TIME recently released a seemingly harmless app that takes all the ages at which your Facebook friends got married, finds the average, and punches you in the soul with the number. You know, so you can stop guessing exactly how well on your way you are to dying alone.
Clearly, I’m going to talk about why this is shitty, but first let me say that, in some ways, I love this app. Maybe it so blatantly leverages everything that’s unhealthy about social media that we can’t help but see it, and perhaps start removing ourselves from the the bullshit game of letting our self-image be affected by the curated social media output of others. This app so perfectly reduces the overarching thing that’s so damaging about social media: the pastime of brutally comparing our lives to everyone else’s, and quantifying our progress relative to our peers and the people we admire (and the people we hate, naturally.) It’s almost comical how this app takes the various criteria by which we made these judgments and boils them down to one clean number. One heinous, unholy number that is tells you whether you’re ahead, behind, or on track with your Facebook friends.
And it’s not like the issue at hand is, say, how close to April 15th you wait to pay your taxes. It’s not even as sterile a topic as education, or career. It’s marriage. It’s a thing that speaks to the more tender aspirations a lot of people hold – falling in love, making a commitment, starting a family – not to mention that people who don’t even want to get married are utterly excluded from the race entirely.
It’s possible I’m reading too much into this. Actually, I certainly am. I don’t believe this was created as anything more than a fun way to aggregate information about your friends, for you to go, “Huh, interesting” and then immediately dismiss. So I’m reading too much into it – but so is everyone else who uses it.
I mean, what else are you supposed to do with it? Because the number itself, without the context of your emotional response to what it implies about your perceived sense of relative romantic accomplishment or lack thereof, is boring. It’s the way the number makes us feel about ourselves – it’s the overthinking – that has fueled the rapid circulation of this app. No one actually gives a damn what their social media contacts are doing with their lives – but we monitor their progress because of how their existences make us feel about ourselves. And there’s always some asshole who throws off the curve.
Actually, fuck that. The headline on the Time post containing the app actually says: “TIME Can Predict Your Perfect Marriage Date. Find out how many of your Facebook friends have put a ring on it and what their relationships say about your own timing in the love department.” So yeah, forget all that shit I just said – the intended evocation is disgustingly apparent.
And this number is so stark, so closed to interpretation. I saw the link to the app popping up on Facebook for days before I clicked on it. I didn’t want to know. Largely, I didn’t care and was worried the presence of a number would make me care. It wouldn’t give me the choice to care – the number would simply be there and I would have to feel some kind of way about it. And maybe that’s how all of social media is; If we expose ourselves to it – to limited facts about the lives of others – it’s inevitably going to make us feel some way about ourselves. Maybe we’re better off avoiding it, and only allowing our perception of our progress to exist relative to what we experience in the real world, where there is more room for detail and nuance.
For the record, of course I looked. I saw that the median age of my friends when they got married was 2.5 years older than I am now, and I felt relieved, and I don’t feel great about that.