As of 2012, Facebook has over 900 million active users, and it is estimated that by the end of year, they will have at least 1 billion users, according to the website howmanyarethere.org.
Facebook should scare its users. The reality behind the website is frightening. According to writer Kate Knibbs, nearly 5 million Facebook users post their exact whereabouts on their wall. Journalist Leslie Horn posits that as many as 20 million users are under the age of 18. When it’s suggested that a number of people who post their whereabouts are under legal age, it doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to put together that Facebook could potentially be a buffet for pedophiles and stalkers. No parent should ever let a child be subjected to that, but it’s nearly impossible to keep anyone from using Facebook considering how easy it is for anyone to gain computer access.
But aside from being an avenue for crimes against children, the changes its wrought on its users reach more deeply into humanity. Not only has Facebook made a complete mockery of our society and instilled a false sense of community within us, but it has also led to the demise of grammar, communication, and sense of self. It’s also become one of the most frequented consumption pits that the world has ever seen. The average Facebook user spends 75 minutes per day on the website (between mobile use and computer use according to the Daily Mail) That is, on average, 27,375 minutes per person, per year. This obviously varies, but means that there are a decent number of people out there (some of which we all know) who are spending 456.25 hours per year on this website. There are only 8,765.81 hours in a year, meaning that people are wasting 5.2% of their year on Facebook. How can so many people be okay with handing over their valuable time on a silver platter?
Facebook has stolen a place in our minds that used to be held by thoughts and books; by a sense of self defined by our understanding of the interior landscape we all possess and our interactions with others, rather than a simulacra identity that is an aberration of self, and misrepresents us to our peers and the virtual world. Now we look to it to computers to make us feel whole. The place where we once stored imagination and adventure has become a hot steaming landfill for digital bits of social garbage, where support for a cause is a simple as ‘liking’ it and the term friending has come to represent clicking a mouse to ‘accept’ rather than the social process of conviviality.
Privacy is important; it protects identity and individuality. Without privacy, there are no secrets; nothing remains sacred to us as individuals. Without privacy, the possession of individual thought is lost, and that in itself is a necessary human right.
Facebook pilfers personal information, and anything put on there is permanent. There is a cornucopia of privacy settings, but these settings don’t really keep any information concealed. Also, there is no way to really delete anything in the brave new world of Facebook. If a post is deleted, it’s still stored in the Facebook database. Even if an account is deleted entirely, all of the user information remains in that database. There is no possible way to remove information from the site altogether. Sure it won’t show up to any of the other users, but there are still many simple ways to access that information. Everything that is on there remains there forever.
Facebook has conditioned people to think that others actually care about their daily problems, which users should realize isn’t the case in the slightest. Even more insidious is the sense that users are ‘connected’ to others, whereas in reality they are hurling their thoughts into the digital void. It seems a lonely way to live.
Pages are rife with personal information. No one wants to know who “Suzanne” slept with last night, how drunk she was, how depressed she is now, where she lives, what she’s eating, that funny joke she heard at that party, what color her toenails are, etc. Its total information overload; the novelist David Foster Wallace posited that we are overwhelmed by over 500,000 discrete bits of information a day – and he said that before Facebook.
It’s tempting to post about the death of a grandfather in order to receive condolences from the Facebook community, but that’s not how the world was meant to work. Instant gratification is a myth, and even if it were real, there is something incessantly disturbing about relying on a website to provide it. People generally only care about things that directly affect them, and that doesn’t change, and there is no chance that it will ever change. Every Facebook post is one that is lost in a sea of thousands that get read on a daily basis. Comments, likes, or none at all; no one really cares at the end of the day, but Facebook has led us to find security in thinking that the people who comment on statuses really do care about the well being of their ‘friends’.
The reality is that friendship is complicated, messy, and requires work. Like most things through which we derive real value, friendship requires effort.
People will always argue that Facebook has its benefits (this argument always reminds me of missionary zeal, and one wonders about the conversion, and the post-colonial fallout) and no one would deny that it has its advantages when used properly. Sure, it’s a great way to connect with friends that are hard to reach or live far away. It’s great for advertising shows, and new businesses. It’s nice to see what a cousin’s baby looks like, and the beautiful photos taken on a distant family members cross-country trip. A study published by Maurizio Mauri earlier this year on the psycho-physiological measures of Facebook users found that a “natural high” was produced in users while using the website, as well as lowered levels of stress and a lowered heart rate. But that stimulus that used to be received from human contact and interaction can now be delivered from a computer screen. It seems we have been partially turned into some peculiar kind of robot that replaces faces with pixels.
America, as has been well documented, is a busy place with a lack of time; whether its school, work, or family, there’s nothing but obligations and not enough hours of daylight. That seems a fallacy, if Facebook can be so demanding of our daily lives. Time given to Facebook is wasted time that can be replaced with something better. But if it is true – if we are overworked and breathless – the few moments we have should be spent trying to connect to someone who matters to us through the hazy ether of complicated relations, or at the very least sit, alone, and accept solitude as one of the default settings of life. Coaxial cables be damned.
Katherine Clemens is a freshman at Champlain College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org