I joined Facebook back in 2008 for the same reasons that everyone did: the innate desire to have friends, the ease of being constantly interconnected, and the fear of missing out on something everyone else was doing.
But over the years social media has lost it’s allure. As a communication major, I learned how social media websites harvest and sell our social media profiles to companies selling products. This past presidential election, we learned that social media algorithms created digital echo-chambers that further polarized our country’s politics.
What has bothered me the most, though, was losing the ability to communicate with those around me.
I’ve stopped reaching out to family and friends, which seems contradictory to what social media should be: a platform for communication. I was seeing the lives of my friends through their profiles – observing their family vacations, professional strides, blossoming relationships – as if that were a valid way of checking in on how they are doing.
But there is a profound difference between interconnection and communication.
Our Facebook profiles are hardly a real reflection of our day-to-day lives. They are a carefully curated façade that desperately tries to convince others that everything is OK. Life isn’t always OK, but we have created an environment where we are absolutely petrified to say when it’s not.
That sort of self-censorship can transform a platform for interconnection into something incredibly isolating. At times, it has made me feel anything but social. In fact, there is evidence that social media can influence suicide-related behavior.
I used to consider my friends to be the people I hold most dear. But I have more than 1,800 “friends” on Facebook. Having a virtual friend is like saying, “I acknowledge that we might have shared a moment at one time or another.” Over time, those moments become increasingly fleeting, ultimately leaving us friends in name only.
Still, it’s hard to step away from such a large community. We may not have much personal interaction with these past relationships, but removing these “friends” from our lives feels like disregarding their existence. It cuts out the feelings of nostalgia that reading their posts occasionally brings.
That said, as a 21 year old university student, I feel I should be living in the present, not than the past.
I’m not asking anyone else to delete their Facebook profiles, but I am. And if you, like me, find yourself observing the lives of your “friends” unfold without reaching out to them, maybe it is time to reconsider what social media adds to your life. I just want to communicate again.
James Meadows is a University of Pennsylvania student interning with Philadelphia Media Network.