“Getting rid of Facebook has definitely been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Facebook has always made me feel like something was wrong with my life. You see pictures of your friends and acquaintances living such an amazing life whether they’re backpacking through South America or skydiving in Dubai. I realized that people only put the good stuff up and this creates a distorted version of reality. You can easily start to feel like you’re behind in life. Anyone else feel this way?”
I awoke this morning and stumbled bleary-eyed into my little-used Facebook account, and realised again why I so rarely visit. It makes me feel wretched about my life – in part for the reasons identified in the post above. In my Facebook inbox was a paradisal scene worthy of a Thomas Baines engraving: a balmy Cape Town sea view beyond rolling lawns and a canopy of shady indigenous trees. Below this was Glen’s* glib caption, “the view from my office”. My God! Compared to the lifestyle represented by that single image, my own life suddenly seemed a tawdry sideshow, with everybody else over in the Big Top.
I flicked the post up and away, only to find it replaced by more devastating evidence of my own lacklustre life: Michelle* and family in their overseas, second home, on the sunny Italian Adriatic coast, with the caption “my little piece of heaven”. Then there were images of Steve* with his mates on some exclusive Natal South Coast golf course replete with palm trees and close ups of craft beers and artisanal cuisine. By the time I had flicked further down to images of angelic children at their birthday parties (“our darling little princess with her Polly Potter bespoke play-play kitchen”) I was ready to slash my wrists.
Then I recalled that Glen and his family were twice held up at gunpoint in their northern suburbs home not long before they “semigrated” to the fairest Cape. Glen was also rather unceremoniously retrenched a few years back – and none of these unfortunate events appear on Facebook. Michelle too was hijacked in her Sandton driveway, but nothing of her traumatic experience appears on her Facebook post. (I understand why one would not publicise such an event.) And golf course Steve? No mention of his recent acrimonious divorce and years in and out of rehab.
It is as if Facebook provides an opportunity to present a redacted, idealised, sanitised, Disneyfied version of ourselves. It isn’t so much the creation of a fiction as a crafted version of the truth with much left out.
Why would we do this? Why would we seek to project our lives as a breezy sojourn in Elysian Fields, devoid of the morass and parched earth which characterise so many landscapes of human experience?
Is it because we want to be envied?
Do we seek the approbation and praise of our peers?
Do we seek to make others feel unhappy about their lives, or is that just the collateral damage of our self-congratulation?
I don’t know the answer.
I’m reminded of those cheesy stick figure stickers on the rear window of cars, proclaiming the composition of the owner’s family unit down to pets and kids’ bikes. This pervasive shallowness was mocked in a sticker on a car window I saw recently which read, “I don’t give a fuck about your stick figure family”. Perhaps a little caustic, but the curmudgeonly tone sums up my feelings about feel good Facebook.
*Names changed to protect the constructed personae of Facebook users
Links to Facebook fatigue articles: