Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Column: Faking it on Facebook

You may have sometimes wondered why certain people spend so much time on Facebook. There are several possibilities, including:

1) To get as many pictures of your children onto the Internet as possible, so strangers know what they look like;

2) To let people know the awesome word you just played in online Scrabble;

3) To keep up with friends who you’d cross the street to avoid if you saw them coming;

4) To suffer acute feelings of misery and loneliness, not necessarily in that order.

If we’re to believe a new university study, that last one may be more likely than you’d think. According to Reuters, the study found “one in three people felt worse … and more dissatisfied with their lives” after viewing their friends’ profiles on Facebook. Those people are clearly doing it wrong.

After all, the only way your Facebook friends are going to have more appealing lives than you is if you fail to keep up with their level of meticulously crafted fraudulence. Because, as Mark Zuckerberg often says, Facebook isn’t about the life you have, it’s about the life you PRETEND to have. (OK, he doesn’t actually say that, but I’m sure he’s thinking it.)

Take this finding from the study: “Vacation photos were the biggest cause of resentment.” This jealousy is completely unwarranted, because no matter how awful your vacation is, you can usually get your family to look happy at least long enough to snap a few pictures — perhaps because you’ve bribed or threatened them, or because they just saw Grumpy fall off the Mickey’s Soundsational Parade float. (Which, admittedly, would be funny.)

People then post the pictures on Facebook with the caption, “Another great vacation day with the fam!” This is code for, “Here are the three minutes when we didn’t look miserable,” which you should remember before starting into your spiral of depression.

Here’s another one: “Women were more likely to envy physical attractiveness.” Next time you find yourself jealous of how good someone else looks on Facebook, please remember we live in the age of the digital photo. That means people can consider dozens, even hundreds, of pictures of themselves before finding that very special one that — thanks to a quirk of lighting, shadow and the fortuitous placement of a potted plant, and possibly Photoshop — makes them look like a vaguely blurry Gisele Bundchen.

That photo is immediately posted on Facebook, and the others are deleted with prejudice, having committed the crime of being, you know, accurate. (I’m told this problem has spilled over into online dating, because instead of posting pictures that show what they actually look like, many would-be daters are posting pictures of Gisele Bundchen. And that’s just the men.)

Then there’s envy over “How many ‘likes’ or comments were made on photos and postings.” This one is tougher, because while you can pick your friends you can’t make them like you, or your photos of your very special children, or that thing you found on the Internet with the angry cat on it. (Which, admittedly, is pretty funny.)

Your best bet here is to try to inspire the “guilt like” (and its corollary, the “guilt birthday greeting”) by liking as many of your friends’ posts as you can, thus making them feel obligated to like you back. Barring that, some people have been known to create fake Facebook profiles and use them to elevate their like counts. (Er … Not me. Other people.)

I suppose the other thing to keep in mind is that the respondents in the study were from Germany, where misery and loneliness are recreational activities, like whist. But no matter where you’re from, I would think a good remedy for Facebook depression might be to shut it down, go outside, and try to “like” a few things in the real world.

Or on Twitter. I hear Kim Kardashian’s on there.

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