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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

soften breakups by using the phrase “It’s really not you; it’s me.” Well, in this case, it is definitely you, Facebook, definitely you. Perhaps we can still be “friends”?

Beginnings:

Our relationship began in November of 2011 when I started blogging. I joined Facebook so that I could autopost my blog directly to Facebook and expand my reach to a wider audience, a distinct advantage of social media. I also benefited by gaining a better understanding of social media. Parents and educators need to have an understanding of the world their children inhabit. Social media is an integral part of that world today. The best way to learn is “by doing,” so I jumped into our relationship.

I won’t deny that there were benefits to our relationship. Social media connected me to people I have not interacted with in decades, some since childhood. I learned of life-cycle events of old friends and acquaintances living near and far from me. My primary use was to read my customized feed and its relevant news, and I found myself becoming more and more reliant on this medium as a primary source of information. I could choose to follow and connect with thought leaders who shared their perspectives and enriched my understanding of contemporary events.

So why am I dumping you? Lots of reasons:

As much as I recognize the good in you, our relationship is unhealthy.

First, you are simply a time waster. I find myself becoming addicted to you, checking in with you numerous times every day. The average user spends close to an hour with you every day! James Stewart, of the New York Times, argues that “there are only 24 hours in a day, and the average person sleeps for 8.8 of them. That means more than 1/16 of the average user’s waking time is spent on Facebook.”

I also resent the toxic influence you exert on your users. You have a negative impact on students’ academic performance, are strongly linked to envy, depression and feelings of loneliness, and seem to heighten levels of anger and anxiety. If you don’t believe me, Google Facebook depression, Facebook envy or any similar terms. The research is clear. (As you can see, I am not ending my relationship with Google. I hope you are not jealous.)

I find that you have hardened the discourse in our society. Most people tend to use you to discuss issues with like-minded folks who affirm and strengthen their own beliefs. The second that someone questions their perspectives the discourse turns ugly. People often hide behind the feeling of anonymity of a screen name and will say things to others that they would never say face to face. I don’t like what you do to otherwise good and kind people.

You give people a blurred sense of reality. Facebook is designed to create feeds that make users feel good about themselves by confirming all their prior beliefs and assumptions. Rarely do people follow others who have views counter to their own, so they begin to believe that the entire world agrees with them, whether this is true or not. I recognize that this is somewhat true for other sources of media, where people choose outlets that support their own biases, but you have brought this phenomenon to a whole new level.

Finally, I don’t really care what my friends ate for lunch, what stores they are currently shopping at or what their pet dog is up to.

How will I survive without you?

I am not severing all ties with you. I plan to keep my account. I just won’t be checking in on you very often. I guess you could say I am dumping you but we can still remain “friends.”

I will search for healthier relationships elsewhere by connecting to news outlets that I trust and making sure to read a diverse array of opinions on matters of the day. I will be better able to control the news I see and ensure that it is more reliable and sophisticated.

I don’t know if this means I am saying goodbye forever. I do think that we need to take a break from our relationship. Don’t be offended; you still have a relationship with another billion people around the globe. I hope they do a better job of managing their relationship with you.

By Rabbi Daniel Alter

 Rabbi Daniel Alter is the Head of School of the Moriah School in Englewood.