They Say The Best Things In Life Are Free, But Facebook Isn’t One Of Them

Facebook Isn’t Really Free — You Pay With Your Most Valuable Currency!

Image by Geralt on Pixabay

I left Facebook (FB) back in June of 2018 — not long ago. In fact, I would like you to appreciate the fact that I left about a month before my birthday. I did that purposefully, and I am glad I did. For those familiar with that particular hook that keeps many in FB, it is the ego gratification of 50–100s of birthday greetings from “friends.” What I discovered is that the people I am truly close to found a way to wish me a happy birthday without FB — go figure.

Leaving, for me, wasn’t just about privacy issues and scandals, the experience of negative effects from FB, or the negative repercussions it and other social media has on young people. All of that definitely made my decision to leave FB more firm and resolute, yet my personal reasons for leaving revolved around how FB tended to suck the creativity and inspiration out of me, while also leaving me at a loss in another way. The layers of FB became over-stimulating, yet empty, and I saw how relationships I was excited to have on FB eventually faded into laziness and apathetic connections. I was receiving way too much input, much of it useless, with very little return, and it became a compulsive loop of behavior to check in anyway, and scroll into oblivion.

As we know, there are real benefits to social media like FB, and I really miss a few truly good groups and quality sharers. But, not enough to compromise what I have re-gained in leaving. I am more inspired, more motivated, and more productive since leaving FB. I will add the caveat that my husband is a musician who benefits from the local events aspect of FB, so he remains there in a minimal way. He does show me pics of close family and friends when he is on. Some people only share on FB, and don’t visit or call their friends much. They certainly don’t visit with weekly photos of everything they are doing— and aren’t we glad people don’t — in real life? So, I have contact with FB, but it is quite minimal.

I had been on the platform since around 2008. In that span of time a lot changed, on Facebook and on the Internet in general. The very first version I experienced of FB was the best one, in my opinion. It wasn’t layered or mired with problems, and was kind of old school in a good way.

As FB aged and morphed into what it is today I became more and more annoyed at how it is so unnecessarily complex, and breaches basic healthy boundaries of relationship. For example, people could force me to join a group message or a group without asking me first, and my relative’s friends may friend me, or unfriend me.

Photo by Chase Wilson (jiggliemon) on Unsplash

Can you imagine if that happened in actuality with the forced group join? Someone comes over to my house, forces me into their car, and takes me to their favorite Meetup group about something that I am not interested in at all. They don’t say hello. They don’t explain. In fact, they don’t even normally talk to me, nor do they, when they come to get me for their group.

That is seriously messed up.

And when we want to leave a group message that we didn’t create, and don’t want to be a part of in the first place, FB announces to the group that “so-and-so” left.

Awkward.

Poor structure and design like that creates interpersonal conflict and tension that would not have been present otherwise.

FB structures place tension upon relationships, and create problems, where none would normally have existed.

Facebook creates unnatural and forced connections in other ways as well. There isn’t a natural and healthy boundary of acquaintance, co-worker, past friend, current friend, family, etc.

FB puts everyone at the same par, tone deaf to the real life varying levels of intimacy to estrangement. There is no nuance or spectrum, despite their claim that we can tailor who and what we see.

That is true in word, but unspoken norms force us (against our natural and healthy instincts) to accept friend requests and to “like” comments in certain circumstances. Not to mention the tiresome and layered controls to filter out who you don’t want to deal with. For non-tech savvy people, it is too complex!

This seems a gross mismanagement of relationship to me. If someone saw me a few times in real life, or just once, or they know my spouse, mother, or a friend of a friend, or some other awkward connection, there comes an eventual request (demand) to become a FB “friend.”

In addition to this, FB makes actual friendships and true connections lazier and taken for granted, because of the sharing and over-sharing going on. There becomes no need to connect, when you already feel that you know and see everything. The connection won’t deepen in most cases.

Some of the curses of FB — like misunderstandings, unfriending, abuse of invitations, blocking, monologues, showboating, and a junked feed — even when preferences are dialed in — can have long term consequences in real life. Dynamics, relationships, and patterns of relating outside of FB are altered because of FB.

There are, of course, good things to it too, or people wouldn’t stay. The good things go like this: instant gratification of connection to friends and family in real time — despite geographical distance — with photos and thoughts; conversation with wonderful people (in groups or individually) you wouldn’t have otherwise met or known about; free easy access to community, local events, local businesses, some grassroots activism via events, and “do-gooding” that is shared. That’s it. The rest is junk and a headache (I am not going to even talk about privacy issues or Messenger, ugh).

All of this, so far mentioned, are just the trivialities — a distraction from the actual reality of Facebook. The reality of the virtual face book of friends, FB, is that it is not free — not really — not at all.

The proverb goes, “The best things in life are free.” That is true, in a deep, spiritual, and practical way. Quality time with loved ones, true friendship, health, libraries, silence, peace, joy, a compassionate presence when one is suffering; thinking, breathing, feeling, loving; being active, time in nature, and that sort of thing are free and they are, arguably, the best!

Some things in life that aren’t free can also be the best, like: dessert, traveling, and health care. And some things in life are meant to be free, but aren’t always, like: clean water and air, civil rights, and education.

“Friends” by Dario Valenzuela (@darvalife) on Unsplash

Yes, FB, in stark reality of money/dollars and fees is quite free, unless we pay for advertising for our business or organization. Yet, we are paying dearly for all that free space and time on Facebook. Yes, the important thing to ask ourselves is: Are we aware of it?

Facebook not only mines our data, it also mines our personal resources — our time, energy, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and self-worth.

Our personal resources are our fundamental, and most valuable currency in life.

Image by Leo Moko on Unsplash

Our personal resources are as precious as our shared resources are: water, air, soil, land, ecosystems, communities, social security, insurance, health care, and education.

Your unique presence, energy, feelings, thoughts, being, and time are immeasurable in monetary value.

Let’s take a closer look at what we are using to pay FB, and what FB gives us in return.

  1. We pay FB with our time. FB gives us endless scrolling, hooks, bells, and emojis. Endless scrolling enables prolonged visits. And despite tailoring one’s preferences and only following what is of most interest, there still seems to be a downhill slope of long and endless scrolls to find substance, or whatever. FB is designed to be as addictive as possible in order to keep you there for as long as possible. FB is funded by advertisers, researchers, and business. They want to hook us and keep us there for many reasons. Giving away our time to FB can be like giving away our prized possessions or money to someone who doesn’t really care about, and wants to take advantage of us. I don’t know about you, but when I find a person who consistently seems to want to take advantage of me, I steer clear of them. It’s a big turn-off, you could say. FB is an ongoing loop of Pavlovian type conditioning (emojis, likes, and echo chamber affirmation) to keep us hooked. In real life, with jobs and work, we are paid by our time — hourly or via salary. Paying FB with our time can result in us being trapped in a subtle addiction that we are tempted to never take seriously, minimizing our own value and the value of our time and life.
  2. We pay FB with our presence. FB gives us virtual space, networking ability, and simulates community for us. This is, by far, our most valuable and powerful personal resource — our presence, each person’s presence — also known as health, energy, and being. What is the most real and important gift you can give to another person? Your presence. It costs nothing, yet it is precious. When a loved one dies, what aches more than anything else? The physical absence of our loved one. And when we are ill or scared or hurt, what is the greatest salve? The loving presence of someone who is really there. The energy and being that is you, each of us, is unique and irreplaceable. There is no real monetary equivalent for what our presence is worth. Sharing it with others needs to be considered seriously and consciously. FB simulates an experience for us, which is virtual, not 3D reality. FB simulates the experience of community, company, friendship, and presence. This simulation can act as a replacement for real physical contact with people — it can sometimes end up replacing the impulse to engage in real intimacy, dialogue, and friendship. Seeing someone else’s photos, comments, and shares can take away the natural desire to connect and go deeper. So, as we pay with our presence, spending time, energy, and attention on FB, we are given, in exchange, FB’s dysfunctional simulation of connection, friendship, and community. In addition, what we choose to share on FB can make us seem like our life is something other than it really is. We shut our selves off from real sharing, and sometimes we become depressed thinking our lives aren’t as good as what others are sharing theirs to be on FB. Our mental health can suffer due to social media.
  3. We pay FB with our beliefs. FB helps us to segregate ourselves. We customize our experience according to our beliefs and values. We provide FB with an ongoing anthology of our beliefs. What we believe can be: scientific, logical, religious, political, philosophical, moderate, extreme, esoteric, sci-fi, or hate-based. It doesn’t matter. All sides can be manipulated, researched, and used — all of it is data that can be capitalized upon — by corporate, private, and political interests. This collective data of our beliefs, choices, habits, and preferences allow unprecedented amounts and kinds of information about the psychology of us. Propaganda and advertisers have long based their approaches in the hidden psychological tendencies, habits, and weaknesses of humans in order to profit and manipulate to gain power. FB is no different. FB states an altruistic motive and mission as its operative and public goals. Yet, only when it has been exposed has FB decided to purge accounts that were created to sabotage our political system. Accounts still remain that are openly violent, hateful, and abusive. FB does not close them all, despite the claims of being altruistic. In reality, the currency of our beliefs can be used, manipulated, and may be seen as a greater value of currency than money, for those who wish to dominate in power, corruption, and greed. Paying FB with our beliefs can be tricky, because for those with low income and startups with no capital, FB may be one of the few platforms where they can network and make a way for themselves. Another disturbing trend on FB related to the currency that is our beliefs, is this: there is a general consensus, among even professionals, that there is no need to fact check or for accuracy of statements made on FB — as if we set aside our ethics and standards at the FB login. The seemingly small degradation of due research and verifying information is, in actuality, no small erosion. It leaves the door open for more unhealthy relating, distortion, and abuse.
  4. We pay FB with our emotions. FB gives us ways to express our emotions, all the time. Our emotions are neither good or bad. They simply are. There is no real need to judge them. When we simply acknowledge the feelings we are having, and handle them in healthy and constructive ways, it is all good. Emotions are natural responses to life and living — they are instinctual. Emotions only become bad when we react in harmful ways, hold on to them, and allow them to fester; or push them down and deny them until they explode or implode — harming ourselves or others. Emotions can be directly tied in to our beliefs. If we identify with our beliefs — if we think we are what we feel and believe — then it becomes very easy to be emotionally manipulated, and to become emotionally reactive when we our beliefs/values are being threatened or attacked, or we think they are. Few adults, let alone children are taught how to handle and healthfully channel emotions. We need to, but it doesn’t happen formally, or commonly enough. And that is what advertisers and politicians count on. Emotions and political fights and tirades run high on FB. Is that healthy or productive? If it was a platform that encouraged and facilitated healthy boundaries and relationships, and healthy techniques, paying with our emotions wouldn’t be a problem, really. Paying with our emotions is a drain to our energy. It is energy and time that can be otherwise spent being and doing what fulfills us, and makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes we can do that and share it on FB. Some are doing amazing good, and sharing it there in healthy ways. But, those are the exceptions, not the overriding experience on FB. They are the healthy fish in a sea of plastic waste. Emotions, when healthy and flowing naturally, with a responsible awareness, do not attack, or over-react to what is or isn’t happening. That doesn’t mean that we can’t express anger. It is healthy to express anger. Just not in ways that harm others. Sharing our emotions with one another in an honest, supportive, and responsible way can lead to transformation and growth. If we understand how our emotions work and are responsible for them, then we can consciously choose to withdraw our unhealthy emotional payments to FB.
  5. We pay FB with our self-esteem. FB gives us ego-gratification hits via likes and followers. There are many ways that we pay FB with our emotions, yes. Our emotions and thoughts are directly linked to our self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem allows us to have healthy relationships and self-worth that is neither too narcissistic or too selfless. Positive self-esteem and a healthy valuing of our life and self leads to greater fulfillment and better quality relationships. Self-esteem is a root that our values, beliefs, and possessions take shape around. Healthy self-esteem in such a corrupt and superficial culture is hard won. Many of us who have it, may still struggle with keeping it. It has been found that those with self-esteem issues and low self-worth may be vulnerable to FB addiction. FB capitalizes on our weaknesses in relationships and in our self-esteem. We pay by disclosing our likes, emotions, thoughts, and giving up much of our time and energy to it. Facebook found a way to appeal to all sorts of people with the “like” button. The like button then got enhanced with options for emoji reactions within the like button. This button and it’s emojis are the veritable morphine-like shot of ego buffing that hooks so many. For those of us with low self-esteem, for those of us with big egos, for those with narcissistic tendencies, for those of us hungry for affirmation — the like button and accompanying emojis are both the Pavlovian bell to condition us, and the drug of choice to keep us hooked. Better yet, for FB, the data we provide through our habits with likes, emojis, and our emotional reactions are, collectively, providing studies of human vulnerabilities and thought like never before, while conditioning people to stay stuck within FB’s exacting patterns and loops.
Image by Reinaldo Kevin on Unsplash

Facebook is intentionally complex and layered in order to make the many hooks and complications a part of the difficulty, should you want to leave for good.

Yet, is FB so different from Twitter, Reddit, Linkedin, and Instagram (owned by FB)? And what about Google? And addicting apps? And mobile phones in general?

We pay them all with our presence, time, energy, and other personal resources.

Is Facebook worse? Or is it all a part of a new age, where we engage in it all without realizing how we are being conditioned and preoccupied by it? Not to mention what the unknown repercussions may be for our evolution and health…

I am not sure, but I know that FB is one of the most influential and massive —there are over 2 billion active monthly users, and 76% of those are women; and over 80 million fake accounts. With this kind of massive reach and power, comes even greater responsibility, and need for accountability and ethics.

Not everything about Facebook or social media and apps is negative, as I have said. A lot of it can be utilized in positive, inspiring, and life-giving ways. But, we need to call for more ethical standards, accountability, and teach conscious choice and engagement. Facebook wants to be “a force for Good.” I think that is wonderful. And, if that is true, many things need to change!

“Selective Focus” by Rawpixel on Unsplash

Our part in this, is that we need to be more conscious of what we agree to, and what free actually means.

If you are looking for ways to take back and regenerate your precious personal resources, also known as your personal wealth — start by unplugging from the machine from time to time.

Leave platforms that drain you.

Use only what facilitates a more real and better expression of you and your life and relationships. Take walks without technology, when it is safe to. Eat meals with friends and family without technology butting in.

Image by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash

Be present to the people around you. Make a homemade meal with a loved one with the computer and phone off, or at least away and silenced.

Also, consider why animals and animal companions are so loved and enjoyed by so many of us. What is it about them? They are present. They are timeless and here. They don’t make our relationships and time more and more complex, strained, or fake. They are real, honest, bundles of love, energy — exactly who they are. They don’t want to mine our data. They are truly here with us.

We need to make the most of the technology we have, and utilize it in productive and life-giving ways. We need to create structures and standards that serve us and all life on Earth in the best of ways.

For further information about the unwanted effects and unknown consequences of technology programming us, and how our technology can be more ethical and humane, check out the Center for Humane Technology.

C.S. Sherin, MA, is an author, poet, artist, environmentalist, dreamer, and futurist. She honors life and love with storytelling, art, and photography.

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