Face it. You didn’t know how to use Facebook when you first used Facebook. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you don’t know how to use Facebook right now. You thought that it would be a great place to keep in touch with friends and family, and that you’d love having that constant stream of information flowing your way at all times. Well, do you?
From my point of view, the thing about Facebook is that it makes you aware of stuff you would have never known about in its absence. Old girlfriend from high school had her husband killed in Mexico and stuffed into the back of a car at a border crossing, leading her to raise her two children by herself, only to have them taken by the state when she was convicted of an unspeakable crime, and now living on her own in a big city down in the South? You would have never known that. But, because of Facebook, you know that now and that knowledge lives rent-free inside your head.
Fifty years ago, people would move out of your neighborhood and you probably would never hear from them again unless you somehow kept in touch. Even then, you had to write letters by hand and pay the postal service to deliver them. Keeping in touch with people took work, so only the relationships that were worth it were the ones you worked for. Now, keeping in touch is incredibly easy, and you become lazy in allowing people into your head. Some of those people are downright weird, even if they’re brilliant.
Far be it for me to tell you if this is healthy or not. For some people it is. For others, it’s incredibly detrimental. There was a guy I used to work with who had an honest-to-goodness mental health crisis over the stuff he read on Facebook about his family. And what can I possibly tell you about how the 2016 election was shaped by things people saw on Facebook? And, of course, there are the couple hundred people I’ve blocked on Facebook because of their interactions with me, their interactions with friends, their beliefs about Mexicans, and/or their beliefs about science. (Religious beliefs are tolerated.)
Future generations, I hope, will learn how to use this technology a little bit better than we do. I certainly will have to work with Baby Ren to teach her that there is a limit to how much she should safely share online, and how much she should worry about people she doesn’t see on a daily basis. And, of course, I’ll have to teach her how to discern between fake stuff and real stuff posted online. Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to it.
For now, I just have to be aware of Facebook posts’ influences on me and don’t let them affect my life. Yeah, my cousins are hardcore antivaxxers all of a sudden. Sure, my friend is on their 4th relationship in as many months. And, yeah, I blocked the (bleep) out about 150 people over their endorsement of the guy who called me a rapist. But I’ve been scaling back and letting the bots do most of my work… And using it to post pictures and ask poll questions.
Fewer people live rent-free in my head.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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