Last week I got an interesting Facebook notification. Apparently, it was my 11-year faceversery. Yes, that is a word, or at least it is according to Facebook. It would seem that I have been using Facebook for eleven years. Eleven years! Has it really been that long? Eleven years of reunions and discoveries. Eleven years of likes and shares. Eleven years of socialising in the comfort of my own home.
The first time I used Facebook I had no idea what it would become, in fact, I hated it. I had about 5 friends, and it appeared to me to have no purpose. Why are these people sending me cyber flowers that grow? And what does this poke mean? I was far from impressed. I don’t think I logged on again for another couple of months. This time I found more friends and my wall became less bare. Slowly it became more and more interesting. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but before I knew it I was hooked. And so began my love-hate relationship with Facebook.
As the world biggest social media platform, with over 2 billion regular users, there is little doubt that Facebook has been influential – for better or worse it has effected the world. Here are just some of the ways that Facebook has changed our lives:
1. Facebook has changed how we socialise: Why make the effort to get up, get dressed, and actually leave your house to meet somebody when you can do so in comfort of your own home (and in your pj’s!)? When we feel lonely, depressed, or just feel like company, there will always be somebody available to connect to. As much as this seems like a good thing, its actually robbing us of some much needed face-to-face time with friends which has been shown to have a positive impact on our health. So although it’s fine to hop on Facebook when we’re feeling a little lonely, be sure to also make time for those face-to-face interactions.
What’s more, when we do finally get together with others, our interactions are not the same. The sight of people sitting down to a meal at a restaurant all staring into their phones is so common that some restaurants have taken the extreme step of banning mobiles.
2. Facebook has helped us retain special memories: Originally introduced three years ago, the ‘On-this-day’ function, as the name suggests, showed us our Facebook highlights from the current date in previous years. Now, easily accessible as “Memories”, it shows everything from our previous Facebook posts, posts we were tagged in, friendship anniversaries, photos we have posted, and the newer animated recap from the past month or season.
This is definitely one of my favourite features of Facebook. It not only helps me to remember milestones but more importantly it helps me to remember the beautiful memories and funny incidents involving my children. Like the time I found my little girls had fallen asleep in bed together, sweetly cuddling one another. Or the photo I took of the drawing my then 4-year-old made, perfectly capturing her anger at my husband who didn’t let her run across the road and forcibly held her hand. These are all memories I cherish. Most of them would have been long forgotten if it wasn’t for Facebook and seeing the yearly reminders always bring a smile to my face.
3. Facebook has changed how we share photos: As somebody who has lots of family overseas, this is another feature that I really appreciate. Long gone are the days where I would prepare photos well in advance and physically send them overseas, now my relatives can see photos of our family regularly. They can watch them grow and feel closer to us in a way which was never possible before. Similarly, friends who live far away or just rarely get to see us can still share in our lives, and suddenly the time and distance doesn’t seem so large anymore.
4. Facebook has changed how we perceive others’ lives: One of the downsides to photo sharing is this perception that others have amazing and perfect lives. Let’s face it, we are very selective when it comes to photo sharing. I could cook a hundred relatively boring meals, nothing pic worthy, but that one impressive looking meal I cook all year (not necessarily indicative of its taste) is going on Facebook. Similarly, I don’t photograph the days we spend at home, in our plain home clothes surrounded by clutter. Instead, I photograph our outings and holidays, with our temporary picturesque surrounds and the rare occasions that my children are being civil to one another. The result? Our lives look almost picture perfect, a far cry from reality.
On the plus side, this has lead to attempts to counter these unrealistic standards through photos and descriptions of reality. Often shared by celebrities, but also normal everyday people, these posts are about everything from post-birth bodies, makeup-less faces, and particularly bad days as a parent. They normalise the hard slogs, the unglamourous mundane days of our lives, and remind us that at the end of the day, despite appearances to the contrary, we are basically all the same. More importantly, they help rid us of the impossible standards we start to expect of ourselves.
5. Facebook has changed how we consume news: Facebook has not only changed the way we access news, but it has also changed the type of news we access. I rarely watch news through television anymore, often relying on whatever news articles my Facebook friends share to learn what is happening in the world. There are positives and negatives to this. The positive is that the big news corporations are losing their domination, they are no longer alone in dictating what is and what isn’t newsworthy. Additionally, they can no longer restrict the opinions we are exposed to. The negative is that this can be rather insular, learning about a very small spread of news that people who share similar characteristics, views and values as ourselves find newsworthy. Ideally, news should extend us, inform us of what is occurring around the world, and sometimes even challenge some of our current perspectives. Facebook does not do this perfectly, but have we ever had perfection? And is this the role of Facebook?
Facebook seems to think so and has recently accepted some responsibility for how news filters through its platform by taking measures to reduce the incidence of fake news. Although this looks like a great initiative, the ease with which the fake news label can quickly turn into a form of censorship and a way of controlling information is of concern. Hopefully, the right balance is found, but given how these things normally work I’m not holding my breath.
6. Facebook has changed motherhood: Another one of my favourite things about FaceBook is the communities it builds, particularly for new mothers. As a new mother, it is tough at the best of times, you have hundreds of questions, particularly if you’re a first-time mum. Beyond the practical help, these groups for new mothers can be a life-line. Sometimes, just when you’re at breaking point, when it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you don’t know how long you can keep doing this for, just being able to open up, pour your heart out, and have somebody there who knows exactly how you’re feeling is invaluable. The birth of my first was a very lonely experience. Going from working full time and constantly seeing people, to having little communication with anybody for the first few months, made a difficult time even more difficult. Thanks to Facebook (and to a lesser degree forums) those days are long gone.
7. Facebook has changed how we spend our time: Although the average person spends 35 minutes a day on Facebook, there is little doubt that many of us spend way too much time on Facebook. Most of us have our good and bad days and often justify it by using it during our downtime, while waiting for appointments, or instead of television. The problem is when we use it when we rest at home, it often leaves us unavailable for our families during a time we used to be available and we don’t really know the effect this will have on relationships, particularly with our children. It is rumoured that Facebook is working on an app to monitor our usage to help remedy this. It will be interesting whether this will have an impact on our usage, only time will tell.
What started as a way for college students to connect has grown into one of the world’s largest social networks. Not all the changes described above are specific to Facebook, they do, however, all feature strongly within this platform. There is no doubt that Facebook can be a useful tool, but as with many things in life, there can also be many drawbacks. The trick is to use it wisely, that way we can reap the benefit without succumbing to the harm.