Does Facebook Make Us Attention Hogs?

Certain status updates make us cringe, but there's nothing we can do.

Posted Aug 22, 2011

While enjoying my morning cup of tea this morning, I was perusing Facebook and checking out updates from people who I have no idea got on my feed, since I don't think we've ever met, virtually or in real life.

Tom Smith is now in a relationship with Mary Smith.

Hooray for Tom and Mary. Oh, what a great couple they must make! The places they'll go.

Scrolling down, I see that Tom and Mary's closest friends and strangers wrote a long list of comments, ranging from: It's official! to This is weird, you guys have the same name. Are you brother and sister?

I don't know Tom or Mary, and I certainly don't know them as a couple, but what I do know is that Tom and Mary wanted us to know that they're now together.

Are Tom and Mary narcissists? Were they unloved as children? Did no one show up to their Sweet 16 parties at the Hilton? Isn't that what we always assume? That people who crave attention do so, because they never had any as a child?

A vanity for your vanity?

Maybe we can even diagnose them with histrionic personality disorder, which among other qualities, is attributed to a subject when he or she experiences discomfort when not the center of attention, has shallow and quickly fleeting feelings, puts extreme value on personal appearance (and uses that to draw attention) and believes interpersonal relationships are more serious or intimate than they really are.

While those with HPD can lead perfectly happy lives, their one weakness (besides, clogging up my Facebook feed with inane details) is that they cannot handle rejection, particularly in romantic relationships. According to a Go Ask Alice therapist, "break-ups or instances of social rejection often push people with HPD into depression."

Oh, in that case, we all have HPD, don't you think? Who hasn't been devastated after a break-up-- wandering around the supermarket in nothing but furry slippers and sweatpants for days at a time?

No. I don't think we can blame Tom and Mary's status update as a declaration of a psychological deficiency anymore than we can blame those women who get boob jobs because their husbands want them to.

The truth is: Tom and Mary are not conceited and show-offy attention hogs. They're just trying to be normal and liked by their friends and acquaintances, meaning they want to come across as confident, happy, attractive and social.

And Facebook provides the perfect avenue to deliver that impression. Social media is the singular platform where you exercise control over how you present yourself and how others see you, which is why you pour hours and hours into coming up with witty status updates, selecting headshot-worthy photos (and untagging yourself from the unacceptable ones) and making sure you appear to be the best person you can be, on screen.

This is the reason Tom and Mary share their non-news-worthy news with the world: they are regular people who want to prove that they are normal, lovable and happy.

It's the same reason why I post all of my articles on social-networking sites. Perhaps, consciously or sub-consciously, I want people to think that I am a legitimate writer or blogger. It's not to brag. Rather, it's an attempt to show that I am creative-- that I am a valuable person. I work--I do not sit on a couch all day and watch SoapNet (at least not anymore).

How else do we get people to become interested in us? We certainly can't talk to them, aside from posting on individual walls or private messages, which seem less sincere: "Hey, I know we haven' t chatted since elementary school, but I just wanted you to know that I've got a six-figure salary!" 

So, like Tom and Mary, we share news that we hope will be interesting enough for others to comment and come to us with congratulations, jealousy or pity-- sometimes, all three. This is the age of extremes, when average and mediocrity is boring and a waste of our precious time. Which is why no one cares to comment on what Tom is having for breakfast, but they might care to comment on who he's having for dessert (wink-wink).

And as annoying and braggy as it might come across, we have to understand that this is just normal operation in virtual reality, and this is precisely the type of news that we are asking for, whether we are conscious of it or not. Aren't we naturally drawn to sex, money and power-themed headlines in our daily news?

Facebook has always thrived on self-promotion and attention-hogging-- this will never change. My advice? If it bothers you that much, then sign off. You may not learn when Tom and Mary break-up or get married, but you also wont get all hot and bothered about it either.

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