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Connie Schultz
9 Apr 2014
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The Lonely World of Facebook

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After reading Stephen Marche's cover story about Facebook in the latest issue of The Atlantic, I went online to find the link so that I could — what else? — share it on Facebook.

The print edition, however, isn't immediately available online. Thank you, Atlantic, for rewarding us loyal subscribers.

Interestingly, Googling the story's title — "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" — generated more than 7 million hits. Apparently, some of us have been fretting about our Facebook addiction for some time now.

Marche's piece is a riveting read, exploring whether Facebook is building or undermining a sense of genuine community. He writes: "The question of the future is this: Is Facebook part of the separating or part of the congregating; is it a huddling-together for warmth or a shuffling-away in pain?"

The answer: Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Marche's discussion of real versus false intimacy has the potential to push Facebook friends to a whole new level of anxiety. Could it be we're a bunch of phonies?

"The price of this smooth sociability is a constant compulsion to assert one's own happiness, one's own fulfillment," he writes. "Not only must we contend with the social bounty of others; we must foster the appearance of our own social bounty. Being happy all the time, pretending to be happy, actually attempting to be happy, it's exhausting."

Anyone who's regularly on Facebook knows exactly what he's talking about. A lot of people are so relentlessly happy it's annoying. People like me, I'm suddenly realizing.

I use Facebook primarily to spark discussions, but I also post personal updates. I never have admitted to having a really bad day. I was raised to be sunny no matter how dark the skyline. In a land of Eeyores, I'm Tigger.

So, I wonder: Have I become one of those annoying round-the-clock fakers chirping that life is beautiful all the time and I'll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats and they're coming to take me away, ha-ha, ho-ho, hee-hee.

Sorry. Maybe it's only me getting anxious.

I'm frequently annoyed and sometimes aghast to read other people's posts that flame on friends and loved ones and vent about life's many disappointments.

I've often winced and wished they'd kept their sour moods to themselves. Now, though, I'm wondering whether maybe they're the healthier ones. It takes courage to be honest about less-than-perfect lives in a forum that rewards us for pretending otherwise.

It's funny. Before Facebook, I used to tell myself it was OK not to be perfect, because a) it's an unattainable goal and b) no one likes a flawless human being. Now Facebook makes it easy to hide our mistakes and missteps — and even our double chins — as long as we limit the relationships to online. That's the scary part. One of the reasons I post recent photos is to avoid meeting Facebook friends whose faces fall at the sight of real-life me.

My mind spins endless loops of worry. So Marche's story about Facebook's power to isolate almost immediately reminded me of an old episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under."

Fans of the show will remember that every episode began with a death. This one, titled "The Invisible Woman," starts with the all-too-familiar life of Emily Previn, a middle-aged everywoman of the working world.

Emily comes through the door carrying a shopping bag and a tote purse bulging with papers. She kicks off her pumps and sighs.

Moments later, she pads toward the kitchen dressed in comfy sweats. Her microwave dings. She settles down at the kitchen table, pulls off the plastic wrap on her instant dinner and takes a bite. She smiles as she conquers the first clue on the newspaper's daily crossword puzzle. She takes another bite.

And then she's choking. Slowly at first. Quickly, she panics. She reaches for her glass of water, knocks it over. She pushes away from the table and staggers across the room. Off camera, she collapses to the floor.

She's found days later, her body lying on fake-brick linoleum that looks exactly like the dining room floor of my childhood home. Ants swarm over her hand.

As I type, I'm reminding myself to breathe and renewing my vow to cut every meal alone into teeny-tiny pieces. I also am wondering whether I can train our 7-month-old puppy to hurl me to the floor and jump up and down on my chest if I clutch my throat and mouth his name.

Status update: It's better to keep real friends in your life — and on speed dial, too.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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