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Pulling At The Fringes: Facebook and Our Perpetual Adolescence

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Instead of opening people up to the world and using social media as a tool to discover new and amazing things, it is instead just another in a glut of things that reinforces views and beliefs people already hold.

I've got a confession to make: I use Facebook too much. It's a paradoxical situation because on the one hand, I find social media to largely be a time-waster.  It's something to do with the random minutes of idleness at work, but not something that has added to my life in any significant or positive way. But despite these feelings, I find Facebook to be an often fascinating train wreck. It is an unintentional social experiment in which I can peer into the windows of other people's lives and see proof positive that my circle of family and friends are, by and large, nothing more than aged-out adolescents.

Once upon a time, in my real adolescence, it seemed that what separated being an adult versus being a kid, beyond the mere age factor, was knowledge and wisdom.  After all, the world we popped into was constructed by those who came before us. Our understanding of the world, the laws that govern society, human behavior and our own emotions has been shaped by whatever the adults in our life imprinted upon us.

Think of all the questions we've had answered by what we considered to be authorities. Why is the sky blue? Why is it wrong? Why are we here? Why does it hurt? What do I do now? What happens if...

So, everything we know and hold as universal truths is really just a bunch of stuff that other people have told us. Now, sure, some people go out and test those answers, maybe push at the boundaries a little bit to see if they'll budge. For the most part, though, after a short phase of exploration, people retreat back to the world as it has been set up for them. And nowhere is this more on display than Facebook.

When social media first began, many writers and social commentators posited it could be a turning point in human interaction; that having access and the ability to connect with people from different parts of the world and different walks of life could bring about a great revolution of the collective consciousness. 

Unfortunately, it appears that the reality is much more akin to the level of interaction found in junior high school. What I have witnessed more times than not is that people on social media sites simply turn back to forming cliques and attempting to bash everyone over the head with their own beliefs. It's a high school fashion show and the clueless busty girl still gets the crown, votes now tallied by the number of thumbs up or likes.

Want to test this hypothesis out? Just do an Internet search for cute cat pictures and post one on your Facebook page. Now find a graph for wealth distribution of various countries in the world and post that. Wait a few hours and see which one has more likes and comments. Want to try again? Okay, go find a picture of some expensive shoes. Post that with a note saying you just bought these for $25 at Store X. Now find an online charity and post a link saying you just gave $25 to someone in an impoverished country that's in desperate need of potable water. Wait a day and see which one gets more thumbs up.

And this is what I'm admitting to often doing with my time on Facebook – my own little social experiments. I have found some incredible video of an amazing but obscure music group in Djibouti playing a hybrid of uplifting Afro-pop quite unlike anything I've ever heard before, and embedded that on my page. Then I found a song everyone knows, Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy," and at the end of the day, what was the final tally? Three thumbs up for the new, 35 thumbs up and 15 comments for the known.

Now, I am in no way under the impression that I have conducted any kind of scientifically relevant research, but it is quite apparent that instead of opening people up to the world and using social media as a tool to discover new and amazing things, it is instead just another in a glut of things that reinforces views and beliefs people already hold. Every day I see the known, the familiar, the commonplace, and the cliched all emphasized, and even aggrandized, by the same people with whom I once had intense late night discussions about how we were going to break out of the constraints of our suburban upbringing or ways to affect real change in the world.

At this point, I have to say that Facebook has negatively affected my view of not only people in general, but people I once felt close to, friends with whom I felt a common alliance. The people I once had acute political discussions with are now the ones posting cute cat pictures. The strong-willed feminists I went to college with, who were once all about pushing forward on the issue of women's equality and breaking through oppressive gender roles, are now the ones posting photos of their children and the food they cooked for last night's dinner.

And before I get accused of taking a self-righteous position of moral superiority, I will fully admit that I, too, have fallen back into a similar role I played in adolescence. I toss out snide comments of general mockery and attempt to give a middle finger to the whole system. But in the end, I have not been able to remove myself from the system I find so deplorable. I continue my role of town cynic, calling bullshit as if it actually had an effect on something.

What at first appeared to be a new and engaging way to transform the ways that we interact with people and explore the world around us, has turned into yet another way to remain passive and stare at a screen full of advertisements. Still, I can't seem to disengage from the train wreck of our collective failures and inability to live up to the standards we set out for ourselves. My final self-satisfying Facebook experiment will be to post a link to this article and then, right after that, post a picture of a thumbtack. The thumbtack will get more likes, of course, and those who actually read this will probably unfriend me.


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