Saturday, June 7, 2014

If It's On My Facebook Wall, It Matters, Right?

We love talking about ourselves. In fact, research shows that talking about ourselves triggers the same parts of our brains as when we're eating or having sex. The need to share aspects of ourselves isn’t so surprising. All you have to do is attend a cocktail party. In almost every corner you will hear conversations about a person’s life, their family, their jobs, how many networking contacts they have, the parties they attended, and how crazy they got last Friday night. People get excited when given the opportunity to share their story. And along comes the Facebook “gathering” to fulfill this need we all have.


Every minute on Facebook walls, we see people post about their latest experiences. We read about their cat's new outfit, their gym workout, their all-star parking spot, their second gym workout, their hot new girlfriend, their kid’s accomplishments, and the last gym workout of the evening. For many of us, our experiences don't seem as "real" until we share them, and sharing them requires an audience.

We seek out audiences because we tend to understand other people’s situations, and even our own behavior through conversations. This is the main reason why people come to therapy: Please listen to my story and tell me what you think. If someone agrees with us, we’re happy, knowing that we made a “correct” decision. When they disagree, we experience uneasiness.

In a sense, Facebook can be viewed as a collective “witness” to our experiences and in some respects has a therapeutic element to it: I will share what I’m going through, and please share with me your praise or criticism. In psychological terms, Facebook has become what Freud referred to as our Superego—or the subconscious image of our parents who witness and evaluate everything we do. This is way more than asking someone for their opinion. We want a broader audience to weigh in on our world. Our need to self-disclose through social-media is very much like the empty forest riddle: If you tweet in an empty forest and no one is there for read it, does your message have meaning?

I believe that we are broadcasting our thoughts and beliefs over a larger spectrum of people in the hope that someone (or many someones) will respond to us directly. After all, the holy grail of Twitter is the direct response message or the public shout out using @ in our own tweets. Will you respond to me on a group level, or will I make enough of an impact that you’ll want to make direct contact? How much influence can I have over your life? And in return, how much will you share with me?



Wanting others to witness our every thought and action over a public forum implies a shift in how comfortable we feel with being publically scrutinized. Many Facebook users report feeling anxiety when their posts do not receive enough Facebook "likes" and therefore tend to share updates or photos in a way that will increase the likelihood of public endorsement. This mass scrutiny can change our moral compass—we used to put more weight on our own instincts and conscience to guide us, and soon we will rely mostly on visibility and public judgment to guide us in the right direction and determine not only who we are but who we ought to be.

As we have advanced in technology, we’ve grown more accustomed to more of everything: more speed, more information and even more access into someone’s personal life. We like having easy access to just about everything we can think of so we’ve certainly gained a lot in terms of speed and instant gratification, but how much have we lost? We've moved from critically examining how to express ourselves to impulsively wanting our thoughts acknowledged. We’ve gone from respecting others’ privacy to expecting more exposure. And this communication shift undoubtedly causes us to interact in a public forum more often than we did before, and to less frequently maintain some private aspects of our lives.


Dr. Suzana E. Flores is the resident clinical psychologist to Prose & Cons and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives due out September, 2014 through Reputation Books.

Over the past three years, Dr. Flores has interviewed Facebook users, from across the globe, to explore the positive and negative features of social-media and evaluate the effect Facebook has on our lives. Dr. Flores frequently presents at universities and organizations, and was recently quoted in Esquire.com, Mashable.com, Everyday Health Magazine, Dame Magazine, The Nation, SheKnows.com, New Parent Magazine, Newlyweds, Upwayve.com and Moms.me. She can be reached at drsuzanaflores@gmail.com or through her literary agent, Liz Kracht at liz@kimberelycameron.com.

www.drsuzanaflores.com




4 comments :

Helen Hanson said...

Personally, I think less is more in this regard. Don't need to know that you ate a bagel . . .

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Amen, Suzana. Great post!

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

I love Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family--seeing photos of their children and hearing about the important events in their lives. I've reconnected with high school and college friends, even some cousins I didn't know I had. But like Helen, I could do without the posts on what someone ate for breakfast or how much they love their spouse.

Dr. Suzana E. Flores said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I love Facebook too. In fact, it's safe to say that I'm a social-media super junkie. Benefits aside, I've encountered too many instances (sometimes extreme instances) where people lose sight of who they are and will post anything for everything for attention or validation.