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Is Facebook Changing Who You Are?

by Renee Peterson Trudeau
Photo by: Shutterstock

After an early morning family walk and outing, I came home, showered, put away the groceries and posted the following on my personal Facebook page:

"Early morning family hike around east Town Lake Trail (beautiful rowing on calm waters!), explored new buildings/architecture downtown and enjoyed tacos at Galaxy in Clarksville, all before ten a.m. – it’s amazing what can happen when you rise with the sun!”

A short while later, I felt off, slightly sick to my stomach and sensed a strange, almost ‘warning’ sensation roll through my body.

During lunch with my husband and son, I asked, “Why did I just do that?” Was I feeling lonely and seeking acknowledgment? Was I wanting to look cool and hip with the family set (yes, we spend a lot of time downtown-look at us!) or was I slipping into a new habit of mindlessly hopping on Facebook more than I ever have before?

Dr. Sherry Turkle, former WIRED cover girl and author of “Alone Together,” studies the social and psychological effects of technology. One point Sherry made – that I can’t shake – is that social media/technology is not just changing how we interact, it’s changing who we are.

There’s a danger with us only showing the ‘shiny’ versions of ourselves. The hip highlights of our lives. This way of being with each other is affecting how we perceive ourselves, and how we perceive one another. We’re messy, peanut-butter-covered, sometimes irritable, and often awkward, inappropriate and raw humans – not Pinterest pictures.

In the airport traveling earlier this summer, I picked up the Atlantic Magazine issue, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” No, I don’t think Facebook is making us lonely, but we may be making ourselves lonely by substituting surface-level, virtual high-fives for real time, heartfelt, ‘warts and all’ conversation. Social media can give us the illusion that we’re connecting, but we’re going broad, not deep. And it’s leaving many of us (whether we realize it or not) void of real connection.

Social media can be a great tool for the self-employed, community organizing and keeping in touch with old classmates or colleagues in NY or Munich, but it isn’t a substitute for real friendships.

Last summer, I spent almost a month researching what overuse and misuse of technology (TV, Internet, iPhones, video games, social media) is doing to our hearts and spirits, and how it’s affecting our emotional health. The findings (particularly around boys and video games and Internet porn) were alarming.

I also explored how our habits are affecting who we are, and how we connect when we’re not online. Many shared that they feel speeded up from always being ‘plugged in,’ and they’re finding it harder to be present and just ‘be.’ And when I asked, “What derails your family’s sense of peace and well-being in everyday life?” more than 100 respondents chose overuse and misuse of technology as their number one saboteur.

Last week, I attended a content strategy meeting for entrepreneurs. The speaker said our businesses should each be disseminating 403 pieces of information annually to our target audience. As I watched the 55 attendees furiously adding this ‘to do’ item to their iPhone task lists, I felt a chill go down my spine and quickly calculated what this tidal wave of tweets, posts and articles would look and feel like if every business owner on the planet took this counsel to heart.

Why is all this so triggering for me? (Yes, I admit it is!) As a life balance teacher, I spend a lot of energy helping women/men around the US discover how to tether and anchor within themselves – how to find their center in the midst of chaos and uncertainty – and I believe our growing addiction to social media is contributing greatly to feelings of disconnection and unhappiness.

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with these tools. I don’t think the answer is unplugging completely (although I applaud those who have the courage/ability to do this), but my recent experience and observations made me want to ask myself (and sit with) some big questions. To pause before I post (or even go online). And to observe how I feel before and after I enter the Facebook circus.

Recently, my friend Leah told me she had a rare ‘girls’ night out’ dinner with her neighbors. After being seated in the restaurant, everyone at the table picked up their iPhones and started texting their husbands, taking photos, tagging one another and updating their FB status, while Leah sat quietly in disbelief. Napkin in lap, wine glass full and candles flickering, she was ready for heartfelt conversation – but it seemed the allure of connecting with a larger party superseded connecting with the small one that was meeting in that moment.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

Renée Peterson Trudeau is an internationally recognized life balance coach/speaker and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. You can connect with Renée at her website Renee Trudeau.

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