Facing Up to Facebook

I have had many invitations to be a member of Facebook but from the very beginning of its inception I had a huge resistance to it. Since the days of Socrates’ call for individuals to ‘know self’ there has been a philosophical, psychological and spiritual momentum in that inner direction. Both Buddha and Christ call on us to ‘love self’ and, indeed, there are ancient Indian and Chinese texts that announce that ‘it is the Self that should be known and it is the Self that should be loved.’ Lao Tzu, the Chinese sage claims that ‘it is wise to know self and learned to know another.’ Rumi, the thirteenth century Sufi poet, wrote that ‘a person only becomes an adult when he takes responsibility for Self and for all his own actions.’ In more modern times, psychologists like Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis and many others urge us to take the longest and most exciting journey inwards to Self. It is my belief that Facebook has become the greatest distraction from that most important interior work.

The designer of Facebook claims that connection is the goal – clearly connection with others and not with self. It would appear that the quality of that connection does not appear important, indeed, the quality of relationship and what’s shared on Facebook is both weak and superficial – it is also virtual. There is a false jollity, a fake friendliness and a self-promoting that reeks of personal insecurity. In any case, information hugely under-represents relationship. Love intimacy and friendship are primarily non-verbal in nature; it is the warmth and regard in the eyes, the respect in the tone of voice, the genuineness of the facial expression, the spontaneity of expression, the open body posture and silent holding that represents friendship and intimacy. There is no computer language that can ever capture the true nature of friendship and, even more importantly, the uniqueness of the person. It is primarily through face-to-face contact that we can experience the phenomenon of individual presence and genius.

Facebook invites us to live on the internet but what we really need to do is inhabit our own individuality.  Person is a mystery to others and to the self. Facebook is not worthy of this mystery. When a person becomes a set of data he or she is diminished, lessened and reduced. Individuals are far more interesting than that. Friendship is also reduced by being an exchange of personal trivia. Friendship is far more than that, but most especially it is real and not virtual.

It has become a phenomenon that many people have become addicted to Facebook; when that happens there has to be an emptiness within that needs attending. Facebook totally misses the point that all contact between individuals is totally determined by the nature of the relationship that each party to the friendship has with self. It is certainly the case that where there is absence of intimacy within then, unconsciously, you will seek to fill the void with some substitute behaviour or substance – something that will distract you from inner abandonment – and temporarily ease the pain. However, the challenge with any addictive behaviour or substance is that its effects wear off and you have to intensify the reliance on it so that you don’t plummet into the darkness of not knowing Self. Any addictive response is a cry for help, a crying out for the love, encouragement and support to turn inwards and begin the inner journey to finding what you have hidden – your unique Self.

Trying to control young people’s time on computer and addiction to Facebook will not work. What will work is the building-up of their self-esteem through unconditional love, belief in them, active listening, interest in their unique lives and an ability to sit in love with their inner pain. I have worked with many young men and women who ‘freeze’ when it comes to making real contact with the opposite and, indeed, same gender. Certainly, using Facebook may ease their isolation, but it also puts them at further emotional risk – for example, by bullying responses from the individuals with whom they make contact. What is clear is that membership of Facebook does not help those individuals who have had to hide Self from the many external threats to real Self-expression.

I am that aware that some people use Facebook with discernment and employ it as just one means of developing friendship or intimacy with another. However, because of my strong reservations, I prefer to use mobile texting or email as one of the sometime means of communicating with another. And it goes without saying that nothing compares to living in the real world.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker.  His recent book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s topic.