It’s no secret: Facebook is a cesspool of people with perfect smiles sharing overhyped stories.
As soon as we log on, we know what to expect. A friend posts pictures of his sweet family in matching polo shirts standing on a beach at sunset. Even the kids are smiling rapturously (why can’t those families ever get photobombed by the wrinkly European in a speedo?). We scroll through our feed and find ourselves drooling at photos of another friend’s new car, waxed and basking in the warm sun like a giant, luxurious rotisserie. Another friend shares snippets of her perfectly-manicured garden; her vegetables look as if they’re glistened with fresh dew imported from the rainforest, perched on thrones of soil transplanted from the banks of the Nile. Inside, we seethe with contempt and think, She and her bell peppers can rot in hell!
Recently I’ve read several blog posts censuring Facebook for creating this epidemic of envy, as if it is a sudden, unexpected virus that cannot be contained. I watch as Facebook friends post links to these blogs with gusto (the irony here does not elude me). But I see a deeper problem that isn’t being articulated.
Think back to a time before Facebook, a time before you were explicitly taught the idea of envy or self-worth.
For me, it was gym day. I told my teacher, Mrs. Gurtner, I’d forgotten my shoes, praying she wouldn’t check my locker and discover the flourescent pink and purple sneakers with animal print shoelaces. I loathed them. A week earlier at our first gym class of the new school year, I noticed all the other girls were wearing pastel-colored low tops. My shoes suddenly felt like tawdry grenades of sparkling immaturity exploding in a field of Easter eggs. I cursed my mom under my breath. How could she not know pastels were the new neon?! One week later, to avoid corporal shame, I lied to my teacher for the first time in my life and told her I left my shoes at home.
I was in first grade.
Jealousy and envy have existed before social media, before the internet, before cuneiform. One of the Ten Commandments was even “You shall not covet.” Jealousy has permeated our society for thousands of years, but we act as though the idea of comparing our vacation to someone else’s is Facebook’s evil ploy to make us narcissistic monsters.
Facebook may perpetuate a culture of comparison, but it isn’t the cause of it. People may argue, “But Facebook makes it soooo easy to have feelings of envy and self-loathing!!! My friends have perfect lives!!” Let’s look at it from another perspective. When you experience great joy or something of personal magnitude, what is one thing you can’t wait to do? Share the news with others (think: new baby). We all do. We desire connection. We long for community. We want to share our lives and experiences with those around us. These desires predate social media. In the days of film photography, we brought a camera on vacation and captured as many wonderful moments as we could. We then developed the film at the drug store and bought a photo album, carefully combing through each photo and selecting the shots that best represented our trip (being sure to leave out pictures of the kids fighting or the cluttered corner of the hotel room). We excitedly arranged our photos in the album. We might even take the album to work or invite friends over for dinner, just to show them our pictures.
We now live in a digital world. Facebook has become our living room, the place where we display and share our albums with friends. The fact is we’ve been sharing curated information for generations; Facebook is just the latest medium we use. Contrary to what some people think, I don’t believe getting rid of Facebook will alleviate our desires of coveting what our neighbors have. Some say we should expose our raw, candid lives on social media, but replacing manicured pictures with less-flattering shots of our kids smearing poop on the walls or our spouses fanning smoke from the forgotten, blackened lasagna somehow doesn’t sound like a realistic solution.
Inherently, I don’t think our intentions are to curate phony, perfect lives. There are those precious few moments at the beach where everyone is belly laughing and getting along and you think, “Man, I wish I could relive this moment the rest of my life.” When life is so good, it’s contagious. And we beg for ways to share the good with others. There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is when we hold our airbrushed photos against someone else’s pictures and forget that theirs are airbrushed, too. We get distracted. We seek affirmation more than we desire to connect. We covet what we don’t have. And, suddenly, our vacation pictures look a lot like our first-grade gym shoes.
Facebook has not curated us. Instead, we have curated Facebook into a place where we evaluate ourselves against others. If you’re obsessed with comparing how you measure up to your friends, deactivating Facebook might be a great step to take. But quitting Facebook will not suddenly provide you with contentment. That is a deeper issue, one that far precedes social media. It’s an issue of the heart and will, not the Internet.
What do you think?