I’m sure we’ve all been struck, in some form or another, by how much social media (particularly Facebook), is changing our social world. Two observations (positive and negative) regarding these changes have struck me in particular.
Facebook recently reminded me of a book I read several years ago called, “Mutant Message Down Under,” by Marlo Morgan. One of many things Morgan discussed was the (possibly fictional, but certainly wonderful) idea of the “unbirthday.” The unbirthday was an Australian Aboriginal day to celebrate whatever growth in one’s own development. Rather than arbitrarily celebrating a day because the Earth has traveled around the sun once more since you were born, Marlow said, “…if you are a better person this year than last, and only you know it for certain, then you call a party. When you say you are ready, everyone honors that.” I always thought the unbirthday was a brilliant concept, but whoever calls attention to life’s little achievements?
Facebook allows us to do this. We can post things that we are happy about, sad about, crazy about, or whatever, and instantly… all of our “friends” (and acquaintances) can chime in with a “like” or a comment. For me personally, this felt wonderful with recent milestones such as teaching my son to ride his bike, completing my dissertation and doctorate, or having my first journal article accepted by a peer-reviewed journal in my field. I could tell the world, and moments later the congratulations and positive feedback started rolling in.
But what have we possibly lost through the advent of Facebook?
A psychological theory called “Object Relations” suggests that as children, we build a sense of “object constancy.” In other words, we learn that important figures in our lives will still remember us and love us when we are apart and that they will remain loved fixtures for us as well. Reality is such that we cannot always be physically in the presence of those we love, but those “love objects” can remain for us (and vice versa) within the imagination. Sometimes, “transitional objects” like a blankie, etc. can facilitate the holding of a love object in one’s imagination, providing a sense of security. I was reminded of this when my father-in-law loaned my boy “his” toy train for safe keeping while they were apart. I was reminded of it again when my son eagerly asked me to take his toy helicopter with me to the gym the other day.
Okay, but Facebook?
People do not keep in touch like they used to. How often do you leave or receive messages without ever getting or giving a response? The current cohort of teenagers and college students are notorious for it, but they are certainly not alone. I think Facebook has something to do with it. We can keep tabs on all our friends and loved ones, without having to ever actually see them or speak with them. And, even if we don’t actively keep tabs, we know that by flipping on our computers, we can get a quick update, see their most recent life event, and likely see pictures or even video of it. Facebook has become our modern day transitional object. The perk is that we feel secure that our relationships are alive while we are separate. The downside? I’d argue that something is missed by having less real time vocal conversation, whether it is “f2f” (face to face, amongst texting teens), or on the phone.