Should We Stop Blaming Facebook for Our Unhappiness?

a month ago

The Atlantic has released a few articles over the years about how Facebook affects our overall happiness, but recently, they suggested another way of looking at the situation: perhaps we need to stop blaming Facebook for our unhappiness.  In other words, we may be misusing Facebook and then blaming the site when our actions bring about our discontent.

The author pointed out that we may be using Facebook as a replacement rather than an enhancement to social interaction.  In a 2012 article, The Atlantic charted that our friendships are deteriorating.

In 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant. 

In other words, if we use social media in place of getting together with friends, making a phone call, or entering face-to-face social activities, we will ultimately lose those social skills that we had to gather as children on the playground.  Being social is a muscle, and if we cease to use it, placing a screen between ourselves and our friends, we will lose it.

Image: Jarno via Flickr

But The Atlantic's current post points out that the problem isn't Facebook but how we're using Facebook, and in turn, we're unfairly blaming the site for our failings.  The author likens it to taking a vitamin and then eating a steady stream of junk food and ruining our health.  The problem isn't the vitamin itself but the fact that we're not using that multivitamin as an enhancement to a diet already loaded with vegetables and protein.  In that case, we clearly wouldn't blame the vitamin for our lack of good health; and neither should we blame Facebook when we exit the site feeling lonely or depressed.

Facebook is a tool, and we need to use it wisely.  The Atlantic leaves the reader with the best possible usage:

The harder we try to be happy, the less we are. When we use social media right—not in pursuit of happiness, not in curating a supernatural persona, but to keep in touch with people we otherwise wouldn't, to learn about things we would've missed—there's the potential to drift closer to Frankl's all-important "forgetting about [one]self."

I think I've used it at times as a replacement.  For an introvert like me, social media is a godsend.  I can be "social," interacting with other people, but do so in a way that is comfortable.  I am not someone who feels at ease in crowds or at parties, but I can converse easily when I can write out my thoughts.

It's too easy to eschew the much harder (for me) parties and social events in exchange for time alone in front of the screen.  I need to keep reminding myself that the two ways of socializing need to complement each other, not have one stand in place for the other.  But it's easier said than done, and I'm more successful at it some days over others.

Do you think you use Facebook as an enhancement or replacement?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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