Facebook is putting new stressors on our lives. Researchers in Germany this week published a report that Facebook is generating increased levels of envy and jealousy among users (press release, report). The Atlantic, in May last year, published an article asking if Facebook was making us lonely (link). Then in November, the University of Edinburgh Business School published a report saying that the more social circles you have represented on Facebook, the more stressed out you’re likely to be (link, research). Why? We don’t know which social version of ourselves to be in this new singularity. I call it the “wedding syndrome”: All your spheres collide and the wild side you have with your friends is not the professional side you display at your job is not the family-dynamics side that comes out with your relatives. Which version of yourself are you supposed to be? On Facebook, you can’t tailor your identity very well: Everyone is the bride.
They only feel new because they are more pronounced than ever. But this doesn’t mean we should discount the importance of these problems. We shouldn’t. The question now is, What do we do? What do we do with our envy, our loneliness, our socially mashed-up selves?
A few years ago, I went through the hardest season I have yet faced in my life. Everything was in upheaval: my identity, my relationships, my faith, my social circles. I would go to bed exhausted only wake up a few hours later, unable to fall back to sleep. Inside, I felt like winter in the Midwest, the air just hollowing me out. Nothing thrives on the plains in winter; the wind just burns. And in that season, I experienced all of these things: envy, loneliness, insecurity.
All the while, I habitually checked Facebook. I needed connection, but I found loneliness. I needed laughter, but I found jealousy. I needed clarity, but I lacked the security to be in need.
Needs are a bad thing to bring to Facebook, and that was all I had. So I didn’t post much on Facebook. I felt like a bystander in my own life. I felt powerless.
The German researchers found that Facebook users who had the most negative experience were those who posted the least and just prowled other people’s pages. Pictures of others' vacation getaways were the biggest stimulant for envy.
Add to that a crisis of need, and such emotions stretch and deepen into prolonged winters on the hard plain.
So what can we do?
Here are a few answers I’ve come up with, things I learned from my experience. But I don’t think you have to be in as bad a shape as I was to find these answers helpful. I think practicing them can go a long ways to feeling less envious, less lonely, and less insecure.
Get off Facebook and find some friends.
My season exposed to me just how “friend-poor” I was. I had friends sure, but I needed a few I could cry into a beer with. These kinds of friends were severely lacking. I’d known it before then, but this crisis exposed my deep need for it.
You will have to take some risks, but what have you got to lose? Facebook simply can’t replicate the kind of connections we need. Prowling around Facebook won’t make it any better. Take a risk and message a friend and get a beer.
Out of my crisis, I did find a few friends and had a few beers, and I have a few friendships that are deeper than they were, and better. I am more ready for the next crisis than I was for the last one.
If you’re on Facebook, post something.
On Facebook, posting is power. Angst is driven by a sense of powerlessness. If you’re just Facebook stalking, you’re living a powerless existence. Posting updates, sharing videos, or posting links is the exchange rate on Facebook. Be heard.
If you’re depressed or angry or hurting, think before you post those feelings. If those are your feelings, get off Facebook and find some friends. Maybe it’s not even a matter of talking it through but just being with other people.
When you do post, the reality is—and you know this—that everyone from your mom to that friend of a friend you met one time at a party will see your post. Your post will tell both of them something about you. What will it be?
You’ve gotta give up something, but you decide what it will be.
Everyone has a choice here: Give up posting on Facebook, or give up managing other people’s impressions of you. This goes back to the “wedding syndrome.” You don’t get to choose which side of you people see. It’s not easy nor is it fair, but that’s the price of Facebook.
If you give up posting, that’s powerlessness (see point 2).
However, if you want to post but feel worried about who will see it, take time to explore that fear. Who might see your post that you’re worried about? What identity are you trying to present with your post and why? Is it the real you? And why could that cause friction? If it’s not the real you, then what’s the point in posting it because they won’t know the real you anyways? If it is the real you, but you don’t like it, spend time with that truth too. As Bruce Springsteen sang, “It’s a sad man, my friend, who’s living in his own skin, and can’t stand the company.”
I chose to give up managing other’s impressions. It’s exhausting, and I realized I couldn’t actually control it anyway. It’s much more fun now. And my real friends really know me.
Facebook is an opportunity.
Because Facebook amplifies some of your feelings like loneliness, powerlessness, anger, envy, and insecurity, you have the opportunity to know yourself better. You can’t change who you are, so learning to live with yourself is worth your time and effort.
Part of my season of crisis came from trying to be someone I wasn’t, to live up to an image I had of myself, the image where I have it all together, the image I wanted to believe in. Oh, what? You too?
Or maybe it’s something else that’s got you in a spiral. Instead of resisting it, listen to it and learn from it. You can do it, and Facebook can help.
Oh, and one more thing:
You are not your Facebook. All the good stuff you post isn’t all there is to you, but neither is all the bad stuff that no one ever sees. This is true for you, and for everyone else whose vacations you’re jealous of. And it’s true of me too.