"Facebook Makes Us All Sad Because Everyone is Happy But Us."
That was a real headline on Switched.com, a site about how technology influences our lives. I couldn't help but laugh a little when I read it. I guess it was more of a chuckle than a laugh, coming from a place of recognition. 'Ha,' I thought. 'I know exactly what they mean.'
Apparently, it's a human habit to overestimate others' happiness. It's also very human to compare ourselves with others. So, if we think other people are happy, and we're not happy, we get even sadder thinking about other people's happiness. Thinking that other people are happy and knowing we're not, we feel more alone in our suffering.
A Slate.com article proposes that Facebook is yet another place, albeit virtual, where we're constantly up against the "grass is always greener" mentality. Facebook is about creating a selective identity. It's a place to showcase our latest accomplishments and most flattering pictures. If I post a "fail," it's usually with self-deprecating humor, and it's most likely going to lead to three or four people telling me I'm okay. If someone else posts a bad picture of me, I can un-tag myself.
By being able to see just the good stuff, scrolling down our Facebook news feed feeds into our misapprehension that other people's lives are perfectly happy, or if not, at least funny. And by posting just the good stuff, we create a version of our lives that is inherently less complicated than the reality.
Even before reading these articles, I realized I was playing into this dynamic myself. I'm not quite at the point that I believe all of my friends are happier than I am (I work in mental health; it's my job to know that we're not all happy all the time). But, I've noticed that I don't usually post a status update when I have a bad day or a negative experience, or when I can't spin my everyday existence into something a bit humorous. I've created a narrative that is untrue - so much so that when catching up with an old friend in person and sharing some of the less happy moments, she said, "I had no idea. You life looks so great on Facebook."
So, what can we do when friends are brave and do post the tough stuff online? When someone's status reflects a job loss or a breakup or a death in the family, there isn't a Facebook button that allows us to "Care." The virtual hug symbol ain't gonna cut it.
Much more so for friends expressing suicidal thoughts. Sure, "I just can't take it anymore" might mean that your friend in Boston is sick of the incessant snow. But, in the world of "vaguebooking," it might mean that your friend is really struggling. Because of all that I've outlined above, your friend already thinks that life is easier for everyone else. Your friend might think that no one will even notice such a status update amongst all the new dogs, babies, and relationships. That's why it means so much more when you reach out - in person.
One of the fears of people who believe that technology is creating disconnection rather than connection is that we'll stop interacting in real ways, that, as psychologist Sherry Turkle says, we'll be "alone together." Let's prove that we can be together together, using these virtual glimpses into each other's lives as a way to more fully connect in real life.
Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved