Facebook makes us jealous. Competitive. Depressed.
Facebook stirs up that fear of missing out.
Facebook’s meaningless, frictionless sharing—think automatic Spotify updates—makes us care less.
Facebook is destroying our friendships. Our connections. What it means to truly interact and be social.
And so on. You’ve heard this all before.
There are many of these articles floating around, but after reading this Gizmodo piece, Facebook Is Making Us Miserable, I finally decided to toss some thoughts into the pot. The article, like others I’ve come upon, notes Facebook’s culture of comparison and competition:
First, it’s creating a den of comparison. Since our Facebook profiles are self-curated, users have a strong bias toward sharing positive milestones and avoid mentioning the more humdrum, negative parts of their lives. Accomplishments like, “Hey, I just got promoted!” or “Take a look at my new sports car,” trump sharing the intricacies of our daily commute or a life-shattering divorce.
Our friends’ status updates force us to look at what we have (or don’t have) compared to others. And how we naturally want to share good (and major) news: vacations, births, marriages. (For the record, when I announced my fake engagement on April Fool’s Day, I received more “likes,” comments, and private messages than any other status update I’ve posted. Ever.) Aside from the times of need, hardship, or grief in which many of us want or need to express ourselves, we tend to share positive updates: To show we’re doing well. We’re living the good life. We’re fabulous.
I scrolled through my profile back to early 2011, and my posts are mainly upbeat, with the exception of a few cranky ones. That’s my virtual persona for you. She tries to be perfect, you know. I shape myself online for my family. For my friends. For friends of my friends. For “subscribers” I don’t even know. I present the reflection I want to see. I leave a lot of shit out, and I think many of us do this.
So if you’re still viewing Facebook as a portal to real life, well…I think you should stop doing that.
Because for every positive status update, there’s a bad one—one that is not shared. It’s not that we lie, and I wouldn’t even say we embellish. But we present our best selves: untainted, intriguing, and exciting. And to some degree, one-dimensional. So as I revisited my Facebook updates from this year, I wondered how different they would be if I stripped off the mask for a moment and instead highlighted the negative aspects of a particular situation.
How would my Facebook updates read if I licked off the sugar coating? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
ALTERNATIVE: I’m totally broke. Pity me and give me money. Quarters for the cheap slots will do. Please don’t think less of me if I use my cleavage or legs to get free drinks or skip to the front of a line.
ALTERNATIVE: I write so much crap that it overflows out of my computer’s trash bin. It’s not good enough to post on my blog, so I have created another forum for self-promotion where I can compile all of my mediocrity.
ALTERNATIVE: I graduated from my MFA program in creative nonfiction over four years ago and still agonize over it: how I viewed graduate school in general, how I approached my book project, and how I did everything ALL WRONG. I’ve failed as a writer: click on the link to see how and why.
ALTERNATIVE: I really miss my boyfriend but will just say it in French because a) it sounds cooler and b) not everyone will understand what it means so they won’t see how bummed out I can be. But I still need to say it.
ALTERNATIVE: Sometimes, all of you are fucking idiots and it pisses me off.
ALTERNATIVE: I just signed a stack of papers agreeing to pay off a mortgage and have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or how I will do it.
ALTERNATIVE: Oftentimes, I think I’m trying to live a lifestyle in San Francisco that I cannot afford. So when I manage to escape to live somewhere cheaper, will you join me so we can do the things we really want to do with our lives?
* * *
I’m happy with my life, but it’s not exactly what I want it to be; I’m generally in a good mood, but I have dark, confusing days that seem to come out of nowhere. Both versions and perspectives above define me. This duality isn’t a discovery, but it’s interesting to sift through my profile—an eerie, permanent, public record of my crests and troughs—and see how I divulge. Or hold back. Or open up. Or retreat. How I sometimes want to share, sometimes would rather keep to myself, and sometimes choose to be cryptic.
It’s strange and fascinating, this Facebook. It’s as if we must be artful and precise in our use—when life can be hard to document.
More Notes on Virtual Life (and Persona):
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part I: The Evolution of Friendship
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part II: Facebook, Twitter, and the Seeds of Compartmentalization
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part III: Nomadic Relationships
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part IV: On Unplugging & Merging Virtual and Real
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part V: Proximity & Physical Space
- Persona in the Virtual World: Crafting a Second Self
- Reflections and Shadows: Images (and Musings) on the Self
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Blogger at Writing Through the Fog. Story Wrangler at Automattic.