My Internet addiction puts on a new face

By From page A17 | February 17, 2013

Email is the gateway drug. Facebook is where you end up.

“Lurking” on Facebook you begin. “Posting,” “liking,” and “commenting” is where you end up.

And once you’re there, just as with other drugs, you respond to a new master. Your life is no longer your own.

I tell this story from the point of view of an older person, because that’s what I am. Facebook is a different phenomenon if you’re young. People under 30 have had Facebook in their lives since college and if they are addicted to it—many are—they may not experience the same kind of discomfort as an older person, at least not this older person.

I joined Facebook in 2006 but rarely visited the site. I never read everything, only what happened to be recently posted. Three years later, when Facebook offered two ways to respond to other people’s news or photos (“liking” or “commenting”), I rarely did.

Facebook sends reminders about birthdays, but with dozens of “friends,” I would have needed to send birthday greetings every three days. I didn’t do it.

I continued in this state for a long time — lurking, as they say — and responded only one out of 25 times to posts by other people.

Recently, two things changed.

I’m not sure why, but I began checking Facebook more often (about once a day) and spending more time there. I found myself clicking over to links, scrolling through photo collections, and reading more text.

I’m tippling Facebook, devoting a bit too much time.

Last week marked a second stage in my burgeoning addiction. I suddenly felt that I had not been sufficiently polite to my Facebook friends, who now number 154, with two dozen designated “close.” Why didn’t I respond to them more often?

I consider myself a pretty polite person. I open doors for strangers, send “thank you” notes on real paper (sometimes), and I try to follow the “rules” of conversation, giving the other person more than enough time to speak. I always respond to personal emails, even if only in a few words.

But Facebook was one place where it never occurred to me to be polite — until now.

The seed was planted two or three years ago when my son-in-law said, “Marion, why don’t you post once in a while?” I soon realized that the picture-sharing opportunities on Facebook are pretty amazing and perhaps less pushy than pulling out a flipbook of snapshots when you run into an acquaintance at the supermarket.

I learned how to post photos of my grandsons, and the next thing I knew people responded. (By “next thing I knew,” I mean that literally. Responses sometimes arrive within seconds.) Nowadays, I get as many as ten “likes” within the first hour of posting, plus a few typed comments.

I enjoy remarks like “adorable,” “sweet” or “makes me smile,” even from people I hardly know.

By responding quickly, these folks reveal that they spend a lot of time on Facebook but most people do not seem embarrassed by that. In fact, I sense that for some people Facebook becomes, at least for a while, a primary pleasure. They post photos, forward political statements, share humorous videos or comment on other people’s posts so extensively that they show up on my “news feed” 15 times in a row.

I’d be embarrassed to have the world know I spent so much time on Facebook, but then again, what’s wrong with being social on line if you enjoy it? Some of the personal posts are touching and some of the funny posts are hilarious and I would miss all of them if not for Facebook.

My new attention to politeness is, however, more insidious, as if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has made an incision and is crawling into my brain. Suddenly I feel the need to respond to other people’s postings. How can I let them send me birthday greetings and tell me my grandsons are precious without responding in kind? Am I, who am polite in public, choosing to be a Facebook boar?

A young friend told me, “Don’t worry about politeness on Facebook. No one else does,” but she’s speaking for her generation.

So I’ve started “liking” other people’s photos more often. I’m logging into Facebook, sometimes more than once a day, scrolling through posts in order not to ignore anyone, and writing comments because a mere button click of “liking” doesn’t feel like enough.

Is this what I mean to do with my free time? Last week, after posting a new grandchild photo, I checked for responses 10 times. While at it, I also “liked” and “commented” on other people’s stuff.

Dinner was late.

I feel as if I have come out from behind a tree and am suddenly skiing down a mountain at top speed, high on something, although I’m not sure what. How do I stop?

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]

Marion Franck

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