After being home from traveling for nearly five months, today I finally took up the mundane, yet socially acceptable task of posting my travel photos on Facebook. I had traveled for an equal amount of time that I’d been home since, yet the distinctive memories still came flooding in as I sorted through hundreds and hundreds of frozen moments. I’ve always thought of Facebook as a vice, something I turn to for light entertainment, a moment to glaze over and shuffle through the daily posts of friends, acquaintances, strangers – who knows who they are at this point. Yet it is also a necessity. Admittedly, it is what glues some of my relationships.
As I shuffled through my images of Cambodia – deleting repeats and dull shots as I went – I came across my images of the S-21 prison. It is truly amazing the power that a single image holds to bring back vivid emotions and bodily sensations. I recalled the blood spatters on the walls, the horrific energy I felt as I wandered down empty halls of wooden prison cells. One image showed the boards of hundreds upon hundreds of faces: men, women, and children all terrified and on their way to their death. I remember walking down that aisle. There were a select few faces that stood out to me; the faces stared into my soul, and I felt as if I could really feel their pain, their fear was my fear. As I loaded this image into my album, Facebook’s technology went about its business, and created those white boxes around their faces, suggesting I tag them. For some reason, my instinctual thought was “I can’t tag them- they’re dead.”
Immediately, the motions I was going through on a social network I visit everyday felt wrong. It felt unjust and inhumane, like somehow Facebook had robotically stripped away the raw, true feelings I had incurred that day in Phnom Penh. A quick internet search on the psychology of Facebook revealed to me that empirical studies had shown Facebook to increase unhappiness, but the reasons were things like jealousy of other users, and the lack of interaction and stimulation found with real people versus cyber versions of your friends. I believe though it is more than that.
As I thought through my history on Facebook, it occurred to me that I primarily use the site to share images – travel photos, get-togethers, and celebrations, still frames of visceral moments throughout my life. As I continuously go back to re-view and essentially re-experience these moments, however, my emotional, censorial memory of it slowly diminishes; the memory of the moment is replaced by the memory of the easily accessible photograph. One could argue that this could be the case with viewing a photographic print repeatedly until the emotional, psychological connection is numbed, but Facebook reminds us that we are looking and experiencing the recollection of a memory through a framework; a pre-determined computer code written by a complete stranger that could easily mistake faces of brutally murdered genocide victims as my online friends.
Does this mean that I think Facebook is the route of all bad things in my life and should therefore be eliminated from greater society? Of course not. We must face that it’s a social toolbox that makes certain aspects of socializing more convenient and efficient. As an avid traveler, it would be silly to say that Facebook has never helped me keep in contact with people I’ve met from the opposite side of the globe. That truth-telling moment though – where I looked at those pixelated black-and-white faces lining that hall – was a reminder. A reminder that those emotions and feelings don’t belong to a systematic social network that will classify, categorize, and write a file. They belong to me – the individual. That is something I would argue no piece of technology can ever replace.