Facebook is too much with us

The subject of this post comes from a Wordsworth poem that begins

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

For a few years now I have watched with bafflement and increasing concern as people have invested more and more of their identities with Facebook. It really started with this story I blogged about. People take unfriending really personally, and to do that they must have their identities REALLY wrapped up in Facebook.

I don’t. I see social media as a mountain stream that I dip my toes in and out of as the mood strikes, and some people—well, I wouldn’t want to go to the mountains with them anyway, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re bad people. Facebook (and Twitter) is a tool to me. It reflects nothing to me about my self-worth. I figure that if someone unfriends me they probably just had too many friends to keep up with or grew tired of photos of puppies or something. No big deal. But increasingly, it IS a big deal to people, and I am alarmed.

My first personal taste of it came when I refriended someone I had unfriended a while back during one of my “I have too many friends” cullings. She sent me a message that said, “Unfriending is forever.” I thought that was diamonds.

Then I dated a man who was so wrapped up in what people thought of him on Facebook that I almost didn’t date him because of it. How self-absorbed and/or insecure do you have to be? He watched his friend count and knew immediately if it dropped from 726 to 725, and he would figure out who had unfriended him and track them down to ask why. It really bothered him. (I have no idea how many friends I have, and if I figure out that I’ve been unfriended it’s usually because I have gone to find a phone number or something and discover that person’s gone.)

And now I unfriended someone who I thought was a pretty close friend. I had even considered being a surrogate for her because she was unable to have a baby and I have no plans for my uterus. We texted nearly daily for more than a year. But on Facebook she constantly wrote about how much she hates nurses. They are stupid and incompetent, and apparently she thinks she has seen more medical professionals that I have, inexplicably (she may have forgotten the “terminally ill father” thing). The bough broke yesterday when another friend commented, “I hope you let that nurse have it.” Readers know I’m tired of nurses being everyone’s favorite whipping post, so I replied that this was not an appropriate interaction style, and the thread disintegrated quickly. I decided that I have enough stress and put-downs in my life without getting upset every time I read Facebook, so I unfriended her and sent her a note about why—stupidly thinking we could retain the other aspects of our friendship that didn’t hurt my feelings and upset me.

No. To her, a Facebook unfriending equates to rejecting her as a person and amounts to me thinking so little of her friendship that I “throw a tantrum” and treat her “like garbage.” She truly believed that my unfriending her was MEANT to hurt her and be spiteful. (My introduction to her of self-protecting boundaries met with a not-so-warm embrace.) So, because I unfriended her on Facebook, she told me never to contact her again and, icing on the cake, told me she didn’t care about me anyway. Truly? Unfriending reasonably deserves his level of meanness?

I’m sure glad I didn’t do the surrogacy thing. You’d think that “I was going to have a baby for you” would really outweigh “I unfriended you to keep from having to read your daily insults about my profession.”

I’m sad at the loss of a friend and upset that a friendship can be so easily distilled to “if you’re not my friend on Facebook, I don’t care about you anyway,” but more than that I am now truly alarmed at the power Facebook has over our lives. I now feel pressure to do or not do certain things on social media to avoid serious repercussions in real life. Which Facebook is not.

Facebook is not real life.

I had to repeat that because the message is getting lost.

The situation is getting serious and real—not just something for sociologists to debate. It’s become a case of “be my friend on Facebook or I will never speak to you again.” Why is it so deeply offensive to not be someone’s friend or to be unfriended? I could understand it better were I speaking of junior-high kids or even teenagers, but grown people?

This society needs to get a grip.