Facebook: Enabling a Codependent World

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by Nick Galieti

fb_icon_325x325Originally conceptualized in the 1980’s, codependency been defined as a description of relationship behaviors and mental health status of those who are connected with someone considered to be an alcoholic. Today, what constitutes codependency has been broadened in its scope. Wikipedia offers a rather substantive definition of this larger umbrella of codependency: “Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”

Spouses of “dependents”, or even family and friends, can develop patterns of behavior where a codependent individual feels compelled to “save” the dependent who is “in peril.” This pattern of behavior presents itself by the need to make up for the dependents faults or answering for the collateral damage a dependent may cause. This will feel like a genuine caring effort to minimize the damage caused or to limit the suffering of those around the dependent person. What often looks like “helping” or caring behavior, can turn negative when the “saving” becomes excessive and persistent, even compulsive and thus permissive of the destructive behavior of the dependent.

Wikipedia goes on to say, “Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. A codependent is someone who cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, or even a process, or substance. In this context, people who are addicted to a substance, like drugs, or a process, like gambling or sex, can also be considered codependent.”

The token phrase of codependency is “Once they fix their issue, my problems will be fixed too.”

While alcoholism was the originating problem for the study into codependency, and as time has passed, codependency and its accompanying characteristics have become evident in other ways and through other mediums other than simply chemical or substance abuse. One of the ways in which codependency has become more and more evident is the use of social media.

Facebook as the dominant social media network, like any business, is technically dependent on its customers, of its users, for its existence and purpose. Due to its large scale and reach, it has a tremendous amount of power and resources and is quite good in many respects at learning each user’s preferences and catering to those preferences. The Facebook corporation hires and trains programmers and social scientists to find new ways to further entrench the use and function of Facebook in the lives of its users. There are also millions of companies and programmers worldwide that also spend their professional pursuits finding new ways to leverage the Facebook platform. Much like a cigarette company includes addictive chemicals in their products thus ensuring renewed business, Facebook has in its core functions, many “features” designed around helping its users becomes socially dependent on the world around them, through the window of Facebook, for their happiness, and daily functionality.

I don’t mention this as some critique of business in general, as the function of most businesses is to find the needs of the marketplace and to fulfill them. In this sense, there is nothing inherently evil or immoral with filling a market need/demand. When buying a lawn mower, for example, you have a demand for an efficient method of efficiently cutting grass on a regular basis, and the product fills that specific demand. But what is the “need” of social media and how do they go about filling that need?

While water is a need for human life, the current method of operation of many Facebook users, Twitter followers, or Snapchat users, is to wake up before even having a drink of life-giving water, and spend 20-50 minutes on their mobile devices seeing “what’s happening.” Users wake up and offer comments or “likes” on scores of status updates, news pieces, blog posts, or their favorite cat video. These platforms have become THE method of interaction with other individuals, with new media, and in many ways, it has become the economic force of the world helping to drive public opinion on products, movies, events, etc.

According to an article in Business Insider, Facebook users average 40-50 minutes (or more) on Facebook (and related messaging apps) a day. One can assume, as with all averages there are going to be those that don’t spend any time on Facebook but still have an account. This user behavior is likely to skew these figures to appear lower than the actual average for “active users.” This would mean than the real average time on Facebook for active users is likely well over an hour a day. With the latest figures stating that there are 1.71 Billion active users (1.57 Billion on mobile) on Facebook every day, that means that there are about 1.71 Billion hours of what would otherwise be spent doing something else as opposed to performing the 4.5 Billion “likes” and “sharing” things around the world.

To draw back to the key points of the definition of codependency as mentioned earlier, we can see that there are many social media users who fit the category of codependency. “Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”

While some can blame a bump in certain codependent-like activities on Facebook to political seasons and the need to save everyone from a bad vote for “the other person,” Social Media has produced more supposed “victims” to more issues, and consequently brought more pressure to social causes than any other platform in human history. One’s daily Facebook feed is filled with story after story of victim after victim. Each day people are bombarded by the view of a world that appears to be sick and desperate need of humanity and for the world to be saved. These stories are shared because it taps into our human nature to want to remove or alleviate suffering, and this is generally a very good thing. However, these posts can become crusades, disagreement in comments can be the means of destroying relationships with people who are lukewarm or don’t seem to match our intensity on the same issue. On some level, individual’s post status updates about someone or something that has become the victim of society and its “cold indifference” assuming that their part is done on the issue; after all, they shared something on Facebook. Other posts are news stories about someone who was victimized by someone, someone who died, or who has some kind of need. When it comes right down to it, there is no possible way for a human being to do even the smallest part of the good that needs to be done in the world. That is not to say people shouldn’t be kind, but posting about it could, in fact, be making the problem worse.

When individuals become codependent, their lives become unmanageable, or out of control, largely because they feel that there are so many people that need saving, that they become bogged down and even shut down emotionally because they can no longer sustain the pain that comes from constant empathy or effort that is needed to fix all the ills they see.

In social media, there is a repeated victimization that either creates codependency with some cause or the opinions of others as we post about this or that; or it fosters codependency in how we react to the cries for help and attention that a status update or tweet is by definition. In any case, social media networks function exclusively on the basis that people have a habit of coming back to the source of their dependency over and over again and will be lost without it. People base their self-worth on the number of likes their status updates receive, the number of people who reach out to alleviate their plights. While some might categorize Facebook as something that people are addicted to, and there is some merit to that argument, a growing number of behaviors show that social media displays the world in such contextually void arguments that we find ourselves debating and discussing things that will largely do very little to improve the world, only make us feel guilty for not “liking” the right thing.

In the event that a reader to this feels some sense of disagreement or lack of substance to these conclusions, consider for a moment the nature of social media itself. If using social media isn’t about getting attention, or feeding off the responses of others, we would write our thoughts and opinions down in a journal or something private. The intent and power of a social media platform is by its nature, to make these things known publicly, and not in some passive way, but in a way where people “like” and “comment” on these things. Our opinions tend to have more or less value in our own minds based on how many people react to what we have said. We use the app’s and the website habitually and have few hours that pass in the day when we aren’t somehow connected to the social media world. All of this combined is a pattern of behavior that is mentally and emotionally unsustainable. Social Media interaction makes the world codependent.

Read again this definition of codependency, “A codependent is someone who cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, or even a process, or substance.” Is social media not organized around other people or processes of communication and interaction? Do people get a chemical reaction, a psychological reaction to the things that people post on Facebook? Of course. That is how it is designed. That is why we can “Like” “Heart” “be Sad” or other “emoji’s” to respond to what people post. We can share, we can re-tweet, we are being programmed to “respond” to anything and everything in lightning fast ways, and in the growing convenience of mobile devices.

Often times individuals will sit and wait to see what others say, respond to their critique, and continue on such a pattern over and over in an effort to save the world from “people who don’t think as highly as we do.” In the world of politics, this is largely true. Polemic exchanges are commonplace when dealing with candidates, or issues. Social Media platforms are designed in such a way to organize an argument and to offer notifications and reminders of the “conversation” so that we can return to it again and again.

For those that feel that I am off-base with my position in this regard, consider for a moment how many times you raise your phone to check what is going on in the world of social media? Once a day? Twice a day, maybe in the morning and the evening before going to bed? Or is it 15 times an hour, sometimes staying on social media for hours at a time writing, sharing, liking, re-tweeting, or being consumed in the lives of others? How many meals have passed WITHOUT checking your phone for the latest social update?

Consider this exercise: Time yourself and see how long you can go before even thinking about checking social media, let alone actually engaging in something on social media. How often do your conversations start with, “I saw this on Facebook” or “Did you see what so-and-so tweeted?” Are we using social media, or is social media using us? Do we spend our time engaging in political arguments, or social commentary on how someone is a victim of society? Have you convinced yourself that what you write on Facebook is necessary?

Social media by definition encourages “poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement,” and its users “cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, or even a process.” I personally felt that I was engaged in social media in an incredibly unhealthy way, and felt that I was no longer able to manage myself. I deleted the Facebook app off my phone, no more Instagram, no more Twitter, but I left my account open. During the course of the first hour that those apps were gone on my phone, I checked my phone 12 times, habitually. Days later I still found myself wanting to open the Facebook app to kill a few seconds or minutes here and there. It has now been three weeks since deleting the Facebook app. I still go on messenger because I have some work contacts that I communicate with for my job, but I have largely disconnected with the platform, and I still find myself getting on my phone and needing to check other people’s status updates, to see how they are doing.

So what does this mean in an LDS setting? It can mean any number of things. Due to the council that we have been given to flood the earth with the gospel and to #sharegoodness, this balance of using social media in light of this council takes on another dimension. There is some good to be had in the use of social media, but we should remain vigilant to not become caught up in the thick of thin things. Additionally, comes the warning to not make our faith a matter of other people’s responsibility. We should not post our problems on Facebook and act as if agency no longer comes into play. Addictions or codependence of any kind should be avoided. And yes, there are ways to be codependent on the Church, but that is a topic for another time.

Just take the time to do a self-evaluation. What is the role of social media in your life, and why is it that way?

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