In today’s world, we can join a social networking site, like facebook, and have a window into the lives of our friends and family that we otherwise wouldn’t have. We can read profiles and see where people we graduated high school with are working, if they’re married, who they married, if they have children, where they live and so much more. With the posting of pictures we can see the highlights of their vacations, warm family gatherings, weddings, new vehicles and new babies. Even if we haven’t spoken in years, it’s almost as if we become part of some of these former classmates/friends/coworkers lives just by following their facebook activity. Humans are inquisitive. We strive to acquire knowledge on all levels of the spectrum, but we can also be a self-absorbed species as we spend a large portion of our lives simply trying to understand ourselves. Facebook simply becomes an information acquiring tool.
It’s no wonder that facebook and similar sites completely enrapture us. We want to know how others go about life and whether or not we realize it, we can compare ourselves. We are constantly doing this to measure where we fit in within society. Am I working hard enough? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Am I attractive? Am I successful? Am I a good parent? Am I a good person? We look to the lives of our friends, families and, now more than ever, celebrities as a means of comparison. We also want people to know about our own lives. Here I am, keeping an online blog in which I can share aspects of my life with the hopes of reaching out to others. Facebook places all of that personal information right at our fingertips. Even when we declare (on facebook) that we are going to ‘take a break’, we often find ourselves right back on the site within a few days. I always found it contradictory to post on facebook that you’re “quitting” facebook. It seems that if you’re serious about it, you’d just do it without having to make an announcement.
But it’s true. Sometimes we should take a break from social networking sites. Personally, I’m not convinced that having this degree of access into the lives of others is positive. Various studies have yielded results indicating that increased internet use leads to feelings of alienation. This article from the New York Times explains the phenomenon. While there are many positives to social media like keeping in touch, sharing educational and inspirational information and networking, these forms of communication are still unnatural to us. We don’t yet know whether we’re losing touch with humanity or if we’re making great strides as a species. What I do know is that, while having access to a plethora of information is liberating, not all of the information displayed is true.
On Facebook, people can post false information they’ve found on the internet as truth, but we also tend to broadcast our own lives in an inaccurate way. Facebook creates a “boastful” environment where people mainly post the highlights or positive events in their lives. I recommend reading this article, “7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook“. It has an interesting section about bragging and creating a virtual illusion of perfection. It’s a new form of showboating. Think about it, do you ever see people post pictures of their dead cat or how messy their house is? Are they showing pictures of their rusting car, college/job rejection letter, or of disappointed children on Christmas morning? What about even deeper issues? We don’t see posts about having to make yourself vomit after every meal. Nobody’s posting about hiding a bottle of vodka and sipping on it all day or how they decided to abandon their children. We don’t share our struggles with our friends/family on facebook. Perhaps it’s because we believe we shouldn’t burden others with our problems. Maybe it’s because we don’t think it’s anybody’s business. Or it could be because we feel shame for our struggles. We view them as failures, so we conceal them.
Perhaps you enjoy facebook because you find it to be a light and positive environment. You may enjoy seeing the inspirational quotes and all the pictures of new babies and vacations. You can send a loving “hello!” to a friend and see what your cousins on the other side of the country are up to. To that I say, fantastic. However, I’d find it difficult to believe that you don’t walk away from the site feeling slightly envious of…something.
It’s not that I advocate a facebook filled with posts about hatred, anger, apathy and aggression – there’s already enough of that floating about the internet. I’m asking for us to remember that the lives we see projected online aren’t the whole truth. After looking at others pictures or reading their cheery statuses, you may ask yourself why YOU seem to be the only one suffering or having a difficult time. Don’t believe that for one second. I’ve done it and it made me miserable. At one point, I felt utterly inadequate, so I followed suit and juiced up my “facebook resume”. I had just moved to a new, beautiful city, moved into a new place, and started graduate school. My life appeared great and filled with opportunity as I wondered around the city taking exciting photos. I tagged myself at popular restaurants and bars. I’d post about how “tough” grad school was and follow it with some insightful quote I read in one of my psych books. I was out there dating and seeing the city. It was easy to make it appear as if I was on top of the world.
What people didn’t know was that I was dead broke, actually, in debt. I didn’t yet have a job and was living off student loans. I worked temp jobs here and there but nothing ever lasted. My apartment was a crappy, old house and I was living with 3 other strangers (I met on Craig’s List) whom never took an interest in me. I knew absolutely NOBODY in that city, so I had no friends. (Any time I tagged myself at a restaurant I was by myself). The two year relationship I had been in painfully ended and I was disgustingly heartbroken. I couldn’t go into a grocery store without bursting into tears. I was using a free online dating site and went on dates with guys that made me feel cheap. I was delving into a major depressive episode and I was drinking A LOT, and because I didn’t know anybody, I was drinking by myself. I was gaining weight like crazy because I stopped valuing my health; therefore, I stopped cooking for myself. I had no way of getting around other than the subway or bus, which was a HUGE hassle. I was in some deep emotional pain. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt alone and truthfully, I wasn’t wrong about that.
What compelled me to embellish my life when I should’ve been doing the opposite – asking for help? Why did the opinions of my facebook “friends”, some of them I’ve never even met, matter to me? I realize that this phenomenon exists in real life, too. We tell people on a daily basis that we’re OK when we’re not. We work when we’re sick. We wait to cry until we’re alone. I understand sometimes we must wear a mask in order to complete tasks, but it’s a shame to be ashamed of the downsides in life. They happen to us. It took me a couple years to learn not to judge my own worth against the masks of others.
Recently, ABC’s news anchor Elizabeth Vargas opened up about her “anxiety fueled drinking addiction“. She admitted to being an alcoholic, which in my opinion, was an incredibly courageous decision. Because of the stigma associated with it, it’s difficult for any one to move past denial and admit to being an alcoholic . Vargas, however, is in the public eye so not only is she admitting this to friends and family, she’s confessing to the world. I admire her decision. I bring this up because it’s a perfect example of how the lives we portray are only a portion of the lives we actually live. Even her co-anchor, George Stephanopoulos whom she worked closely with on a daily basis, had no clue. She appeared put together, intelligent, successful, and confident but in reality she had been suffering for years with anxiety and alcoholism. She said it was “exhausting” trying to conceal her problems and she’s right, it is. Sometimes when thinking about addiction, I find it amazing how “functional” addicts (usually alcoholics) find the energy to not only fulfill daily tasks, but also to hide their addiction. I say this because I’ve been there.
If we could free ourselves from the fear of the judgement of others, even just a little, perhaps we could feel more confident about asking for help. We only perpetuate our vices as we continue to conceal or deny them. You are not alone in your pain and it’s easier to believe once you separate facades from reality. Remember to think of the limitations facebook has; it may provide a window into the lives of others, but we don’t have a clear view inside. Our deepest strengths involve confronting our problems and discovering ways to heal and grow. What is life if we don’t learn about our own selves? Sometimes are greatest opportunities to learn are when we are enduring adversity. While there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments and “the things that go right” in your life, there’s also nothing wrong with acknowledging that you and everyone else are not perfect. Whether our technological advances in communication ever become “natural”, I don’t know but I do know that imperfection is.