Although the literal art of tightrope walking is not such a popular sport, except for among circus folk, I feel like my friends and I walk one every day. Oddly enough, I also feel like we’ve joined a circus in which we balance on a thin wire between following socially acceptable norms in a technology-driven society and slipping into the gray area between anonymity and overexposure.
It’s been less than four years since I first logged on to Facebook at the encouragement of friends who I was studying with in Germany. It was so we could share photos and keep in contact with each other once we returned home and scattered across the United States.
On Monday when I logged in to Facebook to update the Sparks Tribune’s page, I was bombarded with a flood of benign status updates: It’s snowing in Las Vegas, New Year’s resolutions, Mondays are horrible, mobile phone self-portrait uploads, etc.
But then there are the updates that are important: engagement announcements, college acceptances, moving, pregnancies and deaths in the family. All of these tightropes are traversed on Facebook with careful steps of the fingers.
A few years ago, the important updates rarely, if at all, appeared on my Facebook page. Most of what trickled onto my page were the frivolous posts. But with age comes change and with change comes new rules by which to abide. With the popularity and near necessity of social networking in people’s lives anymore, how do people decide what to post and how to say it?
A while back, a friend of mine confided in me that she believed deleting her Facebook account would remove a lot of anxiety from her life. She said she was overwhelmed by the stress of her bosses seeing posts and photos that to her might be harmless but to them could look unfavorable, and by the relationship problems caused by flirty Facebook posts from other women toward her boyfriend. Without Facebook, the stress social networking was inflicting on her life would be removed.
I listened to my friend’s complaints and whole-heartedly agreed with her. If it wasn’t an enjoyable way to communicate with others, then why continue doing it?
However, that’s the problem. What is being communicated? I have learned of friends’ marriages and pregnancies, travel plans and future endeavors, heartbreaks and happinesses through social networking. But I can honestly say that nearly every time a close friend — not the Facebook definition of “friend,” which in real life loosely translates to “acquaintance” — has posted life-changing information on the site, I wished I would have received a phone call instead. Shoot, I would have settled for a text message, or even an e-mail, in most cases. Either way, more personal communication would have been appreciated.
A dip to the left or a slip to the right on the typing tightrope could mean irreparable damage to real relationships. The relationships with family and friends are the relationships our society puts the most value in but are slowly being destroyed by social networking.
I have found myself pondering more frequently the role of social networking in my life and can admit to myself it is time to curtail my involvement with it. I do not want to become someone who cannot write a thank you note because I believed a wall post was adequate. I do not want to be the person who posts photos with the intent of receiving a multitude of comments about them. I refuse to announce my life’s accomplishments and milestones on Facebook first.
Instead, I want to look my family and friends in the eye or hear their voices when I have something important to say. That’s the least I can do for them after all they’ve done for me.
Cortney Maddock is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.