It’s Complicated (with) Facebook

28 Feb

Did you ever think back in 2nd grade that the kid picking his nose in the corner would one day be asking you for help with the harvest on his virtual farm? That you’d find out exactly what he thinks of the 3D re-release of the Star Wars series or how excited he is that the Arrested Development movie is actually happening?

No?

Me neither. Facebook is a fascinating beast. I say beast because it turns out that the glossy picture our news feeds paint of each other’s lives might be making us depressed. Unfortunately, this hypothesis makes a lot of sense to me. Has it ever been easier to build a measuring stick for yourself against your hyper-extended peer network? What was once reserved for alumni magazines and the oft New York Times wedding announcement is now just a Facebook newsfeed refresh away.

We watch close and peripheral friends alike post life milestones, amazing travel pictures, instagram-ed images that make even their left thumb appear deeply remarkable. It’s like only watching the movie trailer and comparing that to the full-length film you’re stumbling through.

The implications for the reverse of this phenomenon are interesting as well: could the happy faces we’re cultivating on facebook prevent our friends from reaching out and checking in with us? By only sharing carefully filtered day-to-day information with each other are we cutting off opportunities for real intimacy? Does that potential sense of inferiority prevent us from reaching out to those we see as living “perfect” lives?

I don’t know. I’m not qualified to answer those questions in any kind of linkable, scientific way. I can say that I suspect that these things are happening to us to varying degrees.

If you’re sitting there thinking this sounds familiar but wondering what to do about it, I do have some advice for coming to terms with Facebook:

  • Don’t judge yourself: remember that all we’re seeing is the highlight reel
  • Revel in the moments when you learn something truly remarkable about someone you never would have discovered without this online connection
  • Check in with your friends, no matter how happy they appear to be
  • Laugh out loud at the shared hysteria of the latest cat memes and Daily Show clips
  • “Like” George Takei, seriously, he’s hysterical
  • Remember that we’re all closely curating our posts…and sometimes just making bad booze fueled decisions
  • Sign out, go outside, take a walk

And now I shall step down from my pulpit and see if that kid from 2nd grade got more birthday messages than me…

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