I still know one or two people who don’t use Facebook.
It’s my experience that people who have not succumbed to the questionable joys of the worlds largest social network are a bit proud of themselves. Smug even. And sometimes they imply that simply by eschewing its pleasures they are somehow on a higher intellectual plane than the rest of us – as if refusing to be part of it means that they spend their time, Jean-Paul Sartre-like, contemplating life’s deeper issues while us Facebookers waste our lives sharing photos of our dinner and pictures of kittens.
It’s far more likely that, like the rest of us, they are actually just watching trash tv and putting a load of washing on.
Personally I really like Facebook. As an emigrant, it has allowed me to keep up with friends and family, and for them to keep up with us, in an easy, instant way. It has meant that our connections across the miles have stayed strong. And I’ve been able to reconnect with people from school and University with whom I almost certainly would have lost touch without Facebook – given that I move so much. It’s actually been a massive pleasure to see how well everyone who went to my very ordinary state comprehensive school in the North of England has done.
But one of the criticisms often aimed at Facebook*, and those of us who love it, is that people just share the pictures and thoughts that make their life look marvelous, when actually we all know that our lives are relatively mundane. Facebook is full of pictures of lovely days out, declarations of love and admiration for other halves, and exciting news about the successes of our children. You rarely see an outright, all out ‘my life is shit and you should all fuck off’ post – and we all know we all have days like that. It’s almost like there is an unspoken law about it – no matter how grave your problem, on Facebook you are required to put a brave face on, be inspirational, and only occasionally allude to the darker moments in life.
So are we all inauthentic, shallow people posting only the best of our lives on Facebook? And does all this inauthenticity lead to a general malcontent leading to too much comparison – which can leave people feeling their life is not good enough, or lacking in some way?
I’ve been thinking (pondering even**) this question this week. An old friend of mine from the UK nominated me in one of those Facebook photo things, where you have to post a picture daily for a week of something ‘every day’ in your life. The thing that got me thinking is that in nominating me she said ‘because you always seem to be doing something interesting’.
Now on a quick survey of my Facebook page, this does seem to be borne out. My feed is full of photos of beautiful beaches (can’t help that – Australia is so beautiful), events attended, children’s achievements and lovely friends caught up with. I only post the stuff that is either interesting or beautiful. I admit it. You could be forgiven for thinking that I am always doing something interesting.
The reality, of course, is much less glamorous. In between all this interestingness there is going to work, housework, arguments with teenage children, broken washing machines, milk that’s gone off, more going to work, and long hours spent alone watching rubbish on the tv when you know you could have been reading your book if only you could summon up the energy to get off the sofa and find it (and more importantly – your glasses).
But is this all a bad thing?
At times in my life when I’ve really been struggling to see the positives, I have found three things, in combination, have really helped – exercise, meditation and a gratitude diary. Taking time out at the end of the day, every day, to reflect on those things for which I am grateful makes a tangible difference to how I feel about life generally. When you are doing it tough, it’s easy to allow yourself to get into a problem-saturated frame of mind, not noticing the good stuff anymore, and gratitude diaries refocus the mind to a more positive outlook***.
And it’s not just me. There is a body of evidence, and in particular, research done by Professor Robert Emmons that demonstrates the great social, psychological, and physical health benefits that come from this practice.
Since Facebook started their daily ‘memories’ feed, I’m always curious to see what it puts up from 5 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the breakdown of my marriage. You’d really hardly know that my life was imploding from the posts and photographs, apart from the odd oblique reference or cryptic message. And that’s a good reminder that even when things look really bleak, good stuff is still happening – the sun is still shining, the world is still beautiful, your friends and family are still amazing, your children are still making you proud every day.
So how about we stop seeing Facebook as Fakebook, and start seeing it as a enormous, global, online gratitude diary in which we favour the positive over the negative and celebrate the good things – big and small – that happen everyday? Who’s up for that? Because actually, those of us who have access to Facebook, have got it pretty good. The media is full of information about what’s wrong with the world – and there is plenty wrong with it – but we have a secret. At the same time as all of the fear, uncertainty and inequality we are bombarded with everyday, we also know our lives are boring, wonderful and beautiful in all their predictability, and we want to share them.
*Of course, the other big criticism of Facebook is that the ‘friends’ on Facebook are not ‘real’ and that the quality of those relationships is superficial and might be a barrier to developing meaningful friendships in the real world. I beg to differ though. Facebook has meant I have remained connected to people with whom I would otherwise have lost contact over the years, and I’ve actually made new, real life friends through it as well. I have two friends who I met on Facebook – one because she was selling clothes which I bought, and we became friends, and another because we both commented on a webcam at the Quay in our hometown in the UK from neighbouring suburbs in Sydney. And when my daughter recently started at a new school in a new suburb and was feeling very isolated and lonely, a young man she had met once at a party but then added on Facebook (as young people do) passed her in a corridor, recognized her and then messaged her to say hi – was she ok, she must be new, if she needed anyone to hang out with to let him know. And now they are best friends. So there. Facebook is good.
**see what I did there?
***it occurs to me that this contrasts significantly with our global approach to news, which is largely negative – as we are told that the good news stories don’t sell, and almost that good news isn’t actually news. It’s hard to believe, when looking at Facebook, that if the people controlled the media – rather than the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world – that the news would be so dark, when our personally controlled news feeds seem to make so much effort to stay in the light. But that’s probably a whole other post…