Sunday, January 3, 2010

also, nobody but me ever closes their eyes in the flash

I do not think Facebook is very good for me.  Not that I am planning to give it up; the whole reason I joined was that not being on Facebook had become more trouble than being on Facebook (and also some friends from high school made a profile for me, and threatened to post their own unflattering pictures on it if I didn't take ownership).  And there are good things about it: I get to see what certain friends are up to, the people who fall into the gap between people I know and talk to on a regular basis (who tell me what they're up to anyway, and whose Facebook posts I'm not terribly interested in) and the people I simply don't care about (but am often Facebook friends with anyway).  These are people I was friends with, two or five or fifteen years ago, and who I still talk to once a month or once a year, but now I talk to them a little more often, and even when we don't talk I see what they're doing and saying.  

But sometimes Facebook is kind of sad.  I will be idly glancing at it on a Sunday morning while still in my pajamas, doing nothing more exciting than waiting for my coffee to perc and considering reading the paper, with nothing on my agenda more adventurous than a possible visit to the gym (it's 20 degrees out!  in New York we consider that cold!  also, yesterday I went to a museum and the movies, and most of my friends are still on vacation.  also, I actually have quite a lot I need to do today.) and I get to see pictures of my facebook friends on vacation in Monterey, on cruises, at fancy New Year's Eve parties I wasn't invited to.  Which is great, for them, and I'm happy they are having fun and exciting times, but I feel like kind of a loser that I am not having fun and exciting times.  I know that much of this is a sampling bias, because (1) they are not doing any of these things right now, actually; they have already done them and are posting photos, probably in their pajamas while waiting for their coffee to perc; (2) I was just in Spain, which was also exciting, and I have posted lots of photos of it; (3) I did not check Facebook the whole time I was in Spain, and in fact I almost never check Facebook when I am doing anything exciting, so by definition if I am looking at Facebook I am not up to much; (4) oh, wait, life is not a competition about who can have the best Facebook photos.

Except sometimes it feels like it is, and like I am very clearly losing.  I have two basic cohorts of Facebook friends whose posts make me feel a little bit bad.  The first is the people I went to high school or college with, who are my age or a bit older, who post pictures of their houses and families.  Which include things like pets and children.  (Not babies; children.  Some of my friends have actual children now, as in the babies have grown up and gotten their own personalities, which is kind of farcical because these are people whom I can remember being just as inept as me, and now they have gone and gotten married (sometimes more than once) and bought houses (sometimes multiple) and made whole other people, some of whom are better-equipped for life than I am.  So, yeah, weird, and makes me feel like I have kind of missed the becoming-a-functional-person boat.  And then there is the second Facebook cohort.  These people are all people I have met since coming to New York, and they are generally five or so years younger than me.  They post pictures of themselves in various flimsy dresses at various apartments, bars, and vacation destinations, with an ever-changing gaggle of flimsy-dress-wearing girlfriends (and the occasional man-looking-mildly-stunned), looking like they are having an incredible amount of fun (and also, frequently, like they are incredibly drunk).  I am not sure exactly how this works, that they are having fun, because I'm pretty sure that if I were them I would be in pain from my shoes and/or feeling nauseated from the amount of alcohol they have surely ingested, but I suppose (a) there are pictures of this sort of me, just a lot fewer, so it is possible, and (b) they are not posting the pictures of taking two hours to get dressed, or of their blisters, or of the evil metal-spiked underwear they are wearing under that dress, or of what they look like the next day, so it is unfair to assume that they wake up every morning in full makeup.  But these pictures make me feel a bit bad too, because clearly they are having more fun than I even know how to have, and obviously I have missed something.

Sampling bias, sampling bias.  I have nearly 200 Facebook friends; one of them is bound to always be doing something unusually fun.  It is not, actually, like all of them are posting pictures every day of their babies and their parties; first of all, I can think of nobody who has both, and the vast majority of the pictures are from perhaps two dozen prolific friends.  You don't get, in your Facebook feed, "Jane Smith has not gone to any parties in the last month," or "Susie Doe has never taken a really great vacation," or "Ann Jones does not have any children."  Many of the people whose feeds provoke feelings of inadequacy are people I only barely know and have no particular affection for; of the ones I do know, I'm pretty sure all of them have problems and issues and not-so-great things in their lives that they just aren't posting pictures of.

Still, there seems to be a clear divide.  There are the people who have their lives so figured out that everything they say and do, even on Facebook, oozes confidence and intention.  And then there are the people who do not have their lives figured out, at all.  I am clearly part of the latter group, and this makes me feel bad.  But, maybe I am imagining some of this.  Most of the people I am really close to are a lot like me; they have some good things in their life but also problems, and they don't really know what direction they should be going in, and on balance they are pretty confused who they are going to be and are largely making it up as they go along.  I have a close friend I used to get really mad at, because I thought of her as kind of a poser.  We were very close, but we also hung out a lot in larger groups (this is not typical of me with my friends) and it seemed to me like she acted differently.  When it was just us, she was more or less as confused about life as I was, and it was clear that she wasn't entirely sure about the direction she was headed in, and didn't really know where she wanted to end up, and had made some choices that had kind of boxed her in and now was starting to second-guess them.  But when we hung out with other people, she never talked about that; she made light of her problems - and of mine - and mocked the very idea that a person could be confused about their life.  She acted like she knew everything, like her whole life was perfect and fun, and this made me so mad.  Partly because I knew it was a lie, and partly because I thought maybe she thought it was the truth, and it felt like she was getting away with something by not having to figure herself out, by just existing in a state of confusion but laughing loud enough to block it out.  Now, I wonder - was she getting away with anything, really?  I would say that I don't think all her revelry made her very happy, but she would probably dispute that, and people get to define their own happiness.  But maybe she wasn't getting away with anything because that's just what people do; maybe they all have confusions and insecurities and dresses in their closet that are half a size too small, and the ones who are posting pictures of themselves at parties are a little bit worried because they've never had a serious boyfriend, and the ones posting pictures of their babies are a little bit sad that they're falling asleep at 9 p.m. on New Years Eve, and the ones posting pictures of themselves in Tahiti are not posting the pictures of when they got in a fight with their travel companions or threw up from unfamiliar food, and the ones who aren't posting many pictures at all - which is most of them - are mostly just having their lives, but also a little bit concerned that things aren't the way they should be, or the way they would like them to be.

Or maybe nobody ever worries any of this, and I just made it all up.


  1. Facebook makes me sad often too. I like keeping up with people, but it is difficult not to feel like you are missing out on something. :) I'm going in search of your Spain photos. I must have missed that whole trip with all of my Christmas travels.

  2. This is one of the several reasons I am still holding out. I don't need more reasons to imagine that other people's lives are better than mine.

  3. Does your coffee really percolate? Because that would be rad, I didn't think anybody had those anymore.

    Fbook on balance I think is good, although Sturgeon's Law applies to the Applications, and I get really sick of having to block people with their Mafia Jewel Whatnot bullshit. Get a life, people!

    Re: Spain, neat that you went; I did three weeks there with my now-fiancee this summer when we were between jobs, centered around a short conference in Barcelona (thank you science for the airfare); got engaged in Tarifa. The whole trip was awesome, but yeah, I got pretty sick of jamon by the end.

  4. Megan: But if you joined Facebook, you could post pictures of California awesomeness and make us all want to move there. Lil Dubin has very nearly converted me already.

    NL: Well, no, I have a drip machine rather than an old-fashion percolator. It is very cute and small and fitting-together and I am slightly in love with it. But I think I should still be allowed to say that, because the water does have to actually percolate the grounds in order to get to the bottom of the filter, right?

  5. I am on Facebook because relatives were. I post many photos of my baby mainly so that people will focus on the baby and forget they don't like me. I use him as bait for well-wishes. It often works. I assume this is what other people are usually doing when they post photos of their families and activities. "Look at all these friends here with me, you can't possibly think we *all* suck."

    It didn't work last week, when a single, childless former friend (remember we are older than you are) responded to my friend request but found an excuse to insult and unfriend me within 24 hours. She never made one comment on one single photo. That hurt more than the unfriending. Especially since she comments effusively on all the popular high school alumnaes' baby photos.

    So basically Facebook ruined a couple days for me last week. It is cold comfort that all her posts pretty much sucked, ie, "Blanche is getting a facial today!"

  6. I always feel like I should not comment on people's stuff unless I know them well enough. But, I like it when people comment on my stuff, as long as it's positive, even if I don't know them. I have a coworker who is always writing nasty things on my Facebook status and photos. Finally I have blocked him from seeing such things.

  7. My Facebook is bigger than your Facebook.

  8. NL:


    You got engaged? To Cricket? Maybe if you UPDATED YOUR BLOG, I would know these things.


  9. Megan: I knew that, and I have not even, technically, met him. Or her. See, that is the use of Facebook. (But, yeah, congratulations!)

    M: It's not the size of your facebook, it's the speed with which you post pictures of your vacations.

  10. Yeah, I didn't really know what to do with the blog once I started the new professor job. I'm a little confused about what I want out of blogging, I guess.

    And amazingly, I never actually announced I was engaged (yeah, to Cricket!) on facebook, but somehow it leaked into the zeitgeist.

  11. Woo-hoo! Well, mentioning it in the comments of a third friend's closed blog is one way to get word out.