Best Face(book) Forward

Oh, Facebook. How I did love thee. Or, if I'm upfront with my inner demons, was it more like self love? Yikes. I spent close to three years crafting my profile, and every day I would add some touch-ups-- a new photo album here or an addition to the "Places I've Been" app there. It was my little plot of the inter-Web. It felt like a home. At my choosing, I could visit my loyal subjects and survey my digital empire. And I was the only one who had access to it, I was the only one who could control it, and I was the only one who could let people in. But it became a shining mansion built on a mountain of sand.

As I write this entry I should confess that this whole process hasn't been as easy as I initially imagined. I'm no expert in dealing with withdrawal (and I'm not getting the shakes or the sweats) but I definitely feel more irritable and easily frustrated. I've noticed that I need to stay focused on the immediate tasks in front of me and not allow my mind to wander back to my dismantled social networks too much. The personal gadgets are close at hand though and it's not like I'm staring at walls. I do actually feel a bit stronger and more centered.

It's like the real life Daniel is attempting to siphon the positive attributes of avatar Daniel and fuse them together. But it's a stormy transition and I do miss having the opportunity to view my plot in Pleasantville (Facebook) or send out a mirthful missive (Twitter). If that all sounds a little heady and weird-- I'd have to agree. But there's no doubt in my mind that I'm having an epiphany of sorts and maybe more. At least a change of heart.

I digress. Back to how I viewed my Facebook page and its effect on me. At some point I started projecting more of the traits I desired. I envisioned how I wanted to appear to everyone else-- funny, worldly, and experienced. To reflect those attributes, I could tailor my favorite movies or my profile picture or my status update. I could spice up the latter with a quote from someone famous or a link to a recent story or a new destination. And of course, at least in my case, the great irony about using Facebook to stay connected with friends is that even as I admonished others to reach out via wall posts -- "call me!" or "hope all is well" or "talk soon" -- the placeholders became permanent and it rarely went beyond that. Before too long the friendship garden growing around my mansion was going to seed. (Sound familiar?)

Nevertheless, I soldiered on, trying to block out nagging feelings that I wasn't actually being a good friend. I'd share ordeals related to my job. But was that really me? My photos depicted my travels across nearly every state and from Mexico to Ethiopia to Japan. Was that really me? It must have all seemed pretty glamorous. Or so I hoped. I would update my status with my current location or what story I'd recently covered or who I interviewed. Was that really me?

I certainly enjoyed seeing myself as a globetrotter and someone who had experienced the trials of covering so many parts of the U.S. and elsewhere. But why did I need those constant reminders on my computer screen? It was almost like I couldn't believe it without the hard evidence in front of me. My Facebook page became less important to my friends and more important to preserving my extension of how I viewed myself. And I think it dates back to the beginning of my career and where I've ended up.

During my time in journalism graduate school I aspired to work in print and focus on technology. Specifically, I wanted be a daily reporter for my hometown Vancouver Sun newspaper and write about city events and sci-tech. That was my horizon. I won't bore you with all the details but in broad strokes I attended the journalism school at the University of British Columbia in 1998, won an internship at The Vancouver Sun that turned into a full-time job, and in 1999 wrote about being hacked for Salon.com. By 2000 I was being offered the job of editor/writer at CNN.com. In mid-2001 the Web was rocked by the "Code Red" worm and I was thrust into the spotlight to cover it for the CNN TV networks. Many years later it was on to CBS News and, well, the rest is history-- and used to be part of my Facebook page.

The point is that starting in 2000 I'd sailed into uncharted waters. By moving to the U.S., working on TV, and traveling the world, I was entering places well outside my comfort zone of familiarity and friendship. I wonder then if my Facebook page served two purposes-- remind me of where I came from and remind others of what it took to get here. As though they wouldn't believe what I'd accomplished without all the evidence to prove it. Growing up, my friends were (and still are) such brilliant and talented people. From lawyers to doctors to engineers. Really. I had a hard time convincing myself that journalism somehow stacked up against such lofty pursuits. And I think I cultivated that grandstanding persona online as part of my way to impress them and gain acceptance. Yet, in a near tragedy, that very pursuit almost ended up pushing them away. (I know I still have a CBS bio page but a resume is all part of the job and feels slightly less showy.) Ultimately, I wanted better balance between knowing myself and showing myself.

In any case, since I disconnected, I've encountered very few people who haven't thought maybe it'd be worthwhile for them to step back even for a moment, too. And there have been other withdrawal-esque symptoms that I'll describe later. But I have also noticed some unintended boosts from disconnecting. Most notably-- I have less of a desire to be so liked by everyone and I'm increasingly aware of my immediate surroundings. But those are whole other blogs.

Before I go, I should also point out that of course many people have different experiences than me when it comes to social networks and experience positive outcomes. The benefits range from finding loved ones to bringing someone out of a real-life social shell. And I'll be talking to those folks, too. Until next time, stay connected.

  • Daniel Sieberg

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