Facebook, the website we all so carefully groom, is now an inescapable part of our lives. The way we engage with our online selves and online friends speaks volumes about the cultural norms of our generation. Our addiction to online social life has affected elements of our lives — particularly sexuality, relationships and personal understanding — in remarkably robust and unpredictable ways.
To be frank, the social networking website allows us to creep. Interested in a particular someone? Well, jump on Facebook, check his or her relationship status. Then, by going through pictures and wall postings, discern the level of difficulty of getting a date. Maybe add him or her as a friend, too — but only if you’ve actually interacted with that person, because everyone knows how unsettling the random Facebook friend request is.
Furthermore, Facebook allows us to advertise risky behavior with or without living up to it. Through commentary about parties, allusions to excessive drinking and overall rule breaking, we can show others that we approach the limits without ever having to actually cross them.
This is not altogether bad. Approaching the virtual line of frowned-upon behavior is better than crossing the actual line.
But, it is important to consider what drives our need to seek and assess others on Facebook, because it tells us so much about ourselves. How we interact through Facebook, it seems, allows us to both objectify others and be objectified ourselves without ever having to deal with the unpleasant consequences that come along with such thinking in real life.
Yet, even if Facebook helps us reduce others and ourselves to the abstract, its online transgressions always connect back to actual desires and fantasies. What we subconsciously reveal online usually coincides with what we’d like to do in reality. In this way, Facebook is merely a device that allows us to act out our private inclinations.
Of course, Facebook also allows old friends to stay in touch and serves as a medium through which people can exchange experiences and ideas. But the less obvious effects that Facebook has on our lives may be the biggest impact of all.
Ross Douthat outlines Facebook’s sociological and psychological effect, in a column in The New York Times entitled “Online Looking Glass.” In it, he describes how Facebook — and the Internet in general — highlight how obsessed we are with ourselves. The single greatest vice perpetuated by the Internet,Douthat writes, “isn’t lust or smut or infidelity, though online life encourages all three. It’s a desperate, adolescent narcissism.”
The “desperate, adolescent narcissism” that Douthat describes doesn’t only help perpetuate the hook-up culture in college, it leads to the erosion of personal interactions. How we act online denigrates how we act in real life.
The implications of this erosion are everywhere. From our generation’s lack of appreciation for eloquence and nuance to the hardening of the already balkanized social spheres that make up Georgetown and our larger society, Facebook is making people less able to synthesize and integrate real-life experiences and information. Why bother when a much more distilled and digestible version comes in easily accessible online packages?
Online social media all represents a new paradigm for social interaction, and we are guilty of perpetuating it. We exchange our privacy to indulge our personalities. We contribute thousands of bits of information about ourselves so that other people can watch, analyze and judge us. Facebook is an addictive drug with invisible side effects that are shaping our world in a profound way.
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Michael Meaney is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and Matthew Hoyt is a senior in the College. They are the president and director of communications of the Georgetown University Student Association, respectively. THE STATE OF NATURE appears every other Tuesday.