Social Media Is Social Masochism
It's almost certain to hurt.
Posted March 8, 2018
However you feel now: Want to feel worse?
It's possible with just one click!
Don't want to feel worse all alone? We can do it together.
All these mood swings and more can be ours on social media.
Ostensibly a place where friends meet, instead it's where we gloat in each other's faces. I have ice skates and you don't. My hair is prettier than yours.
I have, am or do something great so yay. Observe my prowess, power, luck. Comment on them. By comment I mean compliment.
We never say this openly, because then social media would end, exposed as the passive-aggressive pain machine it is. We never write Nyah nyah or Suck it, friends.
Instead we flat-out brag: often unwittingly, not savagely or sneakily but blandly because social media has replaced polite, interested basic human interaction with broadcasting: Hear ye, horde.
What some cynics call humble-bragging, Gosh look at my $150 dinner which I ate in a Bhutanese treehouse I call the social-media sneer, or SMeer. (Alternate name: poast, half-post and half-boast.)
Some users can read nonstop SMeers for hours and just feel glad. I call them saints.
Our complex human brains are capable of vicarious happy-for-you-ness. Other species appear neither to feel nor fake this. Peacocks never praise each other's tails. Animals see their peers mainly as rivals for survival.
This instinct to compare ourselves with others constantly persists in us. Advertising is based on it. This happy lovely person who shares your age, gender, socioeconomic class and other demographic categories buys Febreze!
But humans can afford compassion. Not having to hinge our every thought and act on life or death, we feel authentic joy if, say, our long-heartbroken dads find love or our kids are elected president.
But nonstop SMeers provoke empathy overload.
How nice that Alex is in Kyoto, Jess has a new Fiat, Morgan's new book got a rave review and Cam looks so carefree. Seeing such updates individually, hours apart, lets us experience a normal arc of happiness, intrigue, envy, neutrality. In fusillades, they give us whiplash.
Alex is in Kyoto becomes Why aren't I in Kyoto? then I always wanted to see Kyoto but haven't because I can't afford it as a loser who earns peanuts, unlike Alex who makes bank but doesn't even care about Japan while I've seen every Miyazaki film.
Then I never go anywhere! I never will! then I still drive this ancient Honda and I never sold my novel because all those editors said my adult characters acted twelve. Then Never having been bullied, sure Cam can smile.
As if this didn't hurt enough, SMeer-generated envy mutates into two types of self-loathing: We hate ourselves for being (we think) worse off than nearly everyone we know, then hate ourselves for wallowing in self-pity when our friends simply want to share good news. We tell ourselves that envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
As if this didn't hurt enough, behold also the other little nightmare of posting your own SMeer, or of posting anything, then sitting there in real time watching no one care. Also: the shame of suspecting that time spent reading SMeers is wasted time.
Also: We were scolded and maybe spanked as kids for showing off and gloating. My grandma lives in a penthouse. I can run faster than you. We were told this was rude, that pride is yet another Deadly Sin. Braggarts were odious in fairy tales.
Yet they are stars on social media. They are our friends, and no one spanks them.
Instead, we comment. Since social media has replaced conversation, correspondence, gossip and news-gathering, to not comment is to become invisible.
But most comments are compliments. Short, compact. Amazing! Congrats! stacked vertically like Lego blocks. If we feel anything more complex, typing Congrats! makes us feel like liars.
Hawks and snakes never hate themselves, partly because they need never suppress their instincts or pretend. Clever humans invented social media, which makes some of us hate each other, then ourselves — for being ourselves. And for hating social media.
That's why staying away, forever or for just a day, feels like fleeing a fight club that calls itself fun.