Facebook breaks and the perilousness of “likes”

Picture this. You don’t feel like talking to anyone on your cell phone. You’re worn out from it. So, what do you do? You create a new text message, add every person in your contacts on the distribution, and digitally blast, “I’m taking a cell phone break. If I don’t answer your call, it’s not because I don’t want to talk to you. I just need a break.” Then, you hit send, and turn your phone off.

The “cellphone break” announcement may sound like a ridiculous scenario, and that’s because it is. This is something that many people see from their social media friends…or do themselves. Someone posts on Facebook that they’re “taking a break”, “getting some me time”, or “social media detoxing”. You hit “Like”, “Love”, or comment, “Good for you!” Did the announcing friend wait to see who noticed before closing the app or exiting their web browser? Will they be forced to wait until they return to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc., etc., etc. to see who cared? The questions may be irrelevant, but the illogical nature of the announcement act is very relevant.

As stated before by me and many, many others, there is real value in social media. It keeps physically separated people digitally connected. This is a good thing. Too often, though, the number of friends, followers, etc. we accumulate end up giving us a timeline of a single day that would take several days to read, think about, and respond to. In many cases, posts from friends that are significant (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.) are missed because of the digital clutter. Things are further complicated by the fact that Facebook and other social media platforms utilize an complex algorithm that determines what you see first, based upon what you saw on your timeline, posted on it, or even said aloud within hearing distance of your smart phone.

Putting ourselves on the other side of the scenario, we aren’t taking a break, and we post something significant to us. Only 27 or our 1,248 friends hit “Like” or commented. Now, we’re left wondering if the other 1,221 friends didn’t see it or just didn’t care enough to acknowledge it. Applying the same logic to our “Facebook Break Announcement,” the 1,221 so called friends who didn’t acknowledge or comment about our break are too busy for us or don’t really like – much less love – us at all. This brings us to the crux of it all: Social media can connect us but often ends up overwhelming us.

Both of the above scenarios put us in a digitally treacherous place. Many if not most people have an innate need – at least to a very small degree – for affection from others to feel good about themselves. This isn’t to say that affection from others should be the entire basis of one’s self-esteem (or lack thereof), but it is admittedly a small element contributing toward it. In a 2019 peer reviewed article on the subject, Sylvie Tomoniko cites increased anxiety among teens as stemming from not just cyberbullying and addition but also self-comparison to others and social isolation. (eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1230220) It’s these latter two that are much harder to notice among family and friends who are physically with us but mentally involved in digital life via social media.

Focusing again on teenagers, if a group of friends posts a photo of a day at a theme park without them, they can feel left out. Looking at it from their digital end, if they post a photo on Instagram or video on TikTok and don’t receive enough likes or comments, they can feel unliked. The question now arises. How many likes is enough likes? The answer isn’t concrete. The reality is that it depends upon the person, their overall self-esteem, need for attention, etc. If a teen (or even many adults) see a friend’s timeline full of photos at the lake on a boat, ziplining through the rainforest, or emulating Kate Winslet at the bow of a cruise ship, they often unconsciously compare it to their own life. This is also obviously unhealthy, but the obviousness doesn’t always preclude the feeling from creeping in.

If you think this post wandered, then you have, indeed, been paying attention. It started out talking about people announcing Facebook “breaks” because they are going to spend less time online. Then, it wandered into brief discussion on the mental health danger posed to those who spend more and more time on, in hopes of increased acknowledgement and validation from others. In the end, both extremes serve as a good reminder that too much of anything can be a bad thing. If you want to take a social media break, just log off and close it. If it’s on a smart phone, move the app to the last page of your home screen or bury it deep in a folder. If it’s on the computer, close the browser, leave the house, and take a walk.

If social media is bringing you down more than its lifting you up, follow the same instructions. Are you fine but see it in someone you care about? Tell them directly. They’ll be reminded that you care. Digital life has its benefits, and in some cases, can help people feel less isolated. In the end, though, the benefit of being fully in the physical life with the family and friends around us can never be overstated.

(P.S. Now, share this on Facebook. No, I’m just kidding…unless you really want to.)