Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Friends Are and Why I Left Facebook

I left Facebook recently. I left behind a lot. I had over 1,000 friends. Many of them I had met while traveling the world. Without Facebook, I will likely never hear from them again. I used Facebook as a storage location for lots of pictures and memories. Now that I am off Facebook, those tokens will be lost for me. I play in a band and I used Facebook to get people to come to shows and events as well as to stay in the loop with other peoples’ shows and events. Now that I am off Facebook, it will be much more difficult to know when events are occurring or to get lots of people together in one place at one time.

Facebook can be used in very positive ways. If I was only using it in the above ways, I would have never left.

I left Facebook because I was also using it in unhealthy, destructive ways. I was using Facebook to construct an identity for myself and other people. I was using vague status updates that more than 1,000 people saw as a way to get someone (anyone!) to fulfill a need that I had to feel loved, supported, and accepted. I was using Facebook as a soap box to stand on and champion my own self righteous ideas about how the world should work. Sometimes I was posting things on Facebook because I wanted certain people to see and I wanted to hurt them or show them they are wrong in discreet, underhanded ways. I substituted Facebook for real human interaction and communication.

I’m young and I’m learning a lot right now. I’m learning about myself and why I feel the way I feel. I’m learning how to honestly communicate my feelings to other people. I’m learning how to be a good friend and how to love another person. I’m learning how to listen to and understand other people. I’m learning how to forgive people and let them grow. I’m learning how to admit that I’m wrong and imperfect and realize that I still deserve love. I’m learning that every other person in this world is just as intricate and complex as I am. I’m learning that no one is good and no one is bad…we are all stumbling through this confusing world trying to figure things out in our own ways at our own pace.

Facebook was enabling some horrible misconceptions I had about the world: Mistakes are permanent, friends are disposable, and peoples’ entire identity and intentions can be extracted from minimal information. I was basing my ideas about people on some really non-human things; Specifically, lines of text or images.

Text is perhaps the worst way possible to communicate. Intentions are entirely lost. There are people that base their entire lives on debating what fantastic writers of literature meant when they wrote certain things. We compromise everything beautiful and heart-felt about interpersonal communication when we surrender to the convenience of communicating via written text.

Here’s a really bad habit I have: misunderstanding, simplifying, and compartmentalizing people. I think I’m not alone on this bad habit. I think we all distill other people into static, one dimensional shadows cast from our own assumptions and projections.

When I was using Facebook, I was projecting an image of myself that I wanted the world to see. We should always be suspicious of the self that is edited and designed for public eyes. That’s not a real person. That’s a shadow person.

Real people are so complex that it takes a life time to figure them out, even if you live inside of one’s body. We like to forget that. We like to simplify people. We do this when we disagree with someone or when we feel hurt or threatened by them. We also do this when we admire and idolize someone. We like to categorize people like this: evil asshole or perfect being who could do no wrong.

We don’t take the time to consider other peoples’ experience, their insecurities and the intricate ways they rationalize things or respond to different inputs. Why don’t we do this? Because we have compartmentalizing brains that function via association. We are quite literally taking stimuli from outside of ourselves and sorting it into different physical locations in our brains based on categories that we have created throughout our lives.

Check out this this awesome research done at University of California, Berkeley where subjects got an MRI while they watched movie trailers with all the objects and actions labeled on the screen. With the data from the MRI, researchers were actually able to map the areas to which people categorize different objects and actions. You can play with the brain map!! Check it out:

To really know someone, you might need to have a category that contains only that one person with thousands of subcategories for all their intricacies, experiences, mannerisms, life-patterns, ect…

Facebook allows us to “know” so many people that we couldn’t possibly KNOW any of them.  We need to create over-arching categories and make sure people are simple enough that they fit neatly inside of them.

Category: people you don’t like. People in this category do these things and act this way. Someone you like could never do those things or act that way. If they do, you need to switch their compartment…quick!

Facebook makes our friends seem disposable. The minute they step outside of the box we’ve created for them, we can delete them from our lives in one mouse click. Or, even if we don’t delete them…we can decide that we don’t like them anymore and feel justified in our reasoning. Facebook makes the number of people available to us as friends seem infinite. Why take the time to figure out why one person is saying things that hurt/annoy/offend you when you could simply delete them or ignore them and find another friend who is a perfect shadow person and could do no wrong?

We hurt people because we misunderstand and simplify them. This is what humans do. We’ve done it forever. I happen to be in Europe right now. I’m staying in Brno. I went to this labyrinth of tunnels under the city and saw a dungeon where people were imprisoned and tortured. There was an exhibit of a cage where they used to put mentally handicapped people. In this part of the world during the middle ages, the explanation for mental retardation was an obsession with the devil. The cages were sized so that these people couldn’t stand up or lay down. It was built to be physically exhausting and uncomfortable. They would be put on public display inside of the cage. The mentally disabled people had no idea what was going on or why they were being tortured.

This is obviously not the only example in history of persecution based on misunderstanding and making assumptions about people. In fact, I’m willing to suggest that this is the cause of every single historical event involving any sort of violence. We come up with overly simple reasons for why people behave in ways we don’t understand. These reasons tend to be that they are just evil, they are just BAD people. This allows us to be as cruel to them as we want.

I left Facebook because it’s giving me the tools I need to make negative assumptions about people based on limited evidence. I left Facebook because I was using it to project an untrue and simplified image of myself and what my life is like. I left Facebook because I felt like none of my experiences were authentic anymore; like I was just doing things so I could tell Facebook about it and make myself seem however I wanted to seem to other people at the time.

I recently lost a friend that I care about a lot due to mutual misunderstanding, negative assumptions, and communication solely via written text. I don’t want that to happen again. I want to understand my friends. I want friends that require time, open-hearted communication, listening and understanding. I want friends that confuse and frustrate me until we decide that we love and value each other enough to hash it out and figure out where we are both coming from. I want friends that let me grow and change. I want friends that forgive me for sometimes pissing them off with the way I am learning how to deal with this world. I want friends that communicate with me in person so I can hear their voice, their story, their intentions, so that I can hold their hand and see their expression when they deliver their words.

 I want real friends. I want to live for real and stop living for pretend. I want to be completely honest about who I am and what I’m feeling. I want to be understood. I want to understand people. These are my main goals in life right now. Facebook is not helping me get there. I’m breaking up with all my Facebook friends until I learn what real friends are and how to tell the difference. 

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