Confessions of a Facebook Junkie

Who does and doesn’t use the wildly popular social network that has changed the way we live – and why.

By
May 19, 2016 13:17
Facebook headquarters

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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First, a little story.

On September 3, 1970, I left my home and family, hopped on a Trailways bus in Boston’s Park Square and headed for New York City to attend college at NYU. When I came home again for the midyear break, I decided to visit a high-school friend who had “stayed behind” in Boston to attend college at Harvard. Sitting in his dorm room in Harvard Yard (and yes, we do pronounce it “Hahvahd Yahd”), I got up to peruse my friend’s bookshelves while he was off somewhere buying us something to drink.

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I saw what I thought was our high-school yearbook. Wondering why anyone would want to bring that album of bad memories along with him to college, I took it down and discovered that the book was quite something else. If memory serves, it was titled Harvard University and Radcliffe College Class of 1974 Student Directory, and it contained the name and picture of every student in the freshman class, along with personal information, as well as a few lines of whatever each person wanted to say about him or herself, with perhaps an amusing comment or inspiring quote.



When my friend returned with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of potato chips, he glanced at me and said, “Oh, I see you’ve found the face book.” I looked up at him and said, “Face book”? He smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s what we call it. Mostly, we look at the pictures of the Radcliffe girls and decide which ones we’ll try to hit on. The Radcliffe girls look at our pictures and decide the same thing about us.”

Time and tide washed this conversation to the deepest recesses of my mind until decades later, when I started to hear about this new thing on the Internet called Facebook.

When I began to hear and read about it several times a day and caught a glimpse of it on a computer over my then-teenage daughter’s shoulders, I asked someone if they knew who was running this thing.



“A kid in his early 20s named Mark Zuckerberg,” I was told. I pondered this a moment and said, “Wait. Let me guess. This Zuckerberg kid went to Harvard, right?”

I joined Facebook in 2007 and have been on it almost every day since. It is the first place I go to when I turn on my computer in the morning, and it is the last place I visit before turning it off late at night. In between, I find myself there multiple times during the day, for quick checks on the state of the world, for updates on the news, for feeds from more than 100 groups that I have either joined or “liked” – which includes everything from Secret Tel Aviv to Native North American Indian Old Photos – for amusing political memes and, of course, to see posts and messages from family and friends.

Some of the latter are actual friends whom I have known, in some cases, since childhood. Others are virtual friends whom I have met on Facebook. But there are a significant number whom I really don’t know – friends of friends I have met on Facebook who have added me as one of their friends, thus becoming my friends, as well as friends of these new friends, who have sent me friend requests.

I flit in and out of Facebook every day to see how all my friends are doing: their joys and sorrows, their successes and failures, their loves and “likes,” not to mention pictures of their breakfasts, lunches and dinners. But just as important, I flit in and out of Facebook every day to see how I am doing: reactions to my posts, comments on my posts, how many likes I got on my posts and a sense of how many people – if any – are actually reading my posts. It’s more than just an ego thing, really. After almost a decade of all this, I have decided that my brain must be secreting a chemical while I’m on Facebook to which I have become addicted.

I am a Facebook junkie.

AND I am not alone. According to recent statistics from an outfit called Zephoria Digital Marketing, there are more than 1.65 billion monthly active Facebook users worldwide, with an annual 15-percent increase. As of last March, 1.09 billion people were logging onto Facebook every day. Five new profiles are created every second, and the Like and Share buttons are viewed across 10 million websites daily.

Uploads of photographs – of users, users’ family members, friends, pets, meals, activities, vacation spots, etc. – total 300 million every day. And every 60 seconds, 510 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. And in the most recent confirmed statistics, 16 million local business pages were created as of May 2013, representing a 100% increase from eight million in June 2012.

And, like the Internet itself, Facebook long ago abandoned its cachet as being exclusively for the young, the cool and the avant garde. In fact, many of those under age 18 barely use Facebook, preferring Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Pew Research Center statistics indicate that 72% of all Internet users in the US use Facebook; 82% of Internet users between the ages of 18 and 29, 79% of users 30-49, 64% of those 50-64, and 48% of users 65 and above. Sixty-six percent of men on the Internet use Facebook, 77% of Internet women. Use is more or less evenly divided among urban, suburban and rural Internet users, as well as among different education and income levels.

Facebook has truly created the “global village” that Marshall McLuhan envisioned more than 50 years ago.

AND YET, not everyone has chosen to become a member of this constantly growing village. For more than 20 years, Rabbi Stewart Weiss has been a prominent religious leader in Israel. He is a popular teacher, accomplished author, gifted speaker, director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana and Jerusalem Post columnist.

He does not, however, use Facebook.

Why not? “I have nothing against Facebook,” the rabbi says. “In fact, my son-in-law works for Facebook, and all my kids are semi-addicted to it. And no doubt it does great things, connecting people and creating/ renewing relationships across the globe. I have no doubt that the Messiah will absolutely have his own Facebook page, which will allow him to easily and effectively reach the masses.

“But I have restrained my computer mouse and refrained – so far – from joining the club. I’m concerned that there is altogether too much information ‘out there,’ too much of our lives laid bare for all to see. Do I really need to know what my friend’s third cousin had for lunch yesterday? While sharing is indeed a virtue, there are inherent drawbacks – such as a breach of privacy, depersonalization and a lack of modesty – that can occur when publicly broadcasting too many details of what we are all about.

“Mass media has its benefits, to be sure, but so does retaining a bit of mystery.”

Many people assume that Facebook refusers are mostly older people, like my 92-year-old father who does not use the Internet, own a computer, have anything whatsoever to do with a cellphone and finally, reluctantly, gave up his rotary-dial telephones when he realized he could not respond to recorded messages such as “To make reservations or speak to a sales representative, press 1.” Surprisingly enough, however, many younger people continue to refuse Facebook’s many blandishments – even here in Israel, one of the world’s major hi-tech hubs.

Natan Schecter is an electrical engineer, and his wife, Elana, works for the Israel Police. He, born and raised in Israel, is 31 years old; she, an immigrant from the United States, is 30. Neither of them is on Facebook.

Says Natan, “You ask me why I’m not on Facebook, and I ask you why should I be on Facebook? It’s not that I am against Facebook or don’t like Facebook, it’s just that I don’t see any reason to be on it. If I want to talk to a friend, I can call him and talk to him on the phone. If I want to find out how my friends and family are, I call them or they call me, and we talk.”

Asked about Elana, Natan replies, “She used to have Facebook, but she got rid of it. She didn’t want pictures of our children on Facebook. It was an issue of privacy.

But we don’t want this to come out as ‘We hate Facebook and refuse to touch it.’ We’re not anti-Facebook, it’s just something we never connected to.”

Other young people fall into a loosely defined group of individuals who are on Facebook but are ambivalent about being there. A particularly eloquent representative of this group is author and journalist Mya Guarnieri, who joined after years of resolutely avoiding it.

“I think it’s a time suck,” she details. “I think it and other forms of social media leave people fragmented and unable to concentrate in a deep way. I think it interferes with one’s ability to relax; I think social media breeds anxiety. I think that social media is intolerant of ‘realness’ – that is, there’s a pressure to be positive all the time, to put up pictures of oneself looking happy and fabulous and in some amazing place, and that’s not the reality of life. These edited versions of life put pressure on users.

“I also have an issue with the ‘friendships’ that are forged online. There are people who friended me on Facebook who, in reality, wouldn’t sit and have coffee with me. And I find something about that to be unsettling.”

As for positives, Guarnieri says, “On a personal level, it’s a good way to keep in touch with friends who, for whatever reason, aren’t so into emailing or Skyping. It seems that chatting on Facebook messenger has replaced emailing.”

And on a professional level, she adds, “I think Facebook does nothing for me professionally other than allowing me to keep in touch with some colleagues and acquaintances and see what they’re working on. These are people who I wouldn’t be emailing or Skyping with, so I guess it broadens my professional circle a bit.”

On balance, however, Guarnieri remains less than enthused about the presence of Facebook in her life.

“When I left Israel and the West Bank and moved to south Florida, I found myself in a situation where I knew no one, had no friends, no work, no nothing. It was very difficult, and I was very lonely. I got on Facebook as a way to see what was going on in my community back home – that is, in Israel and the West Bank. But while I got on in hope of feeling a little less lonely and in hope of staying connected, in some ways I feel that being on Facebook makes me feel lonelier and more isolated. Seeing pictures of my friends out and about in places I used to frequent just reminds me that I’m not there.

“I guess what I’m trying to say about my relationship to Facebook is that I got on it to alleviate my loneliness and, rather, I find that loneliness sharpened.”



Flux CEO Karin Kloosterman (Courtesy)

STILL, CONSIDERING the fact that Facebook now boasts almost two billion users, it is perhaps not surprising that most of them are more enthusiastic than Guarnieri about this social medium.

Says entrepreneur Karin Kloosterman, CEO of flux (www.fluxiot.com), “I use Facebook for two reasons. One is to connect to people far away, people I have known since childhood, to give them updates, to check progress. The other reason is really professional. I follow people I work with or who I’d like to know in order to build deeper professional relationships.”

“Unlike Instagram or Twitter, Facebook is really intended for building inner circle relationships,” she continues. “I recently friended Kimbal Musk, and he accepted.

He is [business magnate] Elon Musk’s brother and builds farm-to-fork restaurants in the US. I am courting him to join the advisory of my start-up, flux. I am building a robot to help anyone become an urban farmer. Gaining his friendship on Facebook is really like being in the inner chambers of his society.

“Whenever someone friends me, I too think about whether or not this person should be part of my personal and professional inner circle. On top of relationship building, I use Facebook as a news feed. I follow urban gardening and agriculture companies around the world to keep on top of the news in my field.”

The Facebook page of Ilana Teitelbaum, author of the fantasy novel Last Song before Night, is always an interesting place to read about fantasy, science fiction, up-and-coming authors and, occasionally, politics.

Teitelbaum recounts, “I’ve been fortunate to meet many fascinating and wonderful people in the course of my life, whether it was in the line of work as a journalist, while traveling or simply from living in cities like Jerusalem and New York. Facebook gives me the opportunity to keep up with these people and even – in a twist – occasionally bring them together in civil discussion. It’s an interest in people that drives my fiction, and that’s largely true of my approach to social media as well.”

Statistics indicate that more than three-fourths of all Facebook users worldwide are female, and from my perspective at least, most of those seem to be writers.

Liza Rosenberg is a full-time technical writer, part-time journalist, married, mother of a 12-year-old boy, originally from upstate New York and living in Israel for the past 25 years. She has been an avid Facebook user for almost 10 years. Why? Well, it’s complicated.

She says, “When I first signed up for Facebook in 2007, my plan was to use it primarily as a networking tool for promoting my writing. I still do that and enjoy making virtual connections with others in the international writing community. But for me, the best thing about Facebook is that it allows me to easily maintain connections with friends and family around the world – something that feels so crucial to me as an expat.

“I love the way it allows us to share in each other’s joys and support one another in times of sorrow,” Rosenberg enthuses. “I love the global exchanges I can have with people living in places I’ve never been. As I am an introvert, Facebook provides a way for me to be social in a way that isn’t draining. As a writer who loves to play with words, I love being able to craft fun, quirky updates and comments whenever the mood strikes. There’s a tremendous amount of nonsense on Facebook, but for me it is far outweighed by the meaningful connections and reconnections I’ve made and the fascinating exchanges I’ve had.”



Chaim Weissmann (Courtesy)

And lest anyone conclude that Facebook is mostly for the young, Jerusalem resident and Facebook user Chaim Weissmann declares, “I am almost 68, the same age as Israel. I enjoy Facebook because of the ease of exchanging pictures and news among relatives and friends around the world. I helped my 93-year-old aunt get on Facebook, and she loves it for the ability to see her family around the globe easily.

“Facebook has been particularly helpful since my family made aliya from the US four years ago. We are able to hear quickly about life-cycle events, see pictures, exchange recipes and feel like we are still part of people’s lives. In addition, Facebook has been helpful with sites like Secret Jerusalem and Keep Olim in Israel, to inform us about local news of interest to olim. I am the CEO of Horizon Academy in South Africa, and Facebook allows us to let our parents and supporters know of our activities.

“In sum, Facebook has become a daily essential part of our everyday lives. We have friends our age who disdain Facebook like the plague; but as you can see, we utilize it for its best features.”

AND FINALLY, back to me. In addition to the reasons for my Facebook addiction noted at the beginning of this article, there is one more, and it has to do with milking cows.

Around 13 years ago, I was privileged to interview the late Chayym Zeldis, the acclaimed Israeli-American novelist and poet. Jerzy Kosinski called him “a masterful novelist.” Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rhodes said his novel Brothers was “monumental.” Elie Wiesel, discussing his novel The Brothel, said that “his knowledge of history is as amazing as his skill in using it” and that his novel The Geisha’s Granddaughter sang “with a melody that seems to come from new depths.”

Novelist Henry Miller said his writing had a “magical quality… very strong, very compelling.” Novelist, essayist and short-story writer Cynthia Ozick has compared his poetry to that of Thomas Hardy.

And memoirist Harry Golden said it ranked with that of Carl Sandburg.

During the interview, Zeldis told me, “Long ago, I worked on a kibbutz. My job was to milk cows. And I learned that if you milk every day, you get more and more milk. If you stop milking, the milk dries up. It’s the same with writing. If you don’t milk your subconscious every day, you’re not going to get anything.” He advised me to set aside a little time for myself every day to write, to write something, to write anything, in order to keep the creative juices flowing.

So that’s what I do. I milk the cow – a little bit every day – on Facebook.

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