Is Facebook Eroding Your Soul

            Ignorance has never been bliss. Perhaps we have been blissfully ignorant for too long, swept away with the glitter and speed and glamour of connections and information.  This paper presents several ideas about what happens as a human interacts with modern technology, specifically the internet. If you’re not a brain surgeon how would you know that that grey jelly-like blob inside your skull is physically changing, learning new pathways, and building new circuits within days of practicing a set of repeated actions; that the means by which we talk and think is being physically changed when using a screen and responding to Google? The way one thinks and interacts within a physical community is directly affected in proportion to the frequency and quantity of time one spends in a virtual community.

            A virtual community is a group of people that connects across the internet; many bonds are formed around common hobbies, similar jobs, or shared personal trauma or sickness, etc., whereas a physical community is made up of the people that live within a twenty mile radius of your doorstep, the ones you interact with on a regular basis like the co-workers that walk through the same door of employment that you do, the moms you meet at the park, or the ones you meet with at your monthly book club.

The phenomenon of virtual community is a modern invention that people of all race and age have bought into because God created people with a divine desire for relationship. Some tap into a social network like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter seeking belonging that they are not finding in a physical community. The interesting part is that commitment to a social network is completely voluntary. The President is not paid to post on Facebook or comment on Twitter; neither am I. Usually one risks a certain level of vulnerability albeit a fake vulnerability. Many believe that joining a Facebook group will keep them up to date with their friends; I see pictures posted by my first grade teacher of thirty-four years ago and an out-of-state acquaintance from twenty years ago; news flashes from my newest neighbor and the local weatherman, but very little if anything from my closest friends. That reality offers two propositions: I am antiquated or Facebook gives me a false sense of connections; it is not connections with the group of eighty that I worship God with on Sunday, nor the group of thirty I interact with five days a week, eight hours a day, and it does not include the people on my frequently-contacted phone list. I conclude the Facebook portrays a connectedness that is not true.

Facebook not only offers an illusionary identity of connectedness, but studies show that it is addictive and can lead to depression. “There are three phases distinguished in Facebook intrusion phenomenon: (1) withdrawal, which is connected with distress when person cannot have access to Facebook; (2) relapse and reinstatement, when person has failure in controlling their amount of Facebook use and cannot reduce it; and (3) euphoria, which embraces positive feelings and sense of connectedness with other people while using” (Elphinston and Noller). I propose that multitudes are trying to stem their own pain and emptiness by tapping into a virtual community; relationships when done well are some of the most satisfying parts of life, but difficult relationships in a physical community cause people to become disillusioned. Many turn to ‘safer’ friendships in a virtual community as if distance equals safety. But the illusion only goes on and when one awakes one day and finds it all empty, loneliness and depression set in. A study released this year by the Anatolian Journal of Psychiatry conducted by Cakici, Babayigit, Karaaziz, Cumhur states, “Depressive individuals exhibit passive behavior when they experience stressful conditions in order to find relief. Rather than developing appropriate coping skills, they are inclined to develop addictive behaviors that enable them to manage stress” (Cakici, 250). While many believe that joining a virtual community will satisfy their need for relationship and bring them happiness, this same study states, “Facebook addiction is believed to be related to PTSD and depression, in a similar manner to gambling and substance addiction” (Cakici, 246). In 2018 a study among 555 Italian and American Facebook users reported, “Internet addiction was associated with higher Facebook intrusion and lower self-esteem” (Seidman, 793). Thus, I repeat Facebook users are seeking happiness, but surprisingly discover loneliness. In 2015 a study was conducted among students at a university in Turkey; “the results suggest that there is a negative relationship between problematic Facebook use and predictors of well-being like subjective happiness, subjective vitality, life satisfaction and flourishing” (Satici & Uysal, 190). The satisfaction and vitality with which one lives life has direct repercussions on the ‘goodness’ a person is able to bring into his or her physical community; a lonely, depressed individual brings little sunshine and peace to a physical community.

Physical relationships take a lot of energy, a lot of time, and a lot of forbearance and forgiveness. Relationships in a physical community are usually not efficient or tidy or prescripted. They usually do not match personal expectations. Physical relationships die quickly when fed by a consumer mentality, but that is the mentality of Facebook and other social media sites. One browses Facebook to see what is happening, to be amused or entertained or caught up on the latest gossip and in the process expends a lot of emotional energy cheering for, stressing about, or connecting with distant people and places and events. When one lives within a physical community with a “what’s-in-it-for-me” attitude, one will soon be discouraged and give up. There is a disconnect between reality and social media because people do not ‘like’ you every day in a physical community; the neighbor doesn’t usually give you a thumbs up as you walk by; and the lady beside you on the church bench may not notice that you were feeling sad.

            Google was invented to be a worldwide fact collector. One may become smarter by obtaining facts but gaining wisdom has rarely come through the purchase of cutting-edge technology. Google is programmed to respond to input; it has yet to respond from its heart to yours, but the illusion persists that Google cares about you and has got your back and is out to protect you, which is the concurring feeling when your name pops up on Amazon and you receive personalized emails from stores that thank you for shopping with them. Nicholas Carr warns that people who use the internet religiously often become efficient, because one’s brain begins to adapt to computer lingo, but it operates at a very shallow depth and on a very calculating basis. The computer is a calculating machine based on mathematics. In honor of efficiency and speed, by which Google operates, one sacrifices the contemplative, reflective thought processes necessary to delve into deep relationships and built by the process of reading and digesting books. One also let’s go of emotional reasoning; computers operate logically. Emotions are the opposite of logic and the essence of humanity. By sacrificing deep thinking on the altar of efficiency and speed, twenty-first century humans sacrifice the muscles needed; the intrinsic ability to form deep and meaningful relationships within a physical community.

            Connections through the internet connect, albeit unrealistically. The illusion is that one knows a person through a few words and pictures posted in a virtual community but blurbs are slanted and pictures don’t wholly portray one’s life or character such as the habitual lateness with which one shows up at work, or how often they’ve visited the widow next door, nor whether they kicked their shoes off when they walked in the door last night dog-tired or if they kissed their wife or yelled at her. One can send happy emojis, while spewing tacks. What an absurdity to communicate through emojis. We might as well be back in the stone age before Gutenberg and his printing press, not to mention that tone of voice and body language communicate more than words or emojis; this is the whole of a person you get when relating in a physical community which is absent in a virtual community.

In conclusion, one’s energy and time is measured; being human means that one does not have a bottomless tank of physical resources to bring into relationships. In direct proportion to the time and energy expended within a virtual community one has less stamina and vitality to invest in his physical community.

p.s. This post and the previous one were written as assignments in a Composition class last fall, hence the different tone from regular blog posts.

Works Cited

Cakici, Mehmet, Asra Babayigit, Meryem Karaaziz, Ozlem Cumhur. “The Prevalence and Risk Factors of Facebook Addiction: Is Facebook Addiction Related with Depression and PTSD.” Anatolian Journal of Psychiatry (2020): 245-252. online.

Elphinston, P. Noller and R. A. “Time to face it! Facebook Intrusion and the Implications for Romantic Jealousy and Relationship Satisfaction.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (2011): 631-635. online.

Seidman, Agata Blachnio & Aneta Przipiorka & Martina Benvenuti & Elvis Mazzoni & Gwendolyn. “Relations Between Facebook Intrusion, Internet Addiction, Life Satisfaction, and Self-Esteem: a Study in Italy and the USA.” International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2018): 793-806. online.

Uysal, S. A. Satici and R. “Well-being and Problematic Facebook Use.” Computers in Human Behavior (2015): 185-190. online.