I have a confession: I hate Facebook. And I’m not wading into exaggerations here (which I’ll admit I’m prone to do)—I hate it. Facebook, for me, evokes the same feeling of other things I really despise—like sitting in traffic, using the stair climber machine at the gym, going to Walmart, or owing taxes.
So how exactly did I get here? It wasn’t always this way. Once, a long, long time ago, Facebook was different. At the time I joined, Facebook required you to have a college email address. So, at the time, Facebook was really just an online version of a very limited social circle—your college friends and classmates.
I know that potentially sounds very superior and exclusive, but it made the purpose of having a profile on the site a little more simple. You posted what you were doing over the weekend or how awful your latest art history exam went. You made plans for study dates and wrote on someone else’s wall with inside jokes. Most of all, you knew everyone you ever knew didn’t have access to it—to this particular online representation of yourself.
“A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him”
William James once wrote, “A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.” But what happens when you’re forced to choose just one “social self” to display? When the audience grows to include your family, your coworkers, your elementary school classmates, your childhood Sunday School teacher? This makes the question of what you share and how you portray yourself a bit more difficult.
One thing seems to be certain: it’s easy to make sure this online version of yourself is the very best version of yourself—always saying the right thing, always smiling, always doing something fabulous or exciting.
But is that “self” even really a real person?
A New Era in Social Comparison (and Discontent)
I think Facebook is a great, wide ocean of potential discontent and jealousy and envy, even if we try our best to be good, smiling Christian souls. When all we see of other people’s lives are the happiest, perfect moments, our vision gets blurred. If everyone else’s lives are so great, shouldn’t ours be, too? Or shouldn’t we be trying our hardest to make sure our lives look just as shiny and happy and fulfilled and worry-free?
During my lifetime I’ve seen a shift, but I want to be careful about the blind nostalgia of “the good old days.” Keeping up with the Joneses is a phrase that’s been around for more than one hundred years1, so I’m not naive to think we aren’t all given to comparing ourselves to others, even on some subconscious or irrational level. We can’t help but compare what we have to what other people have, but maybe there was a time when what we potentially had to envy was a bit more limited.
Maybe social comparison (and social discontent) was more limited in scope—back before Facebook. I think Facebook is a great, wide ocean of potential discontent and jealousy and envy, even if we try our best to be good, smiling Christian souls.
When all we see of other’s lives are the happiest, perfect moments, our vision gets blurred. If everyone else’s lives are so great, shouldn’t ours be, too? Or shouldn’t we be trying our hardest to make sure our lives look just as shiny and happy and fulfilled and worry-free?
7 Facebook Rules to Live By (Or Die Trying)
So what’s the solution to all my Facebook woes? Do I jump ship, as many brave souls have done before me? Believe me, I’ve considered it.
I think, for me, the greater challenge is having a healthier and balanced relationship with dear ‘ol Facebook. I’ve started developing my own Facebook Rules to Live By (or Die Trying):
1. Set limits with my time. I can’t mindlessly scroll through timelines, refresh for new notifications, go through other people’s 1000-photo albums (alas, feeling like a “creeper”). Are there better ways I could be spending my time? Heck yes. Every minute I spend on Facebook is one minute lost doing something more productive or refreshing, so I need to be conscious of this.
2. Be mindful of how Facebook makes me feel (which is usually lousy). Have I ever really gotten onto Facebook, wanting to yell with delight, “THIS IS SO GREAT! THIS IS BETTER THAN VACATION!” No. But I’ve learned it’s important to know and recognize emotions—especially negative ones. Am I raging mad at someone’s political rant in my newsfeed? Absolutely. Am I feeling helpless to change their whole worldview with one well-worded comment? Yep. Do I feel really behind in things like foreign-country visits or entering motherhood? Yes, and yes.
3. Evaluate my motivations for what I share. This is a big one for me. Am I bragging? Am I showing off? Is it authentic? Does it represent good boundaries between what’s public and private?
4. Be conscious of how I grade myself on feedback and comments. Do I want to feel noticed, recognized, and approved? Do likes and comments really mean those things? Really?
5. Be ok that I might be missing out on knowing some important life events. Sure, I’m fine with giving up the knowledge of what some acquaintance from grade school ate for dinner last night, but I also have to be ok that I’m missing out on photos of my sweet nieces, or of my cousins (all growing up so quickly!) by my limited Facebook involvement. If I set limits on the time I spend on Facebook, I’m bound to miss out on something.
6. Be more intentional about fostering relationships and having personal interactions with those that I love. Facebook isn’t a substitute for a phone call or meeting up for coffee. It isn’t an excuse to not make time for spending time with friends and family. I shouldn’t pretend to know what’s going on in your life based on your recent Facebook posts.
7. Value privacy. See it as a rare, special gift. Are some moments (and the pictures of those moments) not for anyone else to see or know about? Does knowing that a moment—a dinner out with friends, a concert, a vacation—is something only you will live and experience make it a more valuable memory? I’m starting to think so.
So to everyone out there scrolling Facebook timelines, thinking needles in their eyeballs would be a better alternative, I feel your pain. What will we think of Facebook in ten, twenty years? I don’t know. But for now, I want to see Facebook for what it really is—a digital, highly-curated version of our imperfect lives. It will never beat living the real thing, everyday. It will never beat truly knowing and loving those that are dearest to us.
It will never beat seeking to view the entirety of life, holding the good days and bad days close.