Like any technological medium, Facebook and other social media can enrich your life, waste your time, or cause damage, even though you are not doing anything illegal, unethical, or immoral.
Facebook time is increasingly contributing to the erosion of real-life loving relationships. Here are two primary ways in which such technological devotion can insidiously take a toll on existing relationships with loved ones:
1. Facebook Overload
There is nothing wrong with keeping in touch with friends and enjoying the entertainment value of Facebook and other social media. Friendship, camaraderie, community, entertainment, and laughter are very healthy human pursuits. For some people, who might be shy, housebound, or isolated from friends, social media provides a wonderful opportunity to communicate with friends and to participate in community. Many people enjoy getting in touch with a variety of people they might not otherwise stay in touch with, sharing photos and status updates.
Yet, for some people, such pastime easily turns into a compulsive addiction. When you start to crave getting online and impulsively logging on without any specific goal, you may find yourself wasting a lot of time.
You only need to ask yourself how honestly proud, pleased, or fulfilled you feel after spending time on Facebook to know whether you are squandering your time. Sometimes you DO feel good about the time spent — that you’ve had some laughs, made some connections with people, found out about a great event, or seen some interesting videos. But other times you might feel empty and dazed as though you’ve been flipping channels between bad TV stations for the past hour.
2. Curiosity, Attractions, and Fantasies
It’s human nature to be curious about what’s happened to old friends and lovers and to be intrigued about people you find interesting or attractive. However, when you start nosing around on Facebook much beyond a one-time glance at people you find attractive, you may be taking that time and intention away from your real relationships and other activities that you may want to pursue to become the best person you can be.
Given the apparent confidentiality of being online, curiosity can slip into voyeurism. When you start repeatedly checking out particular individuals’ photos and entries, it’s easy to project your fantasies on them. After all, they generally post only their most attractive photos. When you don’t have an in-depth relationship with someone, you fill in the unknowns with whatever you most desire.
There’s usually nothing harmful in having momentary fantasies. Being attracted to others is normal and not necessarily damaging. What’s unhealthy and destructive is thinking obsessively about them. Ultimately, directing your energy toward your fantasy will come at the expense of your real relationships.
When you look at the photos and follow the profiles of those people you find attractive repeatedly, you can easily start having obsessive projections and fantasies about them. This can significantly erode the real-life relationship you have, even if your significant other is not aware of the direction of your attention. If much of your energy and focus is directed toward these fantasies, then the lack of attention, openness, love and passion in your real-world relationships will eventually destroy those real-time relationships.
If you’re not in relationship, obsessive fantasies can similarly prevent you from interacting face to face with people and learning how to develop live relationships with people.
With self-awareness and a desire to choose the life you want to live and the type of relationships you want to have, you can monitor your habits and change them.
It is very simple to see how much time you spend on Facebook each week, and to think about what else you might have accomplished in that time. Then you can decide if you want to reduce that time spent online.
You can also check out your browser history over the past few months and see how you have been using Facebook and other social media and ask yourself if you are being obsessive about specific people or topics. Think about whether that time looking at others’ photos has inspired and enhanced your real-time relationships and your life, or whether you are eroding your relationships and demeaning yourself by developing a preference for engaging in fantasy over other choices you might make.
Life is a series of experiences and adjustments. To live the life you desire, it helps to look at the choices you’re making and tweak them to best serve the goals you set for yourself. It’s less painful to make those adjustments frequently, before your patterns of behavior wreak havoc on your life and relationships.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD