On Being Insufferable On Facebook

by , under Blog Posts, Blogs | Social Networks | New Media, Technology

 

A couple of days ago ‘Wait But Why’ published a piece on the Huff Post entitled ‘7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook.’ You should go read the piece for yourself, but in précis, the 7 ways were:

1. Bragging (including Humble Brags) – ‘Guess Who Got into Med School!’

2. Posting Cryptic Cliffhangers – ‘That’s IT. I’m DONE.’

3. Posting crap you’re doing – ‘Off to the gym!’

4. The Inexplicably-Public Private Message – ‘I love you so much [insert name of partner]’

5. Out-Of-Nowhere Oscar Acceptance Speeches – ‘I just want to thank EVERYONE for touching my life!’

6. Posting Incredibly Obvious Opinions – ‘I feel so deeply for the Syrian people right now.’

7. Posting Steps Towards Enlightenment – ‘”Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” ~Buddha’

These 7 ways are then – yep, this piece goes deep – aligned with 5 core motivations, which were:

1. Image Crafting – The author wants to affect the way people think of her.

2. Narcissism – The author’s thoughts, opinions, and life philosophies matter. The author and the author’s life are interesting in and of themselves.

3. Attention Craving – The author wants attention.

4. Jealousy Inducing – The author wants to make people jealous of him or his life.

5. Loneliness. – The author is feeling lonely and wants Facebook to make it better.

 

I read the piece and found it pretty funny. So, first point – I get it, it’s an amusing look at a phenomenon we all recognise.

But, beyond that, I also found the piece to be itself insufferable, and pretty nasty in a way too. Why? Partly because it too falls foul of some of its own ways (Posting Incredibly Obvious Opinions) and also crosses over one it missed off – Being An Insufferable Smart-Ass.

In one sense if it had just been the bullet-points above that would have been fine. Quick laugh and move on. But the piece is over 3000 words long. This is not a quick laugh about something we’ve all seen, but an in-depth essay to explain to us how we should be behaving on Facebook.  It feels dictatorial – a Proper Admonishment To Those Who Are Not Acting In The Correct Way.

Taken like this it became, I found, a rather unkind piece. There are attempts at empathy in there, but they are couched in a way that leaves readers feeling crap. Take the note on ‘loneliness’ for example:

This is the least heinous of the five — but seeing a lonely person acting lonely on Facebook makes me and everyone else sad. So the person is essentially spreading their sadness, and that’s a shitty thing to do, so it’s on the list.

Circle it and make a note: spreading your sadness is a shitty thing to do.

If you’ve read much here before you’ll know that I’m interested in how social media is affecting the ways in which we interact with one another. And here’s my thought on this piece: I think this is not so much an issue of the people posting, but an issue about our ability to empathise with the people behind those posts.

This problem of empathy is absolutely central to the shifts we are seeing in the ways in which we interact. Given that personal written correspondence was generally between two people who knew each other quite well, who had some investment in the relationship, it is only in the past 10 years that we have all been able – after 1000’s of years of human communication – to share our immediate thoughts with a very wide audience. So when we do feel lonely it’s incredibly tempting to post that information to the perhaps hundreds of people we are connected to online. Why? Because in years gone by we’d have probably done the same with the people we knew in the pub in the village we were in.

Facebook calls each connection a ‘Friendship’ – but the truth is that there are myriad different layers of relationships represented on the site. For me there are some people I know very well, others I’ve met a couple of times at most and many many who have perhaps read a book of mine but whom I’ve never been in the same country as. With these different kinds of relationships there are different levels of relational investment, and these are really quite complex. I’d wager that Stephen Fry could tweet that he had just eaten a piece of toast and he’d get 100’s of favourites and a cascade of retweets. Why? Perhaps because some followers see a potential return on their investing in him and showing him their favour.

Social networks are still in their infancy. Technologically they are sophisticated of course, but in terms of our understanding of how they impact our relationships, and how they function relationally, they are quite immature.

The HuffPost piece ends by noting:

The bigger point here is that the qualities of annoying statuses are normal human qualities — everyone needs to brag to someone here and there, everyone has moments of weakness when they need attention or feel lonely, and everyone has some downright ugly qualities that are gonna come out at one time or another.

And that’s why you have people who love you.

The thing that Daniel and most others haven’t internalized is the fact that if they have 800 Facebook friends, only about 10 or 15 love them. For an especially lovable person, maybe it’s as high as 30. Between 1 and 4 percent. That means that between 96 and 99 percent of your Facebook friends DO NOT LOVE YOU.

 

This is, in a way, the same point I am making: just because there exists a digital connection on Facebook does not mean that there is any investment in that relationship – let’s not forget that it only took a click to begin it. But it’s the conclusion that worries me because the article places the emphasis solely on the post-er for not being insufferable.

I think we need to be more empathetic than that. We are in the midst of huge sea-changes in how undertake human interaction. This means that writers and readers are both going to get it wrong in misunderstanding the different kinds of relationships that are simultaneously extant. Yes, it’s good to offer some humorous pointers to how to ‘behave better’ but, from the position of strength that the author takes, it would have been better to cut the snarking of writers down and instead remind readers of the importance of being empathetic.

Which is to say, next time you see that post that aches of someone being lonely or craving attention or desperately wanting us to think they have a great life (and haven’t we all done it? Apologies for all the times I’m sure I have!) – don’t rush to hatred or venom, to raising your middle finger at the screen. Think ‘we’ll work it out in a few years’ and ask if you can do something loving to make someone you are invested in feel better.

Then, and perhaps most importantly, reflect on why you are connected to that person anyway. If you don’t care that they are lonely, or don’t want to know about their successes, why are you ‘friends’? Is it because you value the size of your friend-count more than their friendship? Because I’ll bet quite a lot that whoever wrote the original HuffPost piece was checking for how many ‘likes’ it had accrued…


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  1. chris

    Not exactly the same point you are making but I think there is some resonance with what Louis CK recently said on Conan.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c

    A lot going on in this short clip but he touches on empathy, face to face contact, sadness, sharing sadness… and connects it to our humanity.

    (also, is it a crazy coincidence that my captcha code ends with CK?)

  2. mike

    Nice one Kester – I thunk there will be a backlash soon. BTW, the family of five link clicks thru to a jap site with a picture of a woman drinking water.

  3. Daisha

    I read a poem last night then the HuffPost piece this morning, and somehow the two connected in my mind. Your post solidified the connection. The poem is called “With That Moon Language”
    Admit something:
    Everyone you see, you say to them,
    “Love me.”
    Of course you do not do this out loud;
    Otherwise,
    Someone would call the cops.
    Still though, think about this,
    This great pull in us to connect.
    Why not become the one
    Who lives with a full moon in each eye
    That is always saying
    With that sweet moon
    Language
    What every other eye in this world
    Is dying to
    Hear.
    ~Hafez

  4. KB

    Thanks – that’s a really beautiful piece, by one of my favourite poets.
    And thanks for heads up on the dodgy links in the sidebar – have removed them.

  5. Alex

    Maybe I have the wrong friends, but those 7 behaviours… That’s pretty much all I ever read on FB, which is probably why I rarely look at it. I thought that FB was pretty much all about those 5 core motivations anyway, something Peter Rollins touched on at Mars Hill years back, to summarise “our FB profile is just an idealised projection of an unrealistic, sanitised, ‘best face’ self-image that we tell ourself which is mostly made up anyway.” 😉
    I agree with your points though.
    I imagine my insufferability on FB is being a grammar and spelling fascist, one they missed off that list!

  6. Bill

    I really enjoyed this. Your critique of the HuffPo piece is well-stated and on point, it seems to me.

    But I was struck by the comment that social media is still in its infancy and that our understanding of their effects on things like human relationships is still immature. I’ve reflected on that, bearing in mind the almost incredible rise of social media, from being completely unknown just a few years ago to being globally ubiquitous now. It will take time, it seems to me, for it to find its proper place in social interaction. Maybe some of the seemingly crazy stuff that we see on facebook is due to its relative novelty. Maybe the wheat will eventually separate from the chaff. Or maybe facebook will be passe and obsolete before that ever comes to pass.

    Great post and good food for thought.

  7. Alex

    More food for thought, kind of links in here, all about people’s self-projection of perfection or the opposite http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/10/30/please-stop-calling-your-relatively-privileged-life-crazy-and-messy?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sojourners%2Fgods-politics+%28Sojourners+God%27s+Politics+Blog%29
    (my, my, that’s a long URI) Found it interesting and ties in with this conversation and others re Marshall McLuhan and his theories etc.