I have struggled to manage my time on the Internet ever since I first got online in 1995. I hesitate to say that I have an Internet addiction, because I don’t like all the baggage that comes with the term “addiction,” but I will say that there are times I spend too many hours on Web sites. And maybe I do have an Internet addiction.
Lately, I notice — especially with Facebook — that I get pain in my elbow and wrist from so much mouse clicking to follow everyone’s posts. I read all my Friends’ postings, regardless of how well I know them, and I just keep reading and commenting and reading and refreshing pages. There are people in my Friends list that I’ve spent more time with on Facebook than in real life. But no matter what our relationship in real life, I find myself reading everything they post. It begins to seem as though my “best friends” are the ones who interact with me the most on Facebook. Yet that’s insidious, because it doesn’t mean they’re closer to me; it just means they’re on Facebook a lot and they like to interact with people on it. It’s seductive to sit there clicking, clicking, clicking on everyone’s content, yet I have to do something about my overuse strain. I am, after all, a sign language interpreter, and I have to save my hands and arms for work.
And speaking of seductive, it is so tempting to add all the people Facebook suggests to me as Friends– well, all the people I know, anyway. I never went and added all my friends Friends or anything crazy like that, but I did add almost all the classmates, coworkers, and friends I recognized. It got to the point where I had 378 Friends! As I started following more closely, I realized that I hadn’t even remembered some of my classmates correctly. In one case, I thought I was following a guy who was one class ahead of me until I realized that I was following his brother who was two classes behind me. He seems like a great guy, but the last straw was when he made that “tell me something you remember about me” prompt in his status message, and I realized, well, I didn’t remember anything.
Even more seductive is the ability to develop a fan base that will respond to what I post. But again, those who respond are not necessarily my friends. They are people who appreciate what I produce. They are fine people. Nothing wrong with them at all. But I have to be realistic with myself and ask myself why I need their validation, and why I’m spending time doing this when I could be doing other things that are more creative and productive. Or just spending time doing nothing at all, soaking up life and resting my wrists.
I’ve gotten overwhelmed with Flickr. I have 275 contacts right now, and I think I had even more at one point. There’s no way I can do them all justice. I tend to look at a few photos that show up on my home page, and sometimes surf from there onto other photos. I leave some comments and favorites. But I used to go crazy with it. Just as I do with Facebook now, I would view and comment on almost everything and then refresh the pages to see if there was anything else. I’m thinking about weeding my contacts list– not that I spend that much time on Flickr anymore. It’s been mostly about Facebook this past year.
And I just deleted about 250 Friends on Facebook. Many of them didn’t use their accounts much, but some of them used their accounts so much that I felt I had to remove my connection to them because I was overwhelmed by all their updates. Some of them, as I said before, weren’t even the people I thought I was following. Every single one of them was someone I spent more time with online than I ever did in real life. Yet, you know what’s sad? I now look at my Facebook home page and click Refresh because it looks so dull. But that’s real life! My real life doesn’t have that many people in it, so why should my online life be so peopled? I had Friends on Facebook from theater, photography, interpreting, Flickr, the gay community, the deaf community, the deaf gay community, San Diego, Phoenix, Junior Theatre, the School of Creative & Performing Arts— and those are not the only communities I’ve ever made friends in! If I added all the friends I’ve ever known, my Friends list would be in the thousands.
But you know what saddened me even more? The fact that some of my friends from the past didn’t want to be my friends in the present. Sure, they added me as Friends, but they didn’t do anything with their accounts, didn’t call my cell phone when they said they would… or they didn’t add me as Friends at all. Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the past.
A lot of this struggle is about the distinction between past and present, reality and fantasy. The fantasy is that friends are forever. The reality is that friends are the people you spend time with, either in the present or the recent past, with plans to see each other again in the near future. When people aren’t doing things together, there’s less reason to remain friends. Due to the joy and pain I’ve experienced in life, I tend to want to heal my past and sooth my present with it, or reach back to my past and validate it with my present. I see the past, present, and future as a circle, and I want to mend that circle, let it be unbroken, integrate it. I want to be integrated, to have integrity.
The struggle is far from over. May we all find peace.