Is Our Love Affair with Facebook Fading? Maybe We Just Need a Break.

If you’re like two-thirds of Americans, you use Facebook to some extent or another. Some of you love it, some barely like it — and many of you are taking breaks from it.

According to a Feb. 5 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “61 percent of current Facebook users say that at one time or another in the past they have voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more.”

Most of those (21 percent) say they take little vacations from Facebook because their schedules just get too busy. But there were many other reasons cited, especially “drama” among friends (9 percent) and just not liking it (10 percent).

In talking to friends and doing a little research, I’d like to share a few other reasons I think our love affair with Facebook and its countless "likes," posts and comments may be fading.

By the way, why is there no "dislike" option on Facebook?

Emotional multi-tasking

A wonderful communicator (Michele Rhudy) first pointed this out to me —something I found troubling but couldn’t quite articulate. And since, I’ve noticed it every time I get on Facebook.

It’s the jarring juxtapositions between posts in my “Newsfeed.” I’ll see tragic news about one friend’s child battling cancer next to the exuberant birthday pictures of another friend’s child. One post about Superstorm Sandy devastating the Northeast next to another post from friends in the South having a great time at the beach.

While this is the fabric of life, it’s difficult to so quickly shift gears emotionally. Call it a rapid re-deployment of attention and feeling. But it makes it more difficult to process and invest in deeper emotions. You see this on news sites all the time, but Facebook is different. These are people I know, people I care about. I don’t want to just read right past a friend’s pain. Yet, I do because in the next instant I need to celebrate another friend’s joy. It’s exhausting.

Perhaps in the future, Facebook will devise some way to change up its “Newsfeed”, create buffers between stories. Create different streams for more serious news. Create a different place for things that need reflection.

Keeping up with the Joneses — in hyper speed

There was a time when our moms and dads looked to that family that seemed to have it all together and felt a little frustrated with their own lives. This probably happened once a week at church or once a month at the PTA meeting.

Today, in about 10 seconds, you can compare yourself to a whole myriad of awesomeness:

  • The friend who just made a gourmet meal for her family and posted an Instagram of her beautiful presentation
  • The friend who just got a promotion
  • The friend whose children just made honor roll — again, because they always do

One of the problems and, I guess, advantages of Facebook is we get to construct our own identities. We can post the parts of our lives we want everyone to see and keep the rest to ourselves. It can provide a false sense of reality. And make it all the harder for those friends dealing with a lost job, a failing child, a house that is falling apart.  

Perhaps we could all think a little more about that struggling friend and process our posts through their eyes?  

The new norms

Finally, I find myself struggling with what the new “rules” are. What’s socially and relationally correct? Facebook and social media are generally less than a decade old. No one seems to really know how to handle the many questions of how we relate to each other through this new media.

  • When I see a friend I know only peripherally, should I be responsible to remember that two months ago she posted that her father died? Should I feel badly when she brings it up and I have either forgotten or never saw it at all? Because I do feel badly.
  • When I run into a friend who posted her child’s birthday photos on Facebook but she didn’t invite my child, should I say anything or nothing at all?
  • When I am talking to a friend, do I bring up something I saw on their page, even though I didn’t comment on it? Do I seem like a lurker if I say, “Looks like little Sam really hurt his ankle when he rode the clothes basket down the basement steps”? Is that creepy or concerned?
  • Who should I “friend”? If we barely talked in high school, should I 20 years later feel guilty that I didn’t accept their friend request? Do I seem like a snob or am I rightfully cautious about my privacy?

Maybe we need some formalizing of these new social norms. Certainly, over time we developed rules about letters, phone calls and even somewhat for emails. Maybe I should write a little guide.

Or maybe I just need a break.

Donna Dunn loves Facebook, but feels a break is in order.