“Fuck you. It’s over.”
Are you sure? Action cannot be undone.
By selecting “OK” your account will be permanently deleted. Continue?
“Yes. No…wait. I didn’t mean it! Give me another chance, we’ll be happy together.” I tap the cancel button. Facebook and I have a love-hate relationship; I threaten to cut ties yet the fear of being alone always lures me back.
Its five inch screen is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I reach for in the morning. It never leaves my side. Google predicts and answers every question before I ask. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram connect me to everyone and anyone I’ve ever known. Weather, news, shopping, photos, email, text messaging, books, and movies are instantaneous with the mere swipe of a finger. Without question, my life is easier. More accessible. Organized and entertained. But happier? I’m not sure anymore.
My toddler hates my cell phone. When she hears the ding ding of an incoming notification her little eyes look up at me, begging me not to answer, to finish reading her a story or playing dolls with her instead. And I hate myself for needing to check which outlet of communication is demanding my attention, yet at the same time I am grateful for the distraction, the excuse, to interrupt the ten-thousandth reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
It’s brilliant really; removing the human element of interaction enables one to have hundreds of friends who do not require much maintenance aside from the occasional “like” or “comment.” With little to no effort, we are privy to each other’s lives, albeit on a superficial, edited level. The ability to instantly record, share, and communicate life’s joys, successes, and heartaches should create a sense of community, friendship, and happiness right? Right. Except, all too often, we are left wanting and obsessing over the lives and possessions showcased by our Facebook friends.
My husband and I are enjoying a rare evening out–our three-year-old daughter is at home with the sitter. The restaurant is downtown and comfortably high end without being stuffy–white marble tabletops, linen napkins, modern decor–and the food is artistically plated and delicious. Nearby tables are occupied by other couples, families, and professionals. Instead of muted conversations and quiet laughter of our fellow diners, I hear…restaurant musak. Despite the living, breathing person sitting directly across or beside them, nearly everyone is focused on the illuminated screens of their cell phones, absentmindedly shoveling food into their mouths. And, really, I’m no better. So what if I quickly scroll through my timeline, check my email, pin a recipe promising “easy & healthy weeknight meals,” or respond to a text message at the table with my husband? Instant gratification and superficial interaction sure beats casting about for a topic of conversation outside of, “So how was your day honey?” It’s easier to get lost in the time-sucking whirlwind of personality quizzes, hilarious Donald Trump memes, and endless pregnancy and baby photos than to invest your precious free time in an actual conversation with your companion.
Believe me, I get it. A stay-at-home-mom for the past three and a half years, I am just not that interesting. My days only vary depending on whether or not I am able to shower or drink a hot cup of coffee–never both. Every week my daughter and I rotate the same four playgrounds, visit the Children’s Museum or library, and watch re-runs of “Curious George” or “Sofia the First.” So while I can’t really blame my husband for preferring to answer emails or scroll through Flipboard over listening to me discuss the trials of potty-training, a part of me longs for the pre-cellphone days of eye-contact and face-to-face, meaningful conversation.
Social media is a platform perpetuating a “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset. A mindset that often leaves me feeling isolated, cut off from a world filled with happy people, wondering why that elusive feeling of contentment–that I am enough, that I have enough–is missing from my life. While Facebook provides an escape from the monotony of my daily life, it has also become a source of guilt–guilt that I am neglecting my duties as a mother, neglecting my relationship with my husband, and yes, even neglecting my physical friendships–chasing instead the happiness splashed across my friends’ timelines and news feeds.
So, every few months, I end my destructive, addictive, obsessive relationship with Facebook. I pledge to spend more time playing with my daughter, providing her with a varied schedule of enriching activities and excursions. I tell myself that I will do better at calling my friends, in setting up playdates, at having meaningful conversations with those physically present. I challenge myself to limit my forays into social media to an hour a day, a half an hour a day, fifteen minutes a day. I try to write down interesting items of discussion to be discussed with my husband at the dinner table instead of our usual silent scroll and swipe. Am I happier without a constant stream of perfect photos and deliberately worded status updates illuminating my bedroom at night? Yes. But also no–I feel disconnected, like I don’t exist outside of that little blue icon. Is happiness worth it?
Hold on, let me ask Google.
Emily Oman, 2016.