It’s not just me, is it? Every time I login to my account (because, for my own sanity, I no longer have the app on my phone), I immediately feel as if I’m fifteen again. The fact that a large proportion of my Facebook friends are people I went to school with (many of whom I now rarely see in real life) probably has some bearing on this.
It’s like, for me, Facebook has become the ultimate school reunion, except my life isn’t an American movie where I get to boast about my high-paying job and envy-inducing mansion to a gaggle of jealous contemporaries, but one where I am reminded every time I scroll through my FB feed, that I’m still that same shy, socially awkward girl I once was (without the high-paying job and envy-inducing mansion, I might add).
At least I can feel relieved that Facebook wasn’t around when I was growing up. Can you imagine what it must be like for teenagers these days? As if adolescence didn’t bring with it its own difficulties, its own confidence-shaking agenda, teens in the twenty-first century now have their popularity literally quantified for their peers to see.
I’ve spoken before about how Instagram can often force us to project a ‘perfect’ image of ourselves and Facebook is guilty of this too. But whilst Instagram allows us to move forward, to find new friends, to reach out to like-minded people, Facebook seems to keep us locked in the past. For some people, looking back is a good thing, being able to keep in touch with those who you might otherwise have drifted away from is an invaluable tool and, in this respect, Facebook can unite us as much as any other social media platform. Yet, it can also leave us feeling isolated and self-conscious.
Plenty of research has been carried out about the impact of social media on our mental health. Back in December, Facebook’s own researchers stated that passive use of the site (where you scroll through your feed without interacting with others) can be detrimental to your mental health whereas more engagement can often have the opposite effect. This is all well and good, but what if you’re too shy to interact, to engage, even with your ‘friends’?
Unsurprisingly, the Facebook friend count (prominently displayed on your profile page) carries a lot of weight in the virtual world. Perhaps that’s why many of us are FB friends with people we wouldn’t necessarily be friends with in real life. Perhaps that’s why many of us feel unable, at times, to engage on Facebook – because we’re worried that, even if we interact with people we’re actually friends with, those other people (the friends we’re not really friends with) will judge us, will make assumptions about us that we’re just not able or ready to deal with. Assumptions, say, that prove we don’t have a high-paying job or an envy-inducing mansion.
I now suspect that the half of you who are still reading this are currently shaking your heads, wondering what I’m waffling on about and why I’ve seriously overused the word ‘friends’, whilst the other half are happily scrolling through their Facebook feeds and marvelling at their own popularity. But if there are just a few of you out there who feel the same way as I do, let’s make a pact to look at Facebook from a different angle. Let’s not be frightened of showing our friends the people we’ve become. If that means reducing your friend count to a small number of people who have a genuine interest in who you are, then so be it. If you’re feeling brave enough to open up to all of your friends, even the ones you don’t see anymore, then good for you. Let’s not be fifteen again (unless, of course, you actually are fifteen!), let’s be confident about the people we are right now, even on Facebook.