I remember back in junior high, for awhile, this one friend and I thought it was the coolest thing to hang out in online chat rooms. We would get in from school, grab a snack, and plunk ourselves down in front of the computer and try to get Americans to believe that it was hard for us to find a place to plug in the computer in the igloo (I don’t remember that one ever working). Of course, my mother did not like my spending time in chat rooms; she had read Focus on the Family and well knew how they were fraught with creepy, middle-aged men pretending to be high school quarterbacks trying to get girls to give them their home addresses. But we were smarter than that – we were well aware that things were seldom as they appeared when it came to chat rooms – in fact, we were pretty deceitful as well when it came to our true identities. Once we were logged in, we magically transformed into a blonde 16-year-old surfer girl named Starla from California, or some other such silliness.
Thankfully, I left Starla and chat rooms behind in 8th grade. Of course, like every twenty-something, there was also a long-running infatuation with MSN, a brief tryst with MySpace, and then the inevitable marriage to Facebook in more recent years.
Ah, Facebook. While there are the usual faults to find with the online social networking giant, at least most are up front about who they are. No 16-year-old blondies or creepy masquerading men on my friends list (that I know of, anyway…)! It’s quite something though, how much we tend to look through the rest of life – real life, if you will – through the Facebook lens. Admit it, you are guilty of figuring out how you are going to word your status update about how awesome the concert was (lets see…”omg – Britney totally rocked last night!” …or “lungs hurt from screaming so much – Britney was amazing!!!!”?) while you are still in the arena rocking out to Baby One More Time. And you’ve maybe, definitely taken photos of yourself in awesome locations doing awesome things for the sole purpose of setting it as a profile picture when you get home. Actually, with the skyrocketing popularity of smartphones, you can post that awesome picture of you next to that rhinoceros while the rhino watches over your shoulder as you do it.
You know, the usual complaint with Facebook and other social networking sites is that we are spending too much time online, and less time in the “real world”. But it seems to me that the more popular Facebook gets, the more active and in-touch with the “real world” my friends become! I think a bunch of them are actually taking cooking lessons, because seriously every Instagram they post of their dinner is something completely mouthwatering and delicious-looking. And all the status updates I read about baking!
Then there’s another group of friends who have all become super athletic. I’m always reading about how they’re off to the gym and what a great workout they just had, and I realize that I dont think I even own running shoes anymore. And there’s my supermom friends, who are all just always doing crafts, have perfect children, and somehow manage to do the laundry, cook supper, clean the everything, and have time to report about it all online.
And may I say that all of my Facebook friends are incredibly photogenic – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single bad profile pic of any of them!!
Okay, so I hope you recognized the increasingly facetious tone of those last few paragraphs.
The truth is, while anonymous chat rooms may be more or less a thing of the past, social media sites, where we are encouraged to “share” everything via status updates and Instagram, give us the opportunity to pick and choose exactly what we post, so our perceived best foot is forward at all times. Unlike real life, only the “good stuff” gets shown – only the stuff that makes us appear interesting and likable – so while nobody (okay, few) people are lying about who they are, nobody is being 100% honest either.
And I’m guilty of this too, although “guilty” isn’t really the right word, since it makes sense that we are only going to share those things that we think are interesting or attractive, but the unintentional end result is a highly edited profile that doesn’t quite paint the whole picture. Scrolling through my Facebook profile as it is right now, one might assume, based on the things that I’ve posted in the past couple of months, that I probably don’t have many interests outside of my daughter and motherhood in general, and that this daughter is smiley and a big cuddly bundle of fun all of the time. Ha ha ha!
Of course, there are the usual rule breakers, and we poke fun at those few Facebook users who don’t seem to understand that telling the world about every little detail of their lives makes others quickly hit the “unsubscribe” button. Actually, if we regularly posted the average and every day stuff, we’d probably see a lot more of this kind of thing on Facebook:
Yes, that’s me back in 2008, and there’s a reason that picture has never made a Facebook appearance. But I digress.
Now some of you may be thinking, “Okay Jenae, great post and all, but is it really worth the 1300-some words you’ve just written about it? What does it matter?”
Well, maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. But I do know that there are one or two individuals I absolutely love being around in the “real world”, who, truthfully, I find just a little bit…annoying on Facebook. And there are a certain few friends who I would take a lot less seriously if spelling and grammar skills were an integral part of in-person conversations! And if it weren’t for face to face interactions, I wouldn’t know that Gertrude’s face doesn’t actually normally look like this:
More seriously, I wonder how an individual’s self perception is potentially affected by scrolling through and seeing how “interesting” and “perfect” all of his or her friends’ lives seem to be. I wonder how many mothers read about all of their cleaning, baking, and crafting friends while looking around at their own untidy homes feeling like failures. I wonder how consumer culture is fueled as we read about and see photos of friends’ new cars and clothes. I wonder if, after reading status updates about someone else’s partner surprising her with flowers, or reading an article about 21 things a husband should do for his wife, anyone has felt even slightly less satisfied with her own husband, and taken it out on him, even just a little bit. And while I’m sure few would make the conscious connection between Facebook and how they perceive their own life circumstances, what about on the subconscious level? I know that my friends’ children are likely just as difficult as my own can be sometimes, but more than once, I’ve found myself mildly surprised to find out that someone’s child is actually just as awful at sleeping as mine, and that status update last week about him sleeping through the night was a total fluke. In any case, I would be very interested, and not at all surprised, to hear if there is any correlation between a rise in depression as the popularity of Facebook continues to rise.
In any case, I know what you’re really thinking about and wondering after reading this article: “Am I that friend that Jenae likes less online??”
Well, rest at ease, that was more to make a point than anything else. And truth be told, I like you all better in real life, so lets try to get together there more often, okay?