When I was growing up, my best friend and I bounced back and forth between our two houses, so we knew each other’s parents pretty well. As we became teenagers, my best friend’s mom adopted a phrase she used when we were being particularly dramatic or teenager-y. She’d say, “Now girls, that just makes me tired.”
We thought it was supremely funny when she said this, particularly because she’d combine it with an exasperated eye roll that mothers do so well. Lately I’ve been remembering Ms. Patricia’s fatigue because these days – especially when I’m on social media – I feel it, too. Facebook just makes me tired.
I don’t hate Facebook. In fact, I want to love it. The concept behind it is brilliant, and we writer types are supposed to enjoy all this communication and sharing. But when I wade into Facebook’s news stream, a tidal wave of information from hundreds of people crashes into me and, after a few minutes of it, I feel like I have to get out before I drown.
With more than 600 million Facebook daily users, I assumed my reluctance put me in the minority since so many people spend countless hours “liking” and “sharing” and “tagging.” But a few weeks ago, I read an article by Adam Brault about our capacity to connect with large groups of people, and it convinced me that maybe my Facebook fatigue isn’t so unusual after all.
Brault wrote specifically about “Dunbar’s number,” which is a theory that humans can only maintain meaningful relationships with about 150 people. After that, our memory tends to max out and we just can’t empathize with an ever-growing group of “friends.” Dunbar’s research shows that, in human history, groups work better when they are made up of 150 or fewer people. When the group grows much larger than that, it tends to split into two smaller groups.
After reading the research, it all started to make sense. Suddenly I understood why spending more than 10 minutes on Facebook leaves me feeling drained and dazed. At some point, we just can’t process all that information without feeling worn out by it, although some people probably have a higher tolerance for it than others.
I’m the type of shopper who can’t walk into a store crammed full of products and find anything I need. If every nook and cranny is crowded with things to see, I stop being able to see it. It all blurs together into a sea of choices that seems too daunting to navigate. Give me a few choices, and I’ll decide. Give me a million choices, and I’m going to need a nap.
It’s that constant deluge of information, emotion and opinion on Facebook that leaves me feeling tapped out. When I try to stay “in the loop,” I find that the loop has the same old things it always does – someone is preaching politics; someone is elated over good news and someone else is dealing with tragedy; and someone is having parmesan chicken for dinner.
And in almost every list of Facebook friends, there’s someone trying to convince us through carefully planned updates that her life is picture perfect, hoping that a high number of “likes” will help convince herself, too.
Of course, there are plenty of things to celebrate about Facebook and the power of connection. But some people, like me, are better off just dipping a toe into the Facebook news stream. Because treading those fast-moving social media waters on a daily basis? “Now that just makes me tired.”
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.
Author Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography