Facebook and Natural Selection

By Ashlea Johnson, LCSW

Don’t worry, this is not another cautionary tale about the downfalls of online connection with people from your past. I am not warning you about the dangers of creepers online, or the increasing evidence that Facebook is becoming a tool of the unhappy and unappreciated husband or wife in finding validation. Quite the opposite in fact, I love Facebook. I have a great marriage, supportive friends of the non-virtual world kind, and a pretty good set of coping skills (as far as I know). And I have loved those few moments each day when I check out the statuses and pictures of friends and family. But I would be lying if I said I only have done so once or twice a day.

Truth is, Facebook is like an addiction to me. It is escape, it is frivolity, it is voyeurism, all the great things that keep me checking the statuses of friends and family upwards of twenty times a day- at a stop light, in the grocery check out line, in between patients at my practice, as my coffee brews in the morning, and even in bed before I fall asleep at night. But to my defense, how much time does that take? It can’t be any more than 30 seconds per peek, right?

Just like many of you reading this, I was drawn to Facebook several years ago after proding from friends, and they were right about it! I love the opportunity to keep up with my cousins out-of-state, my best friend from kindergarten that moved away so long ago, and to see pictures of my best friends’ kids that I just don’t get to see often enough. And to be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a chance to check out the way that ex-boyfriend who broke your heart years ago looks at age 35? (Don’t lie, you know you looked.)

And then a roadblock arose. I am a psychotherapist in a small town. I own my own practice and generally work with lovely people with healthy ids and egos who arrive at my door in search of new skills to handle unanticipated stressors in life. However, in my field you do come across some fairly sketchy characters. And as I neared a court date I couldn’t dodge, where I would be face-to-face with one of these sketchy folks, I decided it was in the best interest of my family to keep our identities off of the internet. So I deactivated my account without a second thought. It wasn’t like I was on there a lot, right? I was sure I wouldn’t even notice the absence of Facebook from my routine.

And in the past two weeks since my Facebook identity was dissolved some interesting insights have come my way via two unfortunate events. First, my aunt died after 45 years of marriage to my uncle and godfather. Over twenty Clarks gathered and mourned her death and celebrated her life. I wasn’t able to be online to comment about the event to those unfortunate enough to miss it. I didn’t get to tell them I missed them and share goofy stories and hear of their sincere sadness at missing the gathering. Then a friend of mine from elementary school died. We were “friends” on Facebook and I knew about his kidney transplant several years ago and the new diagnosis of Lymphoma from the anti-rejection drugs derailing his immune system. Again, I didn’t get to see the mourners on his and his wife’s page, hear about the events held in his honor, or communicate with others that we went to school with all those years ago. Instead my husband told me when he heard of it on his Facebook page.

Those two events put something into perspective for me. While part of me does long to see how everyone is doing, there is another part of me that is relieved. I have to say, my energy is still drained at the end of each day without giving more of it to people I have not seen in a decade as I consider their suffering and challenges. I love my family that is on there, and my “friends” that are from my past are important to me on one level too. But that brings me to my point. There is a process of natural selection that happens in our lives. People are meant to come and go, friendships have seasons, and that is the way it is meant to be. I have begun to question the emotional impact of packing all of the emotional baggage of those we left behind in our lives for one reason or another. Do we really have that energy to give? Do I really need to worry about how the day is going for 221 of my old friends, and cousins, aunts and uncles that I would otherwise see in person maybe one time each year? And if I give them that emotional energy, will I have enough left for myself, my kids and my husband? Each time that I spent checking that phone to see the latest status postings, I have to wonder if there were little minutes I was missing out on right in front of me. Maybe it was a chance to notice something about my husband, or to observe something cute my kids were doing. Those things give us back emotional energy, they reinforce our priorities and center us. If we are giving all of this emotional energy to people outside of our day-to-day lives, what is that impact? I don’t have the answers, but I can say that I have been Facebook free for two-and-a-half weeks. Next time you are tempted to check your statuses or post one of your own take a deep breath, look around you and ask yourself if it really will matter to anyone in your immediate circle. Maybe someone in the non-virtual realm could benefit from that moment? Just sayin’.

/ September 2nd, 2015 /



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