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“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
–Thich Nhat Nhan

“Give up owning things and being somebody.”
–Jelaluddin Rumi

“We cannot get grace from gadgets.”
–J.B. Priestly

“I post, therefore I am.”
–Nom DePlume

“We tend to wear suits of armor one over the other…We hope we will not have to undress.”
–Chogyam Trungpa

The title of a new German research study says it all: “Envy on Facebook: A hidden threat to users’ life satisfaction.” I am not surprised.

If you want to read the whole article: http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-facebook-envy-20130122,0,1063622.story . (I also noted numerous anti-Facebook and dangers-of-Facebook sites.)

The article reports that “One in five respondents said their last jealous feeling occurred while looking at the social networking site.” They were jealous of other people’s travel, social interactions, and number of friends and “likes.” “They sense that other people are just generally happier in their lives.”

Happy, happy, happy!

Well, of course! Facebook is just the digitalization and universalization of those annoying, chirrupy Christmas letters, all about a family that’s doing WAY better than yours. At least according to their PR report. If any of them is in rehab, you won’t hear about it.

OF COURSE everybody’s life sounds better than yours, if you depend on these carefully-laundered accounts and dwell on how yours doesn’t measure up (to their standards, though living by someone’s else’s value system is a recipe for misery).

And even if it’s true, so what? Zen teaches the hard lesson that all ways to live life are of equal value, as long as they do no harm to others and are lived fully and consciously. But we humans are attached to what happens in our own lives. We have expectations for ourselves. We are competitive. Some of us become politicians and CEOs, bossing people around and cutting deals, nonstop.

Resume envy

But what of the rest of us, who don’t become Presidents, Department Chairs, or CEOs (and yes, I know these glamorous-sounding jobs involve a lot of politics and drudgery)?

For quite a while now, I’ve been writing that one of the driving forces behind the desire to reveal all about ourselves online (aside from perhaps being hard-wired or socialized to do it, as some research suggests) is what I call “resume envy.”

I am happy to be free of it, but for those who haven’t put points on the board, career-wise or professionally, how do they account for themselves, especially compared to what they expect of themselves? They post their lives on Facebook.

I know this much: most smart people know they’re smart, and if they use that intelligence to work the system, climb the ladder, and prosper, great. But some very smart people just can’t stomach the idea of a job or a chain-of-command organizational structure. Hell, now that I’m retired, I can’t stomach it either.

Refusing to join the rat race

I’m reminded of a line in the Highwaymen’s song “Committed to Parkview.” Along with the usual druggies and crazies, the eponymous mental health facility contains “a few quiet well-to-do, who have withdrawn from the rat race and committed to Parkview.” I wonder if this actually happens.

In fiction, Jack Reacher lives completely off the grid, with little more than a toothbrush. A post-modern existential hero (I suppose), he proclaims himself, somewhere in each novel, to be “free.” Definitely. But not many of us could tolerate a life of such unconnected freedom.

Long before Facebook, a brilliant childhood friend wrote a “Ballad of Charles Starkweather” for our English class. His paean to the serial killer perplexed the teacher, because this was long before irony became popular. During a mediocre career, he killed himself or somehow died prematurely; I couldn’t find out which. He knew he was capable of so much more but didn’t care to play the game.

Another alternative is simply to live off the grid. This is seldom easy or practical, especially if you have kids. In her touching and vivid memoir, The Glass Castle, Jennifer Walls describes her highly intelligent parents, who simply refused to join the rat race. The result was a childhood rich in stories and knowledge but poor in every other way – a nomadic existence, living off society’s scraps, struggling for years in a hovel in a wretched West Virginia mining town.

Her father falls apart, mentally and physically, and dies. Years later, Wall, now a successful newscaster, is riding in a limo and spots her mother dumpster-picking. Mom refuses help. She’s used to the marginal life and wants nothing else.

“I post, therefore I am.”

But back to Facebook. People who earnestly, desperately post on Facebook may do so out of existential dread that they have too little to show for their lives. (I allow that some may be genuinely proud of their – or their kids’ – accomplishments, but I still don’t get the urge to be your own personal publicist.)

So now we have, offsetting the “good” that Facebook does in bringing you together with embarrassing people from your past and making you available to marketers, a pervasive problem: bi-lateral Facebook angst: people post out of insecurity and resume envy, while those who read the results of the posters’ relentless search for friends and likes become jealous and dissatisfied with their own lives.

Everybody’s miserable! No wonder Facebook is, according to the article, a “stressful environment, which, may, in the long run, endanger platform sustainability.”

Translation: If substantial numbers of Facebook users become disenchanted and feel lousy about using Facebook, they’ll move on to the next thing, and Facebook will join AOL and CompuServe in the Museum of Online Has-Beens.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?

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