I joined Facebook in 2005, just before the end of my sophomore year in college. I remember because our school got access the weekend before final exams, which was as disastrous for studying as you could possibly imagine. Hours were lost looking up old friends and classmates, agonizing over whether to friend that guy I kind of knew from a freshman year lit. class to pad my profile, and writing wall posts and messages to friends who lived literally a few doors away.
Nine years later, Facebook has integrated itself into my thoughts, my conversations, my love life...and it's about as useful to my day-to-day productivity as it was when I first created my account all those years ago.
OK, that's not entirely true. Facebook does have its uses. It's a great venue for sharing articles and personal updates, and for occasionally engaging in debates. Facebook allows me to stay connected to many of the people I love, which is no small thing considering most of them live on the other side of the planet. My friends and I use private groups and chats to discuss TV shows, philosophy, our love lives, travel plans, even '90s nostalgia. And as an expat, it's handy for finding out about meet-ups, good apartment rentals, best places to eat, all kinds of pertinent information.
But as I'm sure you've already gathered, this post isn't about Facebook's virtues. It's about the realization that Facebook makes me miserable. Countless articles have already been written on this topic, so I doubt I'm saying anything new, but I'm putting my experience out there anyway.
Everyone has lost an hour or three scrolling through photos and statuses of exes, former friends, high school classmates. The lure of Facebook stalking is strong, and few are powerful enough to resist it. Mindless and time-wasting as that activity can be, I realized the really sinister effect was how quickly a Facebook session could stir feelings of bitterness, resentment, and inadequacy. An hour on Facebook is enough to ruin my entire day.
Photos of engagement rings, white dresses, first houses, and babies; statuses about promotions or high-roller trips to Vegas and New York City. Suddenly it was harder to focus on the good in my own life. All I could see were the things I didn't have. Things I didn't even think I wanted at this point in my life, but now seemed like all-important achievements and status markers I needed to secure.
We can always find ways in which our circumstances are wanting, but when I take stock, I have a lot to be thankful for. I'm in a great relationship with an amazing guy, I'm writing for a living, can theoretically travel whenever and wherever I want, and am fortunate enough to have some really brilliant and incredible friends. I'm healthy, I live in Thailand, can afford my own apartment and occasional luxuries. My life is good. And most of the time I am at least vaguely aware of that.
Nonetheless, in a single afternoon, I can go from feeling perfectly content to feeling small and resentful, convinced I'm a loser who is way behind on where I "should" be in life. Once your mind gets into that old groove, it's hard to climb back out, no matter how many blessings you count or deep breaths you take. Without even realizing it's happening, I look to other people — people whose lives and values are radically different from mine — as the standard of what I should have or desire.
That in itself is some bullshit thinking, and a habit I am trying to break. For years I craved external validation and looked to others' templates for what constitutes success. I am still mapping out what success means in my life, but whatever it is, I want it to come from me, not someone I barely know who has chosen a very different path than I have.
But beyond that, it's easy to forget that the cheerful, braggy, exuberant statuses don't tell the whole story.
The happy couple photos, the birth announcements, the exultations about how great a cook their significant other is and how blessed they are to have them, the bar crawl photos from Saturday night. Those are great moments to share, sure. But as we all know from our own lives, *no one's life is perfect*. I'm sure we all have friends in our feeds who post the cheerful "My life is amazing!" status, who we know have struggled with anxiety, depression, heartbreak, loss, financial trouble. Maybe they're focusing on sharing the good times with the world out of gratitude that they're out of the woods. Maybe they're trying to prove that they've got it together even as their lives are falling apart. Either way, I think we can all agree that white sand vacation photos and an album of smiley party pics don't tell the whole story.
For what it's worth, I'm completely guilty of this myself. I don't like sharing my bad days on Facebook, don't wake up eager to post "Had another panic attack. Rough night." I share travel updates, cute couple photos, food pictures, interesting articles. But aside from occasional blog posts on the topic, I'm not overly eager to share the dark side of my inner world, my financial worries, or doubts about the professional path I've chosen. This is partly because the bad days are usually things I want to keep private; like many people, I'm not always keen to tell the world my most vulnerable feelings. But it's also partly because I do want to come across as someone who has it together all the time, who is always happy, always moving forward. To admit anything else sometimes feels like defeat.
Those statuses celebrating a good day, a work opportunity, or a personal triumph are genuine. They just don't paint the whole picture of my life. I've been talking about this with my boyfriend, about my struggle to stay the fuck off Facebook unless there's a good reason to be on there. He sent me a relevant video the other day that really drove all of this home and is worth checking out.
The video is short but in case you don't want to watch it, a guy basically posts all kinds of positive, image-crafting statuses that make it look like he is living the good life. In reality, he's in an unhappy relationship, gets dumped, gets fired from a job he hates, starts drinking alone...you get the picture. Every positive update gets lots of likes, until the last one, when he admits that his life sucks. Then you see someone click the "hide all" option. Because it's harder, and ickier, and more time-consuming to engage someone with a status like that than it is to hit like on someone sending out a virtual woo! from girls' night at the local bar.
For the time being, I'm keeping my Facebook account active but restricting the time I spend on there. I've promised myself I won't spend more than an hour a day on the site, although I still use the Messenger app for chatting and Paper for checking out articles. This is a new experiment, but in just a few days of restricting my Facebook time, I have felt happier and have even been less interested in doing the usual stalking when I do get on. My use of it has been more efficient and even more enjoyable, probably because I know I have limited time to mess around on it.
Facebook isn't the cause of the life comparison trap, but it's an extremely handy tool for exacerbating it. I'm afraid to try and calculate how many hours of my life I've spent mindlessly scrolling through photos of people I don't even talk to anymore or feeling bad about myself because someone else seemed to have it better. I've realized the amount of time I spent on Facebook directly hinders two important goals of mine: to be more present and appreciative of what I have, and to be creative and making the most of my existence.
It's hard to imagine ever deleting my account altogether, though I assume that will happen as technology advances and new and better sites are built. For now, I'm still faithful to Facebook, but not at the expense of getting out and living — and appreciating — my own life.