What do you picture when you think of Facebook? The first thing that comes to mind? Birthday greetings, vacation photos, or proud parents celebrating their kids? Grumpy cats or goofy dogs or motivational posters brimming with typos? I am sure most of us have logged on to Facebook at times, scanned our newsfeed and thought, “What the heck am I doing?”
I’m still not sure what tipped me over the edge. One too many memes, maybe. But that day, at that moment, I thought I would try it: I would leave FB. There was just too much clutter and not enough substance. So I disabled my account. What happened next surprised me.
First, I will admit that it was a knee jerk reaction and hardly thought out, but it made sense at the time. I also don’t mind saying it was a failed experiment. Much like giving up potato chips or coffee, it’s next to impossible. And yes, I’m back on the bandwagon. But over the first couple of days of being “off,” I was receiving texts and emails from people asking if I was okay. As if being “off Facebook” meant I was somehow suffering or experiencing some form of personal distress.
I assured them all that I was fine. No need for an intervention. These were my closest friends, after all, and we had ways to communicate besides status updates. Business as usual. But it wasn’t long before I noticed a difference.
Like many of my generation, I don’t subscribe to or read the local paper; I get all my news online on lunch breaks or in between household duties. But how much of the Huffington Post or CBC is about my hometown? About my province? Precious little. So suddenly the lunch room, water cooler, or get togethers became me repeatedly saying, “Oh, really? I hadn’t heard that.” About concerts, shows, restaurants, local current events. I felt like the last to know on almost every subject, especially from what is happening in the city. Sure, there are plenty of places to find said information if you really wanted to look, but it was becoming obvious that I hadn’t just disconnected from the “What would your Pirate name be?” posts; I’d unplugged from my community.
And that’s what Facebook has become in a lot of ways. For better or worse, however you want to view it, whatever your opinion is, social media is a town square. A means of connection and communication. Sometimes across a country or over continents. A way to be informed about the people you care about, and topics you care about. We can bemoan over sharing or narcissism, but really, who hasn’t run into a friend on the street and said, “Hey, I saw your pictures. Looks like you had a great trip.” Or “I can’t believe how big your kids are.” In reflection, it’s a foot in the door for a conversation, a dialogue that starts at seeing your friends’ joys or perhaps seeing their hardship, their grief. In a lot of ways, people are more connected than if we wait for chance encounters at the city market.
Lastly, I am also in a band, Sleepy Driver. And you can laugh at how ill-conceived or ill-timed my leap from Facebook was—we were just about to release a new album—I underestimated what it meant to be off Facebook, not using it to promote, market, or interact with fans and friends. Much like I didn’t hear of fellow musicians’ shows, people were less aware of our upcoming release. FB is local paper; it’s a form of advertising; it’s a major means of connection with our audience, local and otherwise. It’s hard to ignore its power.
So, I’m back on. And happy for it. To learn, to see, to share, to connect. No, it doesn’t replace face-to-face, voice-to-voice “real” relationships, but it sure plays a part. I guess at the heart of it, like with any social media: know what you want it for. Tailor it to that. It takes some time to set filters, to sieve out the games and memes (unless that’s what you want—no judgment ;), but FB has the tools to do so. And ultimately I found that Facebook gives more than it takes.
I’m glad to be back.
About: Peter Hicks is a project manager, father, and musician from Fredericton, NB. www.facebook.com/sleepydriver