There’s a very interesting paper doing the rounds at the moment which draws a fascinating conclusion: Facebook has a tendency to undermine its devotees’ self-confidence and sense of wellbeing.
Anyone who’s ever tussled with the ‘joys’ of the Big F is likely to be able to relate their own story of how Facebook screwed things up for them, if only in a small way – i’ve lost count of the number of people i know who have either threatened to, or actually closed their FB accounts, or become disenchanted with the whole thing because of the hassles they’ve experienced. Whether it’s masses of ‘friends’ desperate to add you to their collection of barely-acquainted contacts, cyber-bullies or being at the butt-end of misunderstanding, smear campaigns or simply being ignored, FB – like so much of the internet seems to bring out the very worst in people, in a very public manner.
This particular study, however, takes a different slant because it seems that there’s a deeper, less conscious reaction to what people see popping up on their own, and their friends’ timelines that, apparently, has a rather depressing side-effect… FOMO – (not to be confused with MOFO!) – a Fear Of Missing Out.
Yep, that’s right, the more time you spend cruising FB, looking at photo’s of all the fantastic beaches your friends are lounging on, hearing about all the amazing nights out they’ve been enjoying, and the wickedly awesome fun and games that they’re filling their time with, the more you start to realise that they are having all the fun, whilst you just sit there and spectate.
It’s a cruel and alienating moment when it suddenly dawns on you that the world and his wife are out there having fun and making something of their lives, whilst you sit morosely in front of your computer screen, guzzling cheap red wine and family-size bags of Doritos, missing out on all the good stuff. The realisation creeps into your addled mind that your own shallow life is passing by, whilst you watch your friends and acquaintances having a good time. Every thumbs up and ‘like’ that you give to them having fun is a self-imposed middle-finger and dollup of self-hatred that gnaws away at you until you can take it no more… but hey, this is Facebook: it’s fun!
Maybe that’s just a little unfair on FB – i’m guessing that most of us who indulge ourselves in the eclectic and heady mix of online experiences that the internet offers have crouched, hunch-backed, over our screens whilst sunlight streams through our windows and, in a moment of shocking clarity, asked ourselves: “What the hell am i doing here, when i could be out there doing something far more worthwhile?” – doesn’t matter if our particular nemesis is FB, sl, WoW, or any other combination of meaningless letters, whether we’re followers, twitterers, plurkers, bloggers or just happen to get carried away far too often on magical mystery tours to the weird parts of Youtube – all of us, at some time or other, have almost certainly wondered why we’re wasting so much of our lives on what is, so often, utterly meaningless stuff.
Or is it?
i’m of the opinion that sl might be a little different to all those other online pursuits and, although there have been times that i’ve had cause to wonder if there really is something i would be better off doing, i also happen to think that sl can be, in itself, a means to an end.
To begin with, sl is undeniably a social network – but a very different social network to others, like FB. In sl, we don’t have to be observers of other’s SLives – we are mobile, and the medium within which we move is extremely conducive to active interaction between participants. The ability to ‘travel’, explore, and expand our sl world view means that we are encouraged to partake of, and indeed find fulfillment in, participation and activity. Yes, we can be mere observers, but the vast majority of us are actively contributing to the virtual world around us and becoming involved in the activities and pursuits that our friends are enjoying, is frequently just a TP away.
Then there’s the creative side of sl. Alright, i know that not everyone in sl is a builder, entertainer or designer, and i also know that i keep banging on about the way in which sl encourages creativity, but in this case it’s a more than valid point. Other online pursuits, including many games, are fundamentally geared to stifle creativity. They are either so rigidly fixed in their aims or concept, that there’s no space for anything other than that which they are designed for, or there are definite goals, processes and pathways that have to be followed in order to achieve fulfillment. SL is the antithesis of this and, rather than forcing us to conform, we are encouraged to do our own thing and, experience how others do their thing too. We’re not confined to a timeline, a fixed profile or predetermined gameplay – in fact, in many ways, sl gives us even greater freedom to express ourselves than rl.
Finally – for a great many of us – sl is very much a distinct entity from the real world. Whereas FB and most other social networks are geared towards providing a hub, around which our lives revolve and into which the various strands of who we are and what we do are fed, sl – if we choose – can be completely divorced from our real lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny outside, or raining; it doesn’t matter if Maurice is enjoying his holiday in Ibiza.. because we’re in our own unique place, remote from the real world, flying around like modern-day Peter Pans and having a grand old time!
i happen to be one of those people who believes that there are different opposing sides to any particular argument – it doesn’t surprise me that some people have come to the conclusion that FB can be harmful, but let’s not tar every online experience with the same mucky brush. Just because something we do on the internet may fill our time and cause us to retire to a degree from the outside world need not mean that it’s a bad thing, if anything, i’d say that enmeshing ourselves within sl could conceivably boost our self-esteem and give us a real sense of community… we’re not missing out – it’s everyone else who are the losers!
But don’t close your eyes
There’s a whole wide world
Just waiting for you
Secret Affair – One Day In Your Life