March 20, 2016
I deactivated my Facebook account over a year ago. I still maintain a minimal page to promote my blog, but not a personal page. Two months after my breakup, I wrote in an op-ed that went viral at The New York Daily News, “I feel human again.” I will add to that sentiment now, a year later. A year after deactivating Facebook, I have noticed several changes, subjective but powerful:
Facebook is the largest social media platform, used by over 1.5 billion people, making it the largest “country” on Earth, if all its citizens were gathered together. But my experience, my engagement and disenchantment with the service, make me feel we are relying too much on a “medium” to broker our relationships with the world and with each other, rather than committing to our direct experience. Our possibilities get filtered through and filtered out by our little screens, and we are often unaware of what we are losing.
Certainly, some interactions require a “medium”. Facebook isn’t all bad. We can make contact over geographic distance. Isolation can be relieved, particularly for people with certain interests or needs not met in their local physical community. I benefited from this. But in the end, my personal choice was to return to physical community and environment, which I found far more profound than anything a screen could deliver.
Why do I think my senses sharper, my attention better, my appreciation for the real world increased? “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Facebook use implies a distracted, scrolling, casual engagement. Attentiveness has been linked to happiness. Mindfulness, paying attention to conversations and experiences, appreciating every event with gratitude (from the pigeons flying overhead, to a woman carrying a child, to the vivid colors of a typical San Francisco street) – allow the world to become beautiful and interesting. Every moment is a movie unfolding.
We all have to make our own decisions about internet use. I’m here to report that going from heavy Facebook use to none at all lifted my mind and spirits immensely. It is possible.
A recent article in the New York Times discussed Facebook’s “Compassion Team”. On the one hand, it is laudable that there are people dedicated to helping the “medium” become more compassionate to our needs, for example in time of relationship breakup. On the other hand, the article didn’t mention a prime goal of the team: to make your time on Facebook more pleasant, so you stay on Facebook longer. Make the box a happier place, and more people will stay in the box. And Facebook earns more ad revenue.
We’ve had a World-Wide-World outside that box for all our human history. I think it’s still quite compelling.
I explore my fascination and ambivalence with Facebook in my book-in-progress about the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks. So far though, while several publishers have liked my writing and angle, they’ve told me that they don’t know how to market a book that crosses spiritual/psychological/technological/pop culture lines, and they’re also wary of challenging a behemoth like Facebook, which indirectly influences all media outlets. Ironically, a medium that is supposed to be about “freedom of expression and opinion,” has become so big that few dare express an opinion opposing it.
But at least 30% of adults and youth don’t want an account, and I think a majority of users are at least somewhat ambivalent. I think there’s an audience out there. Let me know what you think. You can sign up for a newsletter and find out more about my book at www.RaviChandraMD.com. You can also read a draft excerpt of my chapter on internet anger by downloading my ebook of essays on anger. It's free!
(c) 2016, Ravi Chandra, M.D. F.A.P.A.
Occasional Newsletter to find out about my book-in-progress on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks: www.RaviChandraMD.com
Private Practice: www.sfpsychiatry.com
Facebook: Sangha Francisco-The Pacific Heart
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