For the first 40 years of my life there was no such thing as Friendster, MySpace, and the 800 pound gorilla that is Facebook. But since the late 1990’s we’ve all climbed on board the social media bandwagon. It is a juggernaut that determines the fates of individuals and businesses. Teen status rises and falls based on likes. Serious-faced consultants make good money teaching humorless businesses how to appear happy, hip, and cool online. Politicians scramble to appear just like us. Celebrities remind us that we all wish we could be just like them.
It’s all fake, of course, but that’s its charm. On Facebook you’re always on stage, controlling your own script and makeup. Facebook is you on steroids. Really really happy steroids. Every post shows you smiling, and every friend’s comment reminds you how inspiring and beautiful you are. I’ve always suspected most people wish they were as good as their Facebook page makes them look.
And that’s where things get dicey. Because I’m willing to admit to myself that there’s something a little—let’s be honest—fake (or at least deliberately incomplete) about my Facebook Brand. And I suspect that’s the case for everyone. Even you. But what if it’s not? Don’t we all have a lingering worry about the other Facebook Brands that fill our page? Sometimes I worry about you, my Facebook friend–what if you really are that dynamic, strong, perky, and unflaggingly cheerful, while looking so good doing it?
That would be depressing. Really, really depressing, and that would be a big problem on Facebook. Because you know as well as I do that a person who is consistently unbubbly isn’t going to get many likes. I mean, like, who needs a Debbie Downer? Right?
And so we soldier on, keeping up with the E-Joneses. Our smiles never falter, and our eyes never blink.
Psychologists and sociologists are having a field day with all the new ways we’re tying ourselves up in knots with social media. Studies abound on social media addiction, social media fatigue, increased depression by those who feel they can’t measure up to their cyber- friends, lowered ability to successfully negotiate face-to-face social interactions, loss of sleep, cyber bullying…I could go on.
The desire to put our best foot forward is nothing new. The desire to get all dressed up and socialize with people we don’t much care for so we can tell them how much we love them has been around as long as there have been humans. But in the modern world of social media it’s just so damn relentless. We never get to put down our social facades.
After all, forty percent of American Facebook users check their page more than once a day. Social media consumption in the US is now about 7.5 hours per week per person.
I don’t want to minimize the good things that come from social media. It’s faster than writing a letter to those you genuinely love—although far less fulfilling for both the writer and the recipient. “Great day at the beach!!! Love all you guys!!!” Social media is great for quick bursts of simple information. But I worry that young people are becoming convinced that quick bursts of simple information is the only kind of information there is.
I was in my 40’s before the faint breeze of social media became a whirlwind. This gives me both advantages and disadvantages over those of you for whom social media is as common as breathing, speaking, and flat screen TV’s. On the downside, I’ve struggled like most oldsters to learn the language, and I’m confident that like every emigrant to the digital world, I speak with an accent. On the other hand, I think we codgers have a much easier time dealing with the fact that, as noted above, it’s all fake, but that’s its charm.
Remember what Willy the Shake said 400 years ago: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Dude could’ve rocked it on Twitter, yo?
Well, thank you for reading this. Now please visit my Facebook page. You’ll find it at Chris Huston-Modern Life. Smiley-face.