It’s 2006, and I have lost my phone. I have a pounding head, a dry mouth and a sense of disquiet. A university ball took place the night before where I tipped a drink over someone’s head, sent an inappropriate text, fell down a flight of stairs. Cue Facebook. I start a group “Lost my phone”. Friends post funny comments, the phone is found, the night is pieced together.
Throughout the week I will see most of these people in lectures, the supermarket, at parties. The online community a reflection of the living, breathing reality.
Status updates in 2006 consisted of gems such as “I’m hanging out of my arse”, and “she has the temperament and face of a cow”. Photo albums were drunken parties.
There was no one upmanship, because everyone was at the same life stage. There was no boasting because it would have looked pathetic to show off about essay scores, holidays you take with your parents.
Cut to 2013 and it’s a different vibe on there. The class of 2006 has scattered, and their profile pictures have been joined by those of colleagues, neighbours, family, and exes. The online community IS the reality.
Along with this new tapestry comes a lack of awareness. Youthful self-consciousness has ceded to constant showing off. Status updates about the broken boiler, exam dread and hangovers have give way to boasts about promotions, new flats, engagements.
“Good morning Barbados!”
“Best month EVER! Promotion, put down deposit on a house and boyfriend just proposed!!!!”
Gaps in earnings yawn open through holiday albums posted online. The property owners decorate their profile with renovation updates. The newly weds and recently engageds use Facebook to trumpet their pleasure beyond their immediate circle.
The single and fun loving post pictures of champagne drinking (always champagne?) and glass clinking.
Facebook becomes a competitive territory when you are at different life stages.
Why is this bad for us? Well, there are several reasons. Your late 20s is a time you are acutely aware of having to achieve a number of goals all at once. The media tells us that our career should be going well, our relationship should be on track for marriage, and we should be in a strong financial position.
Now, the nagging voice of the media has been joined by a thousand voices on Facebook, who show you through their carefully edited profiles that they are achieving this tripos.
And the danger is that the people on Facebook are not just mere acquaintances. If you opened your account in 2006, when Facebook was only available to college networks, your friends will be the people you were marked against in exams. People you fought against for graduate jobs.
The temptation to compare yourself with people against whom you were once on a level playing field with is stronger and more damaging than comparisons with neighbours, colleagues, and others who have since joined Facebook.
Then there is the boasting. Insidiously, gradually, boasting has become socially acceptable. When you are on holiday you feel compelled to take a picture and upload it. Interrupt your holiday to remind everyone else that you are having one. Eight years ago this impulse did not exist. It’s been conditioned.
This is not ok. To see why, try boasting, in person, to someone in less fortunate circumstances than you. Does it feel good? No. So, if you want to continue boasting, you have to disconnect and reduce your empathy for those around you.
The problem with Facebook in your late 20s as opposed to your early 20s is that you no longer meet the very people who make up its online community. You do not see the imperfections in their lives.
Their carefully edited profile becomes your reality. Your real, life, rich in its compromises, its messiness, its fabulous moments and its disappointments is never going to match up to it.
You do not log onto Facebook when you are busy, but in idle moments – during a lull at work, late at night, when ill. Often alone. Therefore this online filter of the best bits in everyone’s lives is viewed by people sitting on a sofa on a Saturday afternoon. The disconnect between publishing at a high and viewing at a low enhances the sense of inadequacy already present in the voyeurism.
The second problem is that everyone has developed at a different pace. Some have made huge successes in their careers. Others are slaving away without reward, possibly to receive greater success later but they do not know that yet.
This is normal, and there would be an element of comparison without Facebook. The difference being that your immediate circle would be unlikely to parade and boast their successes in front of you. But in the Facebook world, the boasts, the photos, the editing highlight and underline any inadequacy you might be feeling.
Also, you will probably see that the boasters and constant updaters are a small part of the online community, so you are effectively comparing yourself against only the loudest and most self-promoting of your peers. This is likely to skew anyone’s perception of themselves.
So why do we keep our accounts? Are we just afraid of missing out?
Keeping in touch is the wonderful part. Being able to message anyone, anywhere in the world without having to search for an address or worry that they have moved house. Seeing a photo of your great aunt pop up in your cousin’s photo album. Looking at the happy face of a friend who has become engaged.
But Facebook has changed. Its interface has changed so that there is a constant feed of updates on the home page, so that people write ‘tweets’ that others can like rather than to interact in a back-and-forth.
Yet those who have used it since 2006 continue to use it the same way, and believe that it still serves the same purpose. I think it breeds discontent – you only need to hear of someone else join the growing voice of complainants to know that.
Therefore think about how you could change the way you use it.
To anyone who might be feeling inadequate I would advise you to make this your mantra.
Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind. The race is long and in the end it is only with yourself –Baz Luhrmann.
Keep the race with yourself, and not with 300 or so others.