I’ve been a member of Facebook for 8 and a half years now and during that time I have witnessed the social media giant go through a number of changes. Some of those changes came from the company itself like modifications to the look and feel of the site to abrupt changes to their privacy policies (which of course led to scare tactic posts which still sometimes make the rounds). The most impactful changes have come from the users themselves though and the social soup that is Facebook has changed quite a bit over the years. I wasn’t around for the site’s founding so I can only guess what that was like but I remember distinctly the evolutions it has gone through in the user base.
First, there was that initial period of reconnecting with old friends from high school and college and learning what everyone had been up to in the years since we had last seen each other. Oh this person never got married? This one is on marriage number how many now? That one joined the army? …you get the picture. That was fun for awhile and then we all settled into a comfortable social media existence of sharing funny stories involving our kids or cute cat videos.
Every time there was a major election, things would get tense for awhile but then generally settle down after the election back into the sharing of cat videos and girls making duck face for some reason. The 2016 presidential election was different though. Perhaps it was the media that pushed such a divisive narrative of both candidates. Perhaps it is that the internet has matured into this untamed beast that offers an unending supply of political commentary that no one really wants but seeks out anyway. Or just maybe it is us who have changed. We’ve all been using Facebook for so long that we’ve gotten bored with what it has to offer in terms of social connections and so the only thing left is to share our opinions loudly and repeatedly as if anyone’s mind was ever changed by an internet argument.
A few weeks ago I was thinking about writing a blog post about how Facebook has become a place of zombie friendships. Not all Facebook friendship match that description but I am sure that most of us could classify the majority of our Facebook friends that way. The idea being that friendships in the real world often fade away due to life circumstances and new friendships form as our lives go in different directions. But thanks to Facebook and other social media, these friendships are kept alive in some kind of zombiefied state where we don’t really know the people anymore and probably haven’t seen most of them in years but still have this tenuous connection to them via the internet. The result is that we often don’t move on from these undead friendships like would normally happen and so our growth as human beings is stunted because we aren’t seeking out new friendships that should have taken their place.
And that is where Facebook’s slow death comes in. Most of our social media friendships are old and tired and in a lot of cases there isn’t much holding them together anymore. If Billy from your highschool has become a skinhead or something 15 years after graduation, it is pretty safe to say that you don’t have much in common anymore and the political view points that Billy espouses probably don’t resonate with you at all. Let’s hope not anyway.
So here we are, several months removed from the 2016 presidential election and the anger and political postings have not subsided on Facebook. I’ve chosen to block links from overly-politicized news sources over and over again in the past few months but certain individuals just keep finding new ones to post. So I started taking it a step further by unfollowing these folks altogether. I haven’t unfriended them yet and maybe I should but for some reason I keep hanging on to these zombie friendships just like everyone else does.
One thing I know for sure is that if we don’t all get back to stories about how cute our kids are and funny cat videos, that Facebook will die a slow death. Maybe that would be for the best. After all, the real world certainly has more to offer.