1.13.2014

Facebook is the TV Version of Us

http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/MjAxMi1hNGU4OGU2NTkzZjJhMzg0.pngReports that show Facebook activity flattening or even declining among youngsters are not surprising.  After all, whether it is social media or physical locations, once us oldsters crash into these once-trendy places, youngsters are sure to not want to linger around.

This NPR post also notes, though, that it can be tiring for young'uns to live up the pressure they impose upon themselves to present perfection in their online personas.  As they are bombarded with the most flattering pictures, funniest anecdotes, and biggest life moments in the lives of the friends on their news feed, young folks are straining to properly curate their own contributions to the feed.

Of course, those of us who are older and wiser are immune to this sort of relentless anxiety.  Nah, we're just as susceptible and just as guilty.  What we consider "perfect" may be different if we are in our 40's than if we are in our teens, but we still emerge from too many reviews of what our friends are up to feeling like our lives are empty and unexciting.

It's the modern-day version of what I once heard an insightful public speaker discern about TV.  We all watch TV, and we all know that what we watch is fiction and not fact.  And yet, subconsciously, we forget just how unlike the real world TV is.  On TV, everyone is beautiful, and crises are introduced and resolved in less than an hour in a neat, predictable pattern.

Most importantly, TV captures only the high points of any narrative.  You don't see Olivia Pope paying her bills or the kids from Glee studying for a history midterm.  And even though modern character development is much more nuanced and complex than during pre-syndication days, we're still fed a relatively straightforward message about each person we see; there are no extraneous data points to cloud our interpretation of whether someone is good or bad, rising or falling.

Life, of course, is not like this.  It is also not like what we see we consume our news feed on Facebook.  Sure, our lives consist of vacations and first steps, date nights and promotions.  But they also consist of vacuuming on the weekends, waiting in line at the grocery store, and grinding out long days at work and school.  Our Facebook profiles aren't quite us as much as they are the TV version of us: the highlights, and nothing else.

Our Facebook profiles aren't quite us in another way.  There we can show the best side of ourselves.  I mean this in a literal sense - be honest, when was the last time you posted a photo that include yourself in it and it wasn't a great photo of you?  I also mean this in a figurative sense - what we link to and what we share is carefully determined by what we want people to think about us, that we are socially conscious or witty or big-hearted or successful.

Real life is messier, more boring, and not as attractive.  If you could help it, why wouldn't you want to avoid messier, more boring, and not as attractive?  And so you participate, just like everyone else is.  But if you feel you can't be as tidy, exciting, and attractive as everyone else comes off as, why wouldn't you tire quickly and wish to disengage?  And so you say good riddance to Facebook.

Of course, these urges and dangers were with us long before Facebook or even TV arrived on the scene.  And they're important things to consider, for ourselves and our own wellbeing, as well as that of the young'uns in our midst.  Let's hope that we don't spend too much time fixating on providing commentary on the mediums that we forget to tend to our souls.
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