Recently, it seemed as if half the people I knew were skiing in Japan, while I was close to home, in various parts of southeast Queensland. I had little to complain about – it was a mix of short beach holidays and staying at other people’s houses while our floors were re-surfaced, and every place had airconditioning, a pool, etc, etc. I had it good. But was everyone else having it better?
That’s what Facebook told me. Even without meaning to. Even when not one of the people involved meant to.
The lives of my peers were defined by awesome wintry vistas, mad grinning on chairlifts, more mad grinning apres ski. And my life appeared not to be.
Not so long ago on Facebook I saw a post by a writer I admire (talented writer, smart person), who said she’d just had Facebook envy when glancing over her partner’s shoulder at a screen. He was checking someone out on Facebook. The cover photo was autumn in Paris (leaves all bronze and copper, the Tour d’Eiffel beyond those roofs that could only be Paris), the profile pic maybe had the profilee on a different occasion rugged up and standing in snow about to throw a snowball, the pic at the top of the status updates was similarly envy-inducing. So, this writer responded appropriately, with envy. And then realised it was her own Facebook page. She had been envying herself, in the way she had, she realised, become accustomed to envying the Facebook lives of others.
Because perhaps that’s what we do when we post pics on Facebook, without ever have the intention of doing anything but sharing. We go to Paris once, we throw one snowball, and suddenly our life, to the casual observer, is all Belle Epoque and crazy snow frolics and grinning. Even when we spent way more time that year doing laundry than we did in Paris. Even though we got only one good snowfall wherever it was, and by lunchtime it was all slushy and unskiable and some of it suspiciously yellow. Or the snow was great but the jetlag hammered us and we spent way too much and, yes, it was maybe even the holiday of a lifetime, but even then the pics don’t tell the whole story. Because they never do.
This week it was back to school photos. Amazing cute kids with beaming smiles and, actually the start back at school in our house this year went really well, but did it go that well? Did it go Facebook well? Our really good start back at school risked looking less than amazing and, well pretty average, maybe a bit below it, in fact.
Which made me appreciate Rebecca Sparrow’s Facebook back-to-school pic all the more. It was a lovely photo of two happy parents and their happy daughter. Could have been in a magazine. And the caption read ‘Our annual first-day-of-school-on-the-front-steps photo with Ava. Good luck to all the kids heading to school today. Treat each other with kindness and you can’t go wrong.’ It could have added to anyone’s ‘Oh, crap, our start back at school was only 80% amazing’ nagging doubts. It could have added to the groans of any family whose start had been 90% awful, as some surely were.
But then Bec came back and added something herself: ‘EDIT: this photo looks serene. Let me assure you that in the background it was FIGHT CLUB with Fin and Quincy … it’s on like Donkey Kong between those two’. I thanked her for that addition and she said ‘There is NO SERENITY IN MY HOUSE AT ANYTIME. Facebook is deceiving. Somehow that photo makes it look calm. It’s total false advertising. I live in a zoo.’ I’ve been to her house. It’s a great zoo and she is a zookeeper par excellence, but it’s a few years off having a clear shot at serene.
So, how many of us have ever scrolled through our Facebook feed and, without ever feeling something as unseemly as jealousy, come away feeling our own lives are a bit less shiny for the experience? Subliminally believing, without stopping to dismantle it with logic, that other people are having close to maximum fun close to all the time, and in way more exotic places than we happen to be?
Even if a ski trip is 30% travel, 20% bad weather, 20% arguments, 20% over-priced meals that didn’t live up to expectations, 8% getting up the mountain and only 2% getting down it, is that how the photos play out? No. And nor should it be.
But some of us are going to have to take some effort to tell ourselves, on a semi-regular basis, that the truth that we see on Facebook is usually a partial one. If we can accept that, maybe we can also live with the occasional Japan ski trip someone else has that actually is as 100% amazing as the photos suggest (everyone grinned, all the time, even the plane trips were maximum fun).
And maybe our own lives are, like those of other lucky people (people in safe places, with enough money and food coming in and only a rare jolt of tragedy), straightforward most of the time, but offering us an occasional glimpse across the Paris rooftops or a few days on the slopes with the snow crunching under our boots. Things worth sharing, which is why we share them, but not the whole story.
Alternatively, I’m pitching a new mood disorder to the American Psychiatric Association for DSM-5.1 (the next update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders), and it goes like this:
Facebook FOMO Dysphoric Disorder
Episodes of somewhat depressed mood following exposure to peers’ Facebook photos
Presence of two or more of the following:
– a nagging feeling, particularly following Facebook exposure, that the subject’s life might not involve as much ‘fun’ as the lives of others
– a persistent feeling of incomplete fulfillment, or that the subject is lacking the true satisfaction experienced by others
– recurring feelings that the subject should be in Paris more, or skiing
– episodic feelings that there is less family-wide grinning in the subject’s life than in the lives of others
Not that I’ve got that, of course, but I seem to have a pretty good idea of how it might work.
How about you? Ever been there? Or have you been having way too much fun in Hokkaido to think that way?