Last week Facebook Co-Founder, Chris Hughes’ wrote a New York Times Op-Ed suggesting Facebook should be split up. He called the company a monopoly and accused Mark Zuckerberg of flexing unchecked power. Hughes suggested that what started as a quest to connect Harvard students mushroomed, and in the process, “he [Zuckerberg] has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice.”
In a follow-up podcast interview, Hughes explained that he and Zuckerberg debated whether or not it was good for people to be so connected back in 2007 and 2008. He argues that perhaps too much connection isn’t a good thing.
I’m not sure I would agree that as human beings we can have too much connection. However, I would agree that too much DIGITAL connection isn’t a good thing.
Too Much Connection is Possible
Back in 2006 when I joined Facebook, it was gleeful. I, like everyone else, reconnected with long-lost friends and used the tool to stay connected to family that is far away. Facebook made it fun to walk down memory lane. It made making contact easy. More than a decade later, Facebook is a much different experience for me. After all, do I really need to know what that guy I sat next to health class my junior year of high had for lunch today?
Sure, it’s fun to reconnect and occasionally check in on the ghosts of Christmas past, but does it need to be a daily occurrence? Also, does that reconnection need to last forever?
It’s okay for people to come in and out of our lives during different seasons. There, I said it. Some friends aren’t lifelong – and that’s a-ok.
Too Many Friends?
Humans don’t have the bandwidth to maintain that many close friendships anyway! According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, our brains can only handle a handful of close friends. Could it be that interacting with all of my “friends” on Facebook is taxing my brain? Maybe that’s why I’m so tired!
The thing is, I keep scrolling. I keep adding “friends.” Mainly because my phone makes it’s so easy! With a few simple clicks, I’m up to my eyeballs in digital connection.
And I’m not the only one. According to Pew, 70% of American adults use social media. Because so many people are there, it is a relatively simple avenue for connection — it’s a one-stop shop. Hughes points out in his op-ed, “What started out as lighthearted entertainment has become the primary way that people of all ages communicate online.” It takes less time to scroll than meet for lunch. It takes less energy to scroll than make a phone call. It feels safer to scroll than to bare your soul face-to-face and honestly share an unedited, raw version of what is happening in your life. Which, for me, is the most significant drawback. Digital connection may be easy, but in truth, it is an illusion of connection.
The Illusion of Connection
Scrolling through a feed, looking at snapshots, clicking “like,” and getting curated snippets of other people’s lives is not connection. And every time we get that dopamine hit on our phone – we scratch the itch of actual human interaction. Too often that mindless scroll saves me the energy of actually having to connect. Because let’s be honest. Relationships are messy and complicated, and at times painful. Also, when someone says or does something problematic in the real world, dealing with that is not as easy as clicking “unfollow.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a case for the destruction of Facebook. It has its positive uses! What I’ve realized is that the platform isn’t my biggest problem. It’s my misuse of it.
Connection Over Clicks
Digital connection isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. However, too much digital connection in place of meaningful interaction is dangerous. According to a 2018 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, moderation is the key. So, I’m making some changes.
I’ve taken Facebook off my phone.
This isn’t part of a #DeleteFacebook movement. I’m not doing it because I believe the app is evil – though one might make a case for that. I’m not trying to “stick it to the man.” I’m doing this for me, for my relationships and to retrain my brain. I’m doing this in the hopes of strengthening the relationships I once had. I’m doing this to put some distance between myself and the folks I’d like to stay connected to but don’t need to be in touch with daily.
Every time my finger itches to scroll through Facebook, I’m sending a text to someone I care about. Maybe eventually I’ll graduate to making a call or setting a lunch date. I’m starting with baby steps. I’m ready to make an effort and to have less “digital connection” and more meaningful interaction in my life.