Good Facebook, Bad Facebook?

Back in the UK, I didn’t have a Facebook app on my phone. My first smartphone had a frustrating tendency to run out of memory if I even considered installing it, and by the time I upgraded the phone, I’d realised that I probably didn’t have the willpower to avoid getting sucked into Facebook while with the children, so I left it off. Moving to Luxembourg felt different, though. It was easy to justify installing it on my shiny new iPhone – after all, we had (still have!) no landline here, so the phone was my one link to the outside world, to “back home”, and Facebook felt like a valid way of keeping in touch & having a comforting link to home. After a few weeks I became aware that the time I was spending on it had been creeping up (I got defensive when my husband tried to point it out, but found Jason Manford more persuasive). The crunch point came for me one night when I’d been close to falling asleep on the sofa shortly after 9pm so went up to bed, only to be caught 20mins later mindlessly scrolling down the comment thread on a random post about a 20 foot shark, too tired to exercise any kind of judgement about what to read or when to stop… So, at the time of writing I’m in the middle of a one week Facebook detox, while I try to disentangle Good Facebook from Bad Facebook and work out how to resolve my ambivalent relationship with it.

Good Facebook:

  1. …helps us keep in touch: My constant stream of “ooh, look at my children” pictures may seem narcissistic, but having just moved abroad I do think it’s important to let friends & family (especially grandparents) see how they are & what they’re up to. Similarly, I love hearing about big events in friends’ lives, and seeing pictures (especially of their rapidly-changing children) while we’re not in the UK. Exchanging occasional comments does feel like a good way of maintaining links and sometimes reconnecting with old friends.
  2. …lets us share what we care about: Shortly before my son was born, this video of a determined baby & this quote about letting children create independently, both of which were chance Facebook finds, had a huge impact on the way I think about parenting and child development. I’m lucky to know people who post informed & insightful commentary on politics and current events, and if it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have read this account of a visit to the Calais refugee camps.  At its best, Facebook lets us share the beliefs and values that are important to us and engage in real discussions.
  3. …is a source of information & inspiration: Confession time: I did break my self-imposed fast once this week (with a witness standing by to ensure I stayed focused!), to check the responses to my question about doctors for children on the ‘Luxembourg Parents’ group. I’m sure I’d be finding it harder to get set up in a new country without groups like this, and I’ve also recently tried out several new ideas for activities with children from a website that I first heard of via a Facebook ‘like’.

Bad Facebook:

  1. …gives an illusion of connection: It’s easy to feel as though you’re keeping in touch with people when you know where they went yesterday & what they ate for dinner, but this sometimes masks the fact that you haven’t actually spoken for weeks, and you have no idea what’s actually going on behind the scenes of all those smiling family photos. (I suggest that we all adopt coded Instagram filters to signal the hidden backgrounds of our picture-perfect lives: perhaps something sepia-toned for “this has been a really stressful day but if I take enough happy pictures I’ll end up remembering it fondly”?) Sanitised public Facebook comment exchanges are also no match for long rambling phone calls peppered with inappropriate humour!
  2. …is a massive time sink: I’ve often opened Facebook with the perfectly reasonable intention of seeing whether there’s any interesting news from people I know, but then got drawn in to indiscriminately clicking on everything that’s presented to me, ‘accidentally’ also reading several related links, and emerging bleary-eyed some time later. (I blame those carefully-written clickbait headlines – I don’t care what the article actually says, but I do kind of want to know whether I agree or disagree with what my friend has ‘liked’…)
  3. …veers towards mob justice: This is a little off-topic as it’s not about my personal use of Facebook, but I’ve been finding the recent trend towards public naming & shaming on Facebook very disturbing. (Most recently, I saw an account of a hit and run which was followed up in the comments with personal details of the owner of the vehicle and plausible threats of violence…)

So, my conclusion? For me, Good Facebook is definitely worth keeping, but I need to remember that it’s no substitute for making time to really keep in touch with phone calls, personal emails etc.  I’m going to leave the app off my phone and just check Facebook once a week or so to avoid wasting too much time on it. And next time I’m having a stressful moment and need to take a break to calm down, I’ll try to do something more positive (dance around the room singing songs from the Muppets movie?) instead of reaching for my phone…

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