I came across an article recently titled, “Get off Facebook and You’ll Stop Being Miserable.” (I found it on Facebook, ironically.) It was about a trial that studied a group of 1,000 people who use Facebook as part of their daily routine. Half of them didn’t look at Facebook for a week, and the other half continued their normal usage.
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us, but the group that didn’t use Facebook for a week reported “significantly higher levels of satisfaction” than those who did. They also reported feeling “less sad and lonely” when away from Facebook. Given that the point of Facebook is to help connect us, clearly something is going wrong.
What is it about Facebook (or Instagram, or Vine, or YouTube) that can leave us feeling more isolated, rather than more connected? I think part of the problem lies in the unprecedented access into the lives and thoughts of others, even friends.
Seeing everything that our friends and acquaintances post can lead to an unwanted, but often unavoidable, urge to compare. And to compete. Back in the day, keeping up with the Jones meant seeing who had the nicer car or yard. Because unless you were close, that was about all you knew about the Jones. Maybe you could see when they had a new refrigerator delivered and feel jealous.
But know, you know exactly what the Jones’ living room looks like. You know that they had broiled salmon on a kale and quinoa salad for dinner. You know that their latest vacation included rock-climbing and parasailing in Belize. You can see their perfect Pinterest meal plans, their tastefully arranged table settings, and their bikini perfect bodies all without ever leaving your own couch.
And your own life might feel boring and unimportant by comparison. What we fail to recognize (even if we realize it when we think about it) is that social media is not a fair and accurate representation of anyone’s life. I don’t post things too often, but when I do, it’s things that I think are interesting. A trip to Linvilla to go apple-picking. Going to a friend’s wedding. An anniversary.
What I don’t put on Facebook are the nights spent re-watching the West Wing for the eighteenth time on Netflix. Or not having time to cook dinner before an evening meeting, and running out to Qdoba so I can hurriedly eat a burrito while, you guessed it, watching Netflix.
But the fact of the matter is, most people have both the super interesting moments and the boring evenings on the couch in their lives. We just don’t broadcast both kinds to the world through social media. If you spend a lot of time scrolling through Facebook, though, you may start to believe that everyone else is having a fantastic time—all the time.
That’s what leads to those lower levels of satisfaction shown in the study. We compare ourselves to the carefully crafted online personas of other people, and find ourselves coming up short. Because we are painfully aware of all of our odd bumps and warts, we will never see ourselves the way we see other peoples’ happy pictures on social media.
So should we turn off Facebook? This study seems to suggest that too much of it can skew the way we see ourselves in comparison to others. I know I find it easy to fall into the comparison (and for me, competition) trap online. But I know I also enjoy seeing pictures from friends’ adventures and hearing their news, especially the ones who are now far away.
I think we have to realize that social media can’t become a substitute for actually being connected with our friends and family. Because if I pick up the phone and call, I get a much better chance at hearing about the whole person I care for—not just the internet ready parts. And I can offer the whole of myself in response, which really is a lot more effective than clicking the ‘like’ button.
During Advent and Christmas we think about the wonders of an incarnate God. A God who took on human flesh and lived among us. It is our whole selves, our whole humanity that God is acquainted with, not just the things we find appropriate for sharing with others. And it is our whole selves that are redeemed by God, and claimed by God as precious and loved. Just as we proudly claim the labels of both sinner and saint, we can boldly admit that sometimes our lives are Pinterest-perfect, and other times they are boring and messy. But God and the community of the church are interested in both parts.
So—how about you? Do you realize you are comparing yourself to the images of others on social media, or is this just for millennials like me? Or do you hold back from posting things that you worry aren’t interesting enough? Do we misuse or overuse social media at the expense of real connection? Let me know what you think in the comments.