Is Facebook the New Reality TV?

Could it be that our Facebook personas are as scripted as reality television?

Posted Sep 05, 2012

I was sitting in a church today not because I’ve ever been Christian or particularly religious, but rather because I find churches a peaceful place to collect my thoughts. I’ve been blessed to be on several university campuses with beautiful places of worship that are truly awe-inspiring. So much so that as I began to quiet my mind, I found myself interrupted by the incessant click-click sounds of cameras. Granted, I was sitting in a truly gorgeous place with an ethereal light shining down into the sacred space. The intricate golden mosaic artwork and Spanish-style architecture I’d determined was impossible to ever truly capture on film. Nothing would do it justice other than to experience it directly. The same way that one can view photos of Italian paintings, chapels, and architecture, and yet it is all second to traveling to Italy to see it with one’s own eyes.

Seeing people file in and out of the church, snapping pictures and making a quick exit brought many questions to my mind. Mostly, I wondered what makes us so determined to document and capture every moment often with the intent of sharing it with others? What keeps us from simply taking it in? It is far too simplistic to blame technologies and point immediately to social networking sites such as Facebook. And yet, I was surprised when an article I wrote on deleting Facebook friends was received with overwhelming enthusiasm. It seems people are just over it.

The idea of Facebook “depression” “addiction” and other such terms seem to be more ubiquitous now that everyone’s third cousin and elementary school teacher is on it. Social networks expand in large complicated ways as boundaries blur and identities become ambiguous. The problem of Facebook, however, rests not necessarily with others and what they are doing. Too often we blame “friends” and their carefully photoshopped lives. “Look at my amazing vacation,” and “here are my adorable children.” For the financially strapped or those struggling with fertility, seeing these updates is a virtual and constant slap in the face. How many times have my female therapy clients complained that all of their friends are married and that they are the only single one left? And it’s not a faulty cognition—there’s proof!

While certainly witnessing what appears to be others’ triumphs may prove difficult, there is more to the story. What about the falsehoods we create about our own lives? Do we believe the lies we tell ourselves on Facebook? It rarely escapes most people’s attentions that the most vibrant, exciting, party-filled lives are typically the loneliest and most unhappy. After all, if your life is so wonderful and glamorous, then why do you feel the need to constantly prove the fact again, over and over? And frankly, what are you doing on Facebook all day long if you’re so popular and in demand? Aren’t those who are most fully engaged in life the ones with too little time to devote to their Facebook pages?

In truth, we have all done it. We’ve had bad days, rejections, and times when life hits the blahs. We post something fun and upbeat, perhaps as a way to snap ourselves out of it. Maybe it’s to garner a “like” or cheery comment. But at the end of the day when we turn off our computers, our social networks, if confined to a pixilated screen, will snap off just as quickly.

The reality is that our own lives are slowly slipping into the makeup of today’s reality television shows. Carefully crafted or scripted, our high highs and low lows are broadcast loudly to the world. We hold our coffees in one hand, our phones in the other, and if we are ultra sleek, we peer out only occasionally from our big sunglasses which shield us from more than just the sun. We are in effect turning into the very celebrities we so claim to disdain.

A line I recently came across from a spiritual leader noted that in our cores, many of us are longing for love. Self-love is one of the most important types of love that we rarely speak of. It’s a foreign concept as we have few moments truly to ourselves without the distraction of others or electronics. We don’t have the opportunity to be left alone and to learn to take joy in our own solitude and company.

It simply looks weird to sit down at a coffee shop with just your latte while you stare off into space. It makes everyone around you a lot more comfortable if your nose is buried in a book or your fingers are quickly tapping away a text message or update. But there is nothing wrong with stillness; the contentment that lingers is often a quiet one. It may not require any documentation, or if you have the impulse to immediately “share” it, it is an urge worth resisting. Sure, life on Facebook is fun. It’s not unlike the dramatic train wrecks people enjoy watching on trashy television. But creating a life worthy of the “silver” in silver screen is even better.

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