Michael Erard tells the tale of his avoidance of indulging in the trope he calls the Social Media Exile Essay, a report never written of his exit from Facebook:
… I wrote a draft of an essay about writing about why I quit Facebook, which was clever but did not contain any of the things I have already said I didn’t write about. Plus, as the editor pointed out, I didn’t actually explain why I had quit. I hadn’t written about feeling like Facebook was a job. Like I was running on a digital hamster wheel. But a wheel that someone else has rigged up. And a wheel that’s actually a turbine that’s generating electricity for somebody else. That’s how I felt, which is what I should have written.
Now, first, I will say that I completely agree with him in one aspect; Erard returns to Facebook for one of the larger reasons I cannot seem to extricate myself: everyone’s there. It’s become a primary mode of communication with people who are important to me (or people who have become important to me, via Facebook).
But in contrast to Erard, to me, Facebook feels less like a job and more like — I’m ashamed to say — an addiction. Now, do me a favor and don’t overblow that word. Think addiction less in terms of, say, heroine, and more like, maybe, caffeine — not something that sends one to delirious highs, but helps keep one off the floor. You see, I’m talking about that dopamine squirt our brains get when we hear a new email notification or, more relevantly, see the little red notification balloon at the top of our Facebook page, indicating that someone reacted to something we’ve done. (By the way, here’s a good On the Media piece on the aforementioned cranial stimulant.)
As an actor and writer, I’m an incorrigible whore for attention, despite my real-world paralyzing social anxiety, and the Internet enables my tenancies. I blog, I make music, I make pithy comments, I take cute photos of my kid, and — I suspect like most folks — I eagerly anticipate positive reinforcement for my efforts.
So for me, Facebook is not like clocking in to load my 16 tons, as it were. It’s more like the living room where a 6-year-old Paul dons his old training potty as a hat, and pretends to be a magician for his parents’ amusement. Did they react? Did they smile? Did they tell me how funny I am?