Is inaccurate self-representation affecting our perception of realistic success? This is a question I’ve been asking myself. The catalyst: Facebook.
Recently I’ve been in multiple conversations with friends about the power of Facebook, and how the impact it has on our lives is not always a positive thing. Given that I found myself continually drawn to this topic I thought it best to write it out.
Let me begin by saying I think Facebook is an incredible tool. The ability to maintain contacts and friendships, to share elements of our lives with the people we care about, to create a virtual gathering place where I can see pictures of my new niece or reconnect with old friends is astounding. And already it is evolving.
The addition of the share feature is transforming the way I use Facebook. Now the virtual gathering place is also a place to share ideas, to read articles and discuss them, to bring awareness to people who might be interested in various activities and organisations. Our discovery of new concepts and thoughts has sped up, and each time I check my newsfeed I can find something new to interest me. Even better, I choose whose shared articles and videos populate my newsfeed, meaning I tailor it to the opinions of those I care about.
This selective nature of Facebook allows me to eliminate the offensive or uninteresting elements I might find on more traditional sources of news. My newsfeed is exactly that: The news I choose to feed myself. But this option of an edited worldview cuts both ways, because it is still being driven by people with an ulterior motive.
Most of the time the motive of my friends and family is simply to display things of interest and joy. But inherently this creates the illusion that things are all interest and joy, and it extends, not only to what they share about other topics, but also what they share about themselves. The power behind Facebook and the profiles we create about ourselves is the ability to project whatever image we like, regardless of accuracy.
The best example of this I can think of is the checking-in option. I presume this option was made available to share with the people in our life exactly where we are and what we’re doing, although why this information is necessary to share with all contacts at once has escaped me. But this in itself is no bad thing. The problem arises when people become desperate to convince the world of their thriving social life. They advertise themselves as fun-loving party animals because there is the expectation that this is what they should be. That this lifestyle equals success. And, sadly, like most advertisements, it is riddled with half-truths.
We can’t all be fun-loving party animals, and we can’t be fun-loving party animals all the time. We have lives that need maintenance, jobs to fund our social outings, we get exhausted, and need down time. But when we indulge in this downtime, curl up on the couch with a laptop and peruse our newsfeed, we discover everybody else is out having a good time. We find photos of parties and holidays, checked-in locations of clubs and pubs we didn’t even know existed, and people tagged so everyone knows they partook in the good time.
If I was to believe my newsfeed I would have to concede that the lives of the people I know are nothing but restaurants and nights out, vacations and parties. And I would face the morbid realisation that my life is nothing like that.
And this is where the negative influence of all these good intentions can hit. People see the staggering weight of positive experiences and believe this is what life should be. They get depressed that their life is not composed of an endless string of ups, and feel pathetic and boring by comparison. And what do they do? They make sure the next time they’re out they check themselves in. They proliferate the illusion that happiness and success is determined by the quality of their social life in an attempt to convince people that they’re keeping up. And the irony is everyone else is doing the same. Everyone is logging on, seeing the revelry the rest of the world is having, then convincing themselves and others they’re part of it, thereby perpetuating a misconstrued reality.
This desire to keep up spreads into what photos we share, our upbeat statuses, and the things we like. Every time we add a stroke to our Facebook profile we make sure it represents the ideal us. We wait to see the amount of likes our input gets, using it as a barometer of popularity and a comfort that we are measuring up. We define our self-worth by the clicks of a mouse.
This one-sided persona we are all creating is damaging because it’s one that’s impossible to live up to. It is breeding a necessity to continually tag and check and share to maintain our disguise, but it’s artificial. Yes, we have times of genuine fun, but by feeding this and focusing solely on this we are ignoring half of ourselves. We need to embrace the quieter moments and place as much value on introspection and rehabilitation as we currently are on externalisation and socialisation.
I don’t know how we achieve this through the medium of social networking, and I’m not suggestion the solution is to broadcast when we feel shitty and anti-social, or upload photos of ourselves binge-eating on the couch watching crappy television. Although, perhaps if we did, we would realise a lot more of us do it than we care to admit.
But I do think that if we absolutely must advertise our lives then one day it would be nice to see a newsfeed populated with people checking in the current book they’re reading, status updates comprised of self-reflective thought, or photos of quiet nights in. I think this would go a long way towards bringing the balance back to Facebook, and a balance to our expectations of a normal life.