of laziness and self-protection we can’t deny the deep desire to be known. We’re afraid, but we really do want to let people in. Even with all the hype about privacy settings, Facebook seems like the safest place. Some say it allows you to make yourself into whoever you want to be; that it helps you polish up your image for the world. Although Facebook does make it possible for you to do this, my observation is that people tend to go the opposite way. There are at least two major reasons why people are willing to put themselves out there on Facebook.
First of all, Facebook definitely corners you. If you’re keeping up different images for different circles of friends and acquaintances, Facebook forces you out. They’re all there. They can all read your page. Your family, your school, your church and your workplace are all one big mess on Facebook. You can’t keep up multiple images anymore. Now, the only reasonable person to be is yourself. Besides, the risk is lower and if we’re honest we’ll admit that we’re sick of all the masks. Maybe Facebook will show us who really loves us, and who only loves the mask we wear. We are hoping that it’s possible for someone to know us and still love us.
Secondly, the reaction time is delayed. It’s easier to expose yourself when no one can jump at you right away. If they do, you don’t even have to respond. We can open up on Facebook because we don’t have to face the person we are talking to. We have an emotional outlet but we don’t have to see the reaction. We can’t hear their voice or see their facial expressions. We don’t have to worry about our words getting jumbled up in our nervousness because they’re typed out and we can delete anything we don’t like. We feel in control.
We want to know we’re not the only ones
We all enjoy reading wall posts in order to learn all about the lives of other people. Who can resist the urge of looking at the pictures and reading all the comments? Nosiness is socially acceptable on Facebook. We can study people without them ever knowing it. Facebook just magnifies the spying tendency Ed Welch speaks about:
“Spying might reveal the vulnerability of others so that we can believe that they are no different from us (or even not as good as us). Disgrace wants company. On the other hand, it might reveal someone who is strong and can be our hero. With a hero we might feel less isolated because we can enter into a safe fantasy relationship.” – Ed Welch
Facebook makes fantasy relationships even better. We can use real facts. We can find out how someone is doing without ever having to ask. We can know our “friends’” favorite music and hobbies without ever speaking to them. We are even allowed to read other people’s conversations. Perhaps a dumb comment will prove that they aren’t any better than we are. Or maybe their large number of fans will indicate that they are someone we should admire.
We don’t know who we are
We like to categorize ourselves. All the little quizzes that tell you what Disney princess you are or what celebrity you could date are pitiful expressions of a search for identity. We somehow think these absurdities will help us to discover ourselves. All we discover is that we don’t know who we are and we feel like we need others to tell us we’re okay.
“In my own life, I notice I validate people who like or validate me. When I say so-and-so is a nice person, what I really mean is so-and-so thinks I am a nice person.” – Don Miller
This is not love or friendship; it is a game of becoming someone. Facebook is just the Internet-documented version of this universal game. The nature of the game becomes blatantly obvious; the goal is to prove yourself. We are all vying for identity. We measure ourselves relative to other people. We want to know how others perceive us and compare that to how we perceive others and ourselves. It all becomes one big mess of “compare people.”
Somehow we think that others’ opinions have the power to shape us into who we are. Why else do we feel rejected when we are not on the top friends of someone we admire? Why else do we burn with curiosity when Facebook tells us “so and so answered a question about you”? We write on walls because we want everyone else to know that we’re cool enough to talk to certain people. When we broadcast our relationship status many times we are just saying, “Hey look, this guy or girl thinks I’m valuable. Now you really have to believe that I am somebody.” When we get one of those little notifications “so and so thinks you are hotter,” we wonder “Hotter than who?”
Why are we so obsessed with being better than the people around us? Why do these silly games threaten our identity to the point that we are willing to rank our friends? Ranking our friends in order to make sure we are liked is just plain cruel. We’re building our friends into a ladder for our own self-validation. We are using others to boost our image.This is clearly not the correct path to finding ourselves. When did we lose ourselves anyway? Is this search even justified?
The losing is the finding
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’m not sure I know who I am. This used to bother me enormously. The pressing need to be someone drove me to dangerous extremes. With this intense focus on finding myself, I ended up losing myself even further. So I’m starting to wonder if “finding ourselves” is even something we should pursue.
I’m starting to wonder if anyone ever finds out who they are.
It’s true that every human being is uniquely valuable. It’s true that we all have different personalities, talents, families and occupations. Even so, none of these things are secure enough to hold up our identity. Any one of them could disappear at any given time. Then who would you be?
I can already hear the believers reacting, “The problem is that we are looking in the wrong places. We can’t get our identity from people. We can’t get it from what we do. We must get it from God.” I do believe that. I do know who I am in Christ and I can’t help but notice that it’s the same as what every other believer is in Christ. Our identity in Christ doesn’t make us better than others. It doesn’t make us stand out in any self-glorifying way. I’m not saying that our identity in Christ is deficient; it just doesn’t exactly pump up our self-esteem.
We’re so dead that we need him to give us life. We’re so wretched we need Jesus’ righteousness to cover us up. We’re so weak that we need him to be our strength. This kind of sacrificial love completely blows apart the search for self. God doesn’t come to tell us how great we are. I think he comes to ask us why we are demanding the worship of our fellow creatures. He certainly doesn’t come to worship us. We are not God. He is. He is the only one who can rightfully demand worship and remain perfect in love.
Maybe finding out who you are is just getting comfortable with not knowing who you are. Lasting security comes when we forget about trying to figure out who we are and fall on our faces before a worthy God. It comes from losing ourselves in love for God and others. It’s what happens when you stop thinking about yourself and look at Jesus. Finding ourselves is really getting lost in something bigger than us. Maybe we aren’t anything and He is everything.
“I’ve been thinking ’bout everyone, everyone you look so lonely.
But when I look at the stars,
when I look at the stars,
when I look at the stars I see someone else
When I look at the stars,
the stars, I feel like myself.” – Switchfoot
Facebook is a stage for human fallenness. It puts our selfishness and brokenness under a microscope. Perhaps the magnified view of the pieces will help us to make out what the whole picture should look like. The desire for relationship is not a bad thing. These problems arise out of a good thing that has been distorted. We were created for community, but we mustn’t turn relationships into a means of self-fulfillment. This destroys love. We can’t demand that others care about us, but we can and should love and appreciate others.
What would happen if we turned the selfishness upside-down? What if we embraced commitment? What if we invested our time in other people instead of crying for attention? What if we showed interest in knowing another person instead of wondering why no one cares enough to ask us how we’re doing? What if we were willing to get messy with our friends that are hurting instead of bemoaning the fact that we are the only ones? What if we looked for ways to serve others instead of using them? What would happen if we quit stalking people and started loving them? Lets do it!
- Ask yourself: “Are there any people I interact with on Facebook but not in person? Why? Are these reasons legitimate?
- Follow up meaningful online conversations in person. Bring up the topic instead of resorting to the typical superficial mode.
- If you find out something significant about someone’s life from your news feed, ask him or her about it in person.
- Call your friends when you need to talk to them. Even if they’re online.
- Use email instead of broadcasting your conversation to the whole world.
- Have a reason. Don’t log on to Facebook without a specific purpose. Don’t get sidetracked by clicking everything in the news feed. If you’re just checking for notifications, close it as soon as you’re done.
- Set a limit to your Facebook time.
- Talk to the people that are already around you. Do something with your family.
- Set up a time to meet with a friend. Be there.
- Send somebody a snail mail. The time and effort it takes, proves that the other person is worth it.
- When you ask someone how they are doing, don’t settle for “alright.” Probe a little further. Ask hard questions. Remember, they want to be known too.
- Be vulnerable. You shouldn’t be allowed to see someone else’s flaws if you aren’t willing to expose your own.
- Do something practical for someone else.
- Love somebody who can’t love you back.
- Be bold. Take risks!
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.” – C.S. Lewis
Note: This article was written when Ana was 17-years-old. It was originally published as a note on Facebook.