Is Facebook Making Life Worse?

Over Thai curries last night with a few friends, J announced that it was the evening of her ten year high school reunion.

Implicit in her announcement was the fact that she was, in fact, here in Albuquerque with us–and not in New York celebrating with her former classmates.

“Don’t worry,” she assured the group. “I talked to my friend who’s there and it’s not that cool.” According to said friend’s report basically everyone in the class is currently working in finance. Except for the former class president, who owns a bar–and also might have a job in finance.

This led into a discussion of reunion attendance generally: I’m about to go my college 5th, S is skipping hers, I skipped my high school 5th but would contemplate the 10th.

We all agreed, though, that the traditional allure of reunions–the chance to see what people are up to who you’d otherwise never know about–is pretty diminished these days.

Thanks to Facebook, we realized, we now know more than we probably ever wanted to about people from our past. We know who is married and who is single. Who works in finance and who is still in school. Who looks a lot better than they did when they were eighteen, who looks worse and who looks exactly the same (at this point, I’d have to say: most people).

What’s the fun, we wondered, in going to a reunion only to feign shock at the verbal update of a long lost classmate whose status updates you see daily and whose photos of their trip to Costa Rica you looked at last Wednesday?

Later on in the meal I confessed that I had spent time that afternoon looking at Facebook photos of an ex-girlfriend of a guy I was recently interested in.

“She’s, like, really hot,” I reported, glumly.

S nodded in sympathy. “I mean, when’s the last time you went on Facebook and felt good about yourself?” she asked.

For the record, all four women at the table responded with vigorous head-shaking and collective murmuring of the word “never.” The one male present, I should note, insisted that–while he too engages in masochistic photo-stalking–also regularly comes upon friends’ status updates that make him laugh aloud.

I suppose that there may have been an occasion on which seeing something on Facebook–a link, a joke, an amusing photo–has made me smile. But primarily, I consider Facebook to be an instrument of self-torture.

As J and I have discussed, when you look at FB you’re generally alone: at home, at your computer, putting off doing something else. Usually something boring, like homework or sleep. In such a state, the bright and busy photos of one’s virtual friends–out at parties, concerts and openings; frolicking in grass and desert; smiling broadly into the camera–usually make their lives seem a whole lot more exciting by comparison.

I like that I know what my long-distance friends lives look like. It makes it easier to catch up with each other when we finally get around to it. But that doesn’t mean it makes me feel good to look at them having fun in moments when I, generally, am not.

To say nothing of the supreme trauma that is looking up people who once dated, or are dating, someone that you once tried to date, or are trying to. Inevitably they are younger, thinner and have better hair.

Which, as S says, is basically a rule of life, with or without Facebook: those girls are always annoyingly skinny.

But we haven’t always had to know about them being annoyingly skinny and look at them being annoyingly skinny when we should be doing other, more productive things. An activity that, of course, makes us feel bad for both seeing what we’re seeing and not doing what it is we should be doing instead.

The thing is that the way people’s lives look on Facebook doesn’t happen by accident: all of us take care to post only those facts and photos that make us look as interesting and attractive as possible–a luxury that the real world, sadly, does not allow.

Or maybe it’s not sad, actually. Because then I might feel bad about myself all the time–instead of only in those moments when, bored and loathe to get grading, writing or reading–I find myself on Facebook.

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3 Comments

Filed under Love Life

3 responses to “Is Facebook Making Life Worse?

  1. Megan

    I got off of facebook about a month or so ago largely due to what you are talking about here. Namely, I found that it was more negative than positive for me. I’d use it to stalk a boy I liked or else check it when I should be doing other things. Or else status updates would just annoy me or the ultimate annoyance–some friends think wall writing is an acceptable sole form of communication (i.e. won’t call or email you, but will respond via wall posts). So I got off, I figured those people who I really want to keep in touch with I will make the effort to keep in touch with. And I haven’t missed it one bit. πŸ™‚

    • I admire you for taking the leap! My current excuse is that I use it for “publicity” (I post my blog links, articles-when-I-write-them, etc.), but I’m honestly not sure I’d have the discipline to give it up even if that weren’t the case. There needs to be an FB Addicts Anonymous or something…

      • E

        The closest I’ve come to cutting the addiction is via avoiding posting status updates- which are addicting to me, but also part of the torture (if nobody responds to them). It is unessesary to post a status like 3 times a day, and I was using it as a procrastination/ test to see who was paying me attention tool. When there is a REALLY important event or I need help, then I will break my rule, but I’m trying to stop using it as a crutch.

        I also think that if I wasn’t friends with so many collegues whose statuses I am addicted to reading and responding to, since those usually make me feel like I am not alone in frustrations of teaching and writing, etc., there is no way I would still be on FB. (Except how can I say that for sure? πŸ™‚

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