Facebook has claimed as many as 200 million users in the U.S. - two out of every three people for a site that technically is age-restricted. Globally, nearly one billion people use the social media site. Now a new generation is growing up who won't remember life without Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. To them, virtually all communication is in real time.
The new generations are also those who have no expectation of privacy, a much more valued commodity for most older Americans. They simply shrug off the intrusiveness of the NSA, the IRS, and some corporate entities. There are billions being made by others on close scrutiny of their - and our - online habits.
Signing up for a Facebook account requires one to virtually sacrifice all privacy to a corporate giant and its largest advertisers, while Zuckerberg, now 30, enjoys a cozy relationship at the highest levels of the federal government. The new Facebook Messenger app for smart phones not only gives others the right to one's personal messages and photos, and stored phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all friends, but even the right to operate the phone's systems, including the camera and microphone, without the knowledge of the owner. Few bother to ask why a company would want to access those. Most privacy advocates strongly advise against the use of this application, but other apps are only slightly less intrusive.
Every new medium comes with its own angels and demons. Television brought us the History Channel, and "Two Broke Girls". The same Gutenberg Press that brought Christianity in print to the masses, also brought with it the process of movable type that made Mein Kampf, the Communist Manifesto, and Hustler magazine possible.
If Karl Marx believed that religion is the opiate of the masses, social media has become its crack pipe, and the ego its drug. Now accessible from any smart phone, it's there every day, all day. For most, Facebook is a positive, occasional distraction. For others, it has become an addiction. It is an addiction that is more akin to an alcohol dependency than a nicotine habit, in that it steals time, irretrievable time that delays and detaches one from his true purpose in life. Increasingly, therapists are reporting that patients are becoming anxious that their social networking has become a social dysfunction that has even affected their marriages and detached them from their children.
On the up side, it's an enjoyable thing to share thoughts, and items that expand and illustrate those thoughts. On the down side, it's the obsessive need for social affirmation of those thoughts that is unhealthy - one of the first signs of addiction. If one is constantly checking to see how many reactions or "likes" a post gets, he is probably too obsessed with how others view him. If that obsession includes old love interests, it's time to take a break.
A second sign of addiction is the need, as a nearly reflexive action, to check on one's Facebook status. If one is violating a company policy by checking the site, leaving it constantly in the background on the computer, or reviewing it during dinner or in the middle of a conversation, there is a problem.
Everyone likes to put his best foot forward, but an obsession with crafting a particular image - glamorous, funny, syrupy and overly sincere - an image that is not the you that your friends and family know, is another sure sign of trouble. How many Facebook users post 20-year-old pictures of themselves that reflect their youth, and not the way they look now? Some even use Photoshop to enhance faces and artificially reduce waistlines. Some younger users will change their profile picture with a new "selfie" nearly every day. The reality is that many have made their own Facebook lives an animated Disney film, where nothing ever goes wrong and nothing is ever out of place, and you as the writer can change the script at will.
How much of one's life should he or she share on Facebook? Sharing a news item or a recipe is one thing. Sharing a picture of your lunch says more about you than it does your lunch. It's a way of making the mundane life co-exist with the Facebook life. It screams, "I exist, therefore I am!"
An obsession with the sheer number of "Facebook friends" that one has is a sure sign of addiction. The average user has about 130. Some may have upwards of 500 to 1,500. Of those people, if a person has sent out more friend requests than she has received, she may be a bit too obsessed with appearances and attention.
There is no substitute for face-to-face communication, with all of its facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, and nuanced vocal inflection that adds sincerity and meaning. If this is a less attractive option to a person than communicating online, this is not healthy. It's time to turn the computer off and take someone to lunch.
The sheer number of hours that one spends on Facebook can be telling, but how that time is spent can be more so. Some avid readers post links to magazine-length articles or legitimate news sites that can be time-consuming but informative and educational. Some links chronicle the unfolding human tragedy in Iraq - social media pressure from the West was largely responsible for the freeing of one Christian woman who had been sentenced to death in Yemen. Other links may lead to some variation of "Who's Hot and Who's Not". Angels and demons.
Reading every post from every friend, or obsession with celebrity - slogging through 20 poses of Miley Cyrus - maybe not. If, at the end of the day, dishes aren't done, homework assignments are not completed, the lawn isn't mowed, or worse, one is losing sleep, it's a sure sign for that person to re-prioritize his life.
One new Seminole resident, wanting to avoid a potential problem, installed an app that allows her only ten minutes a day on the site before it shuts down. Others will simply take a hiatus from Facebook activity, even deactivating their own page for awhile to take a breather and reassess how they spend their time. Shooting for one hour daily on Facebook is a worthy and realistic goal, and will help one to re-evaluate the quality of the information that is to be consumed during that hour.
It is a good idea to address potential addictive habits by setting aside specific time frames and time limits for Facebook exposure, but more importantly, some self-examination as to why the site seems important to you. It may be a way of putting off important responsibilities that we may have to ourselves or to others, or a way of delaying mundane or unpleasant tasks.
Every frequent Facebook user should take a few days off from it, just to see if life without it feels normal. Conquering the everyday challenges of the real world is infinitely more rewarding than creating a virtual self.
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