Is Facebook Making Us Lose Our Sense Of Reality?

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In last week’s "Opinion" section of the New York Times, author, Jonathan Franzen, discusses the hidden evils of technology and facebook, an ever-popular topic of conversation among social critics. He argues that both forces are turning American society into an increasingly superficial group of people who have forgotten the difference between liking people or things, and loving them. These two worlds—the worlds of liking and loving—are fundamentally at odds with one another. The world of liking is shallow and revolves around consumeristic desires.

We flash our credit cards to buy whatever gadgets we like, and then click buttons on our computers to show how much we like our friends’ status updates and photos and lives. Franzen believes it has made us obsessed with liking and being liked, and he encourages his readers to go beyond all the silly fakeness of liking, and to try actual loving. He fears we are forgetting how to do that as a society—that we are forgetting how to love10 Twitter And Facebook Dating Red Flags

A few days after reading this article, I watched the most recent episode of The Bachelorette, and low and behold, the first half of it brought Franzen’s ideas to life. It began with this season’s bachelorette, Ashley Herbert, using her first one-on-one date to plan a pretend wedding and feign getting married. She chooses to do this with William, a 30-year-old cell phone salesman from Ohio whom she knows very little about. She flies him out to Las Vegas, asks him to sample wedding cakes, takes him to pick out engagement rings, and finally makes him stand with her in front of a priest at one of Vegas’ many wedding chapels.

A rather bizarre way to make a first impression with a man, isn’t it? Not to mention the fact that all this wedding planning and role playing gives them little time to chat and actually, say, get to know one another.

However, when you consider the reason Ashley gives for conducting this charade, and the reason William gives for going along with it, the whole scenario starts to make a bit more sense—especially in light of Jonathan Franzen’s article.

Franzen’s biggest beef with facebook seems to be that it has transformed the idea of "liking something" from being a state of mind, to being an action—a click of a mouse, a consumeristic choice. He argues that the more people engage in accepting and dismissing things based on how much they like them, the more they start craving the same sort of superficial acceptance in return.

Throughout the first two episodes of The Bachelorette, Ashley mentions multiple times that she is afraid the men won’t like her. She fears they’ll be disappointed that she was chosen as the bachelorette; she fears that none of them are ready for marriage; she fears that some of them have come to the show "for all the wrong reasons" (i.e. publicity, luxurious vacations).

She calms her anxieties by making William prove his faithfulness to her in this rather odd version of a mock shotgun wedding. When he passes her test, she is overjoyed and tells the camera, "Any fears I had about that was immediately put to rest . . . I know it’s really soon to say this, but I am definitely falling for William—after only half of a date! I can’t believe I just said that!"

Ummm, I can’t either.

Ashley’s mock wedding exercise didn’t prove anything other than the fact that William is willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the show. At the beginning of the episode, he vows to make sure he’s not rejected. "There’s a rose at stake," he tells the camera. "I have to get this rose. I have to win her heart." The entire scenario becomes less about Ashley and William getting to know each other on a deeper level, and more about their personal obsessions with being liked an admired. 5 Ways To Make Your Facebook Page Ready For Love

Yet, as Franzen points out, this behavior is not compatible with real and lasting relationships because getting people to like us requires putting up a façade. He writes, "There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of." 

He describes the scenario of an arguing couple that starts to say nasty things to each other in the heat of the moment. The couple is then forced to confront the unlikable parts of each other’s personalities and must make the decision as to whether or not they will choose to love each other anyway. Franzen reminds the reader that there is such a thing as a person whose real self "you love every particle of," and he urges us to move beyond the superficiality of liking and into the raw, messiness of love.

Ironically, this is exactly what everyone on The Bachelorette claims to be wanting too. They want to find true love; they long for partners to spend their lives with. Yet, season after season, and in this episode in particular, many of the contestants go about it in all the wrong ways.

Why is that? Perhaps Franzen can point us towards a reason.

He comments that people love social media because their lives look more interesting through the facebook interface. As they portray themselves through blogs, videos, and various other online platforms, they often create one-sided versions of reality in order to play up their more likeable attributes. Conversely, if they are trying to get a rise out of their audience, they can easily highlight the less attractive versions of their personalities, but only rarely do they reveal a balanced version of their lives. Instead, they pick and choose, and as their audience responds to what they have posted, perhaps the danger is that this mediated version of their lives/selves starts to feel authentic. Dislike! The 5 Most Annoying Facebook Couples

Could this be the case with Ashley and William who seem to have bonded after planning and performing a fictional wedding together?

They feed each other cake, walk down the aisle, vow to be faithful to one another, and when the priest tells William he may now kiss his "almost bride," the music rises and the camera cuts to a close-up of the two smooching in front of a stained glass window. After the ceremony, William goes the extra mile, so to speak, by picking Ashley up and carrying her across the threshold. Then they both giggle and admit that this is the best first date they have ever been on.

Yet, it was all based on a superficial reenactment of wedding stereotypes. It was fictional; it wasn’t real. Their emotions, however, seem to be, and this is where it gets kind of tricky. Franzen argues that we hide behind the world of liking because it protects us from getting hurt and from being vulnerable with each other. I’m not sure that I agree with that.

If you watch the The Bachelorette as much as I admittedly do, then you know that Ashley and William could both potentially break each other’s hearts. William will be devastated if she doesn’t give him the final rose this season; Ashley will sob uncontrollably if he decides to leave early, or rejects her in any way. Based on these scenarios, it seems the world of liking can be just as painful as the world of loving—especially when we can’t tell the difference between the two.

Perhaps that is the biggest problem of all.