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Archive for Monday, February 21, 2011

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Double Take: Facebook assumes troubling role in relationship problems

February 21, 2011

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Wes: A few weeks ago as I sat in my office eating lunch and responding to e-mail, I realized that all four of my morning clients had discussed problems related to Facebook. Obviously I’m cloaking all confidential details, but one woman lost her husband to somebody he’d met on Facebook. A teen admitted that her grades were dropping because she was addicted to Facebook, especially the farm game. One person felt her spouse was too flirtatious while online.

After lunch the trend continued. A college girl’s best friend had, purely as a joke, gotten on her Facebook when she was away and changed her status to “Going into Rehab.” It stuck for several hours before the girl caught it. She not amused, nor was her family. Her minister called to say that he was praying for her.

This trend continued throughout the day until seven out of eight clients had shared a problem that either was directly related to Facebook or had some indirect connection (e.g., “So then he Facebooked me and said ‘I don’t want to be in a serious relationship’ and then he unfriended me!”). I finally asked my last clients of the day if they were here to talk about Facebook. The couple said, “No, but we could if you want to. We’ve got issues there, too.”

On the way home NPR said “The Social Network” might win best picture at the Oscars. Later the news anchors described how Facebook was an essential element in the unrest in Egypt. That night I had a dream about Facebook. It had eaten the world. OK. I made that part up, but the rest is true, even if I scrambled the stories to protect the innocent.

I asked the college girl if her fake trip to rehab didn’t justify resigning Facebook. She looked at me with great wisdom in her eyes and said, “No. You have to understand that Facebook is just a tool. You can use a hammer to drive a nail or hit yourself in the head with it.”

Good point. But in each of these stories and a hundred others, I’ve reached one conclusion: Our power has greatly exceeded our ethics, and nowhere is that truer than on Facebook, where anyone of any age has his or her very own newspaper with worldwide distribution and zero editorial control. So my advice this week is simple: Think before you click. As the circumstances in Egypt confirm this week, we common folk have never held in our hands (and trackpads) anything close to the power of Facebook. For teens and adults, now would be a good time to reflect on how to use it. I’d aim for the nail, not the forehead.

Ben: Social networking. Does it bring us closer or push us apart? People can’t seem to agree on that, but we do agree about one thing: Social networking is not an adequate replacement for actual relationships.

Reality is a different thing. There isn’t a button I can click to create or accept a friendship; relationships are tricky. They can be awkward or burdensome. Our close friends are often our harshest critics as well as our greatest comforts. Facebook is great for keeping in touch; it’s also a great way to waste time and avoid real-life communication. It’s a complement to socializing, not the stuff itself. Scissors are great for cutting paper, but you can’t cut down trees with them.

It’s not a bad thing. We just need to use it for the right reasons.

Next week: A senior finds out he and his girl aren’t going to the same college.

— Send your questions for Double Take to doubletake@ljworld.com.

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