The first step is admitting you have a problem.
So I admit it:
I am addicted to Facebook.
The next step is putting the problem in context:
It’s not just me.
I am one of many individuals addicted to social media. In fact, so many of us are internet addicts that even executives at Facebook have no problem admitting it. Stuart Crabb, a director in the executive offices of Facebook, recently told the New York Times,
“If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll boil to death — it’s a nice analogy.”
So apparently you and I are slowly-boiling frogs. So boiled frog-like are we, in fact, that we are becoming a new disorder. The New York Times reported,
“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely viewed as the authority on mental illnesses, plans next year to include ‘Internet use disorder’ in its appendix.”
This statement blew my mind. In fact, my mind was so blown that I promptly lifted my finger and clicked Like. I was so stunned. I had to do something, right?
Congratulations are thus in order — to myself and to you. We have just created a new disorder. And our parents once said we weren’t doing anything productive when we spent all that time online. Well, parents, can you say that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders added anything of interest to its appendices that you inspired? Yeah, I thought not.
But really — you, me, our entire culture — we spend a lot of time online. In fact, it was recently predicted that Facebook will have 1 billion users sometime this month. That’s a lot of people. And that’s a lot of time those people spend raising farms on FarmVille, killing vampires on Vampire Wars, talking smack to each other in the comments sections of “Things Liberals Hate” or “Things Conservatives Hate,” and sharing videos of kittens sneezing and dogs humping.
And that got me thinking: That is a lot of time we could be using to make the world a better place.
To be fair, there is a time and place to relax and unwind. Social media allows us to reconnect with old friends, to stay connected to current friends, and to meet new ones. But the digital world and its illusions also create a disconnect. We start to see our popularity in terms of how many “friends” we have, rather than how many friends we actually spend time with on a daily basis. We start legitimating or validating our beliefs based on how many people “like” what we say rather than the truthfulness, sincerity, or kindness of our words. And we start to believe that something going viral — like the Kony 2012 film, for example — can make a difference just by going viral.
Our addiction to social media has accustomed us to an activism of ease, or “click-activism.” We post images and quotations and statements for the entire world to see — that we oppose this or that war, that we stand for human rights, that we are appalled by atrocities around the globe — and we feel that we made a contribution. Then we go about our lives, not actually contributing anything real to the world. You can “like” Julian Assange all day long and that will never lead to freedom of speech. You can post pictures in support of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama all day long and that will not lead to the votes necessary for either’s election. You can argue back and forth with people you don’t know about the Chick-Fil-A controversy and that will get us nowhere in the gay marriage debate.
What we need is to unplug, to disconnect from the politics of convenience that Facebook and other social media sites offer. And we need to come face to face with the necessities of real life.
We need to realize that to support a cause, we actually need to do something about it. To really like someone or something, action must take place. To make the world a better place, we need to express love for one another in a real, tangible way — by donating money to charities, by volunteering for soup kitchens and human rights groups, by taking to the street to voice our opinions on candidates and political issues.
Facebook might not “like” that. But the world will.