As an expat and freelance editor and writer working mainly from home, battling procrastination on a daily basis, I’m on Facebook a lot. It’s the virtual equivalent of people watching in a favourite café – with the added benefit that you actually know the people and can interact with their lives. Which can be both a good and a bad thing, depending on my mood – and has also made me especially aware of the things I like and dislike about it. At the risk of sounding like someone who mostly inhabits a sad virtual world instead of the real one, these are some of the things I’ve learnt from Facebook:
1.If citizen journalism is taking over the world, citizen PR, which Facebook pioneered, comes a close second. It’s the perfect opportunity to present your best self to the world – edited highlights only.
2. Which should come with a disclaimer: it can be bad for your health. I can’t count the number of times I’ve depressed myself looking at the perfect, activity-filled lives of my friends – until I realize they’re probably thinking the same of my life.
3. You can never have too many ‘likes.’ A post without likes is rather like seeing someone standing all alone at a party. Liking someone else’s post is also a wonderfully simple way to show you care.
4. The number of friends you have means nothing. I have more than 700. Despite that, I can go a day or two without speaking to a real person. It’s like cable TV – you can have 500 channels and there’s still nothing you feel like watching.
5. There’s a virtual voyeur in all of us. It’s incredible how easy it is to find yourself perusing some random person’s profile in a ‘brief’ break from the job at hand.
6. It’s possible to learn stuff. Good stuff. Interesting/quirky/funny posts that I’d never have come across otherwise (unless I was on Twitter, in which case I’d be completely overwhelmed and vow never to venture online again).
7. It’s also possible to deepen your relationships. Some of my favourite Facebook friends are people I’ve met briefly but really got to appreciate online, when I discovered we shared similar values/senses of humour/political beliefs.
8. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.
9. Pithy, inspirational quotes are over-rated. I appreciate the sentiment – I’m a sucker for a good Rumi quote myself – but the best ones have done the rounds too often.
10. Humour is definitely subjective.
11. People like good news. And they like to ‘like’ good news. I’ve come to the conclusion that affirming someone else’s good fortune makes us all feel like better human beings. Which also reaffirms my faith in human nature.
12. I get a buzz every time I see the red number – because I have no idea who’s trying to contact me or has just done or said something relevant, and it’s happening in real time. The potential for pleasant (and unpleasant) surprises is infinite.
13. The majority of people want to be nice. I’ve bared my soul on more than a few occasions and I’ve been genuinely touched by the responses I’ve received.
14. It’s addictive – partly because it taps into our baser instincts: the need for control, instant gratification, gossip. But it also satisfies a deeper human urge – the need to connect, to find commonality, to share.
15. There’s no such a thing as a typical Facebook user. My friends comprise all ages, nationalities, political beliefs, sexualities, religions and taste levels, which makes my newsfeed a pretty interesting place.
There’s an argument you hear a lot these days that the Internet has increased the quantity, but reduced the quality, of our communications with each other. I’m not sure I buy into that – I think it’s entirely possible to have both, and to deepen your relationships in simple and surprising ways.
Because the older I get, the more I realise how important it is to connect and stay connected to people, and Facebook’s helped me do that in a way that was impossible just five years ago. For that, I’m grateful.