Facebook was never envisioned as a community for us older folks—perish the thought! But that’s what happened. A lot of Millennials, including my own kids, have little interest in it. After all, they have myriad social media options these days and they aren’t old enough to be nostalgic.
Those of us who’ve now lived a proverbial nine lives—childhood, college/post-grad, several jobs, a few moves, countless relationships, marriage, parenthood, grandparenthood, retirement, etc.—have met a lot of people along the way. Facebook offers us an opportunity to connect or reconnect with anyone we care about but don’t see frequently or with whom we’ve lost touch over the years. It’s both instructive and rewarding to keep the past in the present by remembering our former selves.
I particularly love reading about people’s vacations and children. I’m still chuckling over the video of 2-year-old Leo giggling madly as he raced around daycare clad only in his diaper and bright green rain boots. I’m constantly inspired by Terry, whose mouthwatering food photos from her latest restaurant discovery send me racing to the fridge. And I always look forward to witty updates from my cousin Michael in Israel, who turns puns into an art form—in two languages, no less.
On the other hand—and I’m as guilty as the next person—Facebook provides an irresistible platform for posting our political views, favorite causes, and special projects. When I get riled up about public officials’ bad behavior, I can’t stop myself from venting or sharing a clever cartoon or article that aligns with my own beliefs. Luckily, we’ve all got a “mute” button in the form of “Hide this post”, so we can stealthily stop viewing whatever we don’t want to see without hurting our friends’ feelings. I’m sure my political comments been hidden by everyone who disagrees with me—and I’m fine with that!
I suppose I could worry that public sharing allows companies or governments to scrutinize my personal data, but my life isn’t fascinating enough to warrant surveillance. And I kind of like seeing ads for shoes I might want to buy.
A bigger concern is that today’s social media encourages an unprecedented level of public vanity and narcissism. When’s the last time someone shared an unflattering photo of themselves, announced that their spouse had run off with the pool boy, or confessed that they were about to be pushed out of their job in favor of somebody younger and cheaper?
Facebook encourages us to present our ideal selves: edited, PhotoShopped, upbeat and living the good life. It’s our modern version of the annual Christmas letter. But, in my opinion, this sort of vanity isn’t all bad. While we may occasionally feel envious of our friends’ fabulous houses and glamorous travels, posting happy images of ourselves is also a form of personal cheerleading, reminding us to celebrate what’s going well in our own lives.
The challenge is to keep things in perspective. Are you obsessively writing or reading updates instead of actually doing things? Cyber-stalking your ex? Or feeling twinges of jealousy that make you compare and devalue yourself? Once your online activity stops being fun and starts making you unhappy, it’s probably time to step away from the computer.
Studies show that feeling connected to others is linked to better health and wellbeing. Having friends, even virtual ones, makes life richer in the ways that matter most. So keep sharing those drool-worthy photos and funny stories; I’ll be on Facebook until we take over Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and all the other cool stuff the kids are doing.