Finding Nourishment in the Roots of a Facebook Status

Sometimes there’s pressure to put on a certain face for the public world. But how do we really feel?

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about Facebook statuses.

Maybe it’s because a lot of my friends seem to be sharing things that otherwise would never be known. Secret drunken laundry dance parties, for example.

Maybe it’s because the person doing secret drunken laundry dance parties is my sister. Who knows. The point is, a lot of my friends are doing well and having fun; this I know from their statuses. All of my friends that I talk to, however, are having hard times here and there.

Why do we share what we share, especially on these quick statuses?
Sticking with the theme of this blog, which is learning to see things in new ways and not be too automatic (sometimes for the sake of writing better material), I am going to write here about how we may gain psychological nourishment and extra story material by looking at why we choose to make certain Facebook statuses.

The Example of the White Gecko

Here is something I’ve been thinking about writing on Facebook as a status:

“For the first time ever, there was a pink gecko in the bedroom!”

Instead of writing that status, I analyzed it. Why, I said to myself, why do you feel the need to tell all the people that there was a gecko in your bedroom? You certainly wouldn’t call them and tell them. Except for maybe your sister. So…

Here’s what I came to while trying to deconstruct my impulse for posting about the pink gecko:

1. It shows that I am living in a place that is unique for me, because Geckos don’t live in CT or MA, where I came from.

2. It shows that craaazy things happen in my life, therefore, I am interesting.

3. Geckos are cute and perhaps people will smile just thinking of one.

4. I just want people to acknowledge my existence in this strange and fleeting life.

5. Was it really pink? Maybe someone will explain the process of color-changing to me.

Now, none of this was really conscious at the time of thinking “Gosh darn golly gee, I should write about that gecko!” Instead, it was just an impulse. Just like my impulse to quote certain lines of songs by Tom Waits and Bob Dylan quite often, which I also refrain from doing.

It seemed that what I really wanted was to tell a story. I really wanted to share something, to be seen, to be acknowledged, and to project a certain image through that. Like my sister and her drunken laundry party. She might have been hanging out alone, but at least everyone she ever met knew that she was having a good time.

I’m finding that that the impulse to post a photo (or just to get a photo) of a sunset, or the rainbow, or a cool view of the city skyline, is much the same. It usually breaks down to some combination of:

-My life is fun, believe me, here’s proof!

-I am interesting; please, god, friends of past, present, and future, agree with me that I’m interesting!

-I’m doing well, don’t worry, I’m happy in some moments, like this one, which you get to see in full color in all of its instagrammed glory!

-Smile, darnit! You are my friends, you should be smiling! Maybe this will make you smile!

A picture that my Facebook friends never got to see..

And others. I am never quite disappointed with the resulting feelings of asking myself  “Why do I feel I should post that particular status or picture to Facebook?”

Memories of External Validation

I think we’ve all had the  “If that person thinks I’m awesome/pretty/smart/interesting, then I will finally feel like it myself” feeling. For me, it happened a lot when I was younger.
Now when it happens, it seems to be related to work-stuff a lot. A boss, an organization, a magazine. “If they take my manuscript/essay/short story, I will truly feel like a good writer!” and it goes on.

Now, why is this? It is clearly repetitive and illogical. A sunset is gorgeous whether or not all of my friends see it too, a gecko on my wall makes me smile even if nobody else sees it, believes it, or can even empathize with it. The same story that one magazine rejects may be perfectly acceptable to another.

External validation has never worked, nor will it. So why keep trying, and is there any harm being done?

Do We See The Extent of It?

I remember reading a study about people feeling worse about themselves after seeing the very best pieces of all of their friends’ lives on Facebook. This is a big deal to me. It’s a lot like those studies of magazines many years ago where the psychologists basically watched girls’ self-esteem go down the more pages they looked at of mainstream magazines.

The reason it matters is that it affects people I love, and it also might be a factor in helping to be aware of the causes of depression or bad moods in myself.

So, when we try to extract the happiest and most validating moments of our lives, our friends see that. Then, they get an unrealistic idea of our lives, and judge their own based on that lens that everyone contributes to. They choose to then show their happiest moments, and we feel that we need to also be that perfect. This keeps compounding itself.

The more we show our best sides, the more one-dimensional the whole situation seems to become. That’s why I’m rooting for honesty and examining my intentions before leaving any type of status to see if it really will meet the need I expect it to.

Usually what I come up with is that I need to validate my own joy and interesting-ness, so I end up doing things like making faces with materials that fall from the trees at the coffee shop to make myself smile. But I’m not going to show you those.

Turning The Mirror Around
I think that in terms of writing fiction, thinking about this kind of stuff matters. The world seems to be moving me in a direction of more automatic behavior. Instead of reading street signs, I can just watch the arrow on my GPS. Instead of dialing each number of someone’s phone number, I can scroll to find their name. These are little things. But they add up, as I’ve mentioned before.

So before I start making automatic status updates to try and reach for some sense of validation or present some image that I’m not, I may as well think about where those are coming from. It helps me to see inside some of my characters for the various fictional pieces I’m working on. Because what are our characters besides pieces of ourselves, and how are we going to know their true and genuine responses to things and motivations when we are not exploring our own?

We can start with what motivates us to make a status, if we want. I’m starting there, and my stories have been pumping out like crazy since the cancelled gecko status. It may be cause and effect, it may not be.

How about you?

Have you ever explored the feelings behind why you make certain statuses? Do you feel like you are completely honest in them, or that you are showing your best or most upset sides?

Do you feel different after looking at Facebook for ten minutes than before? Does it help you feel more connected to people, or less?

And also, I lied about not showing you the face made from fallen objects at the coffee shop.

Sometimes, you just gotta sit alone and make an acorn face.

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37 thoughts on “Finding Nourishment in the Roots of a Facebook Status

  1. Sister!! I’ve got a madcrazylove for your brain in all its splendor.

    This is a powerful glance into some quite serious implications that I have yet to find anybody taking. Thank you for having the balls.

    I was exactly where you are with my thought process a year ago. My facebook was my therapist, except demanded absolutely NOTHING from me. No deep introspection, no bare-bones honesty, no pointers towards any need for growth; just constant access 24/7 to various affirmations that I am as cool and unique and spontaneous and intelligent as I’d like to be. Fluff and filler.

    This post is reminiscent if screen on/screen off (or however you put it, but you get my point); are we actually living at all? Or have our lives become a performance in which our many gismos and gadgets provide us the perfect stage to sequester a round of applause any time we feel a slight bit insecure? And who’s willing to answer that honestly?

    I became so irritated with facebook relationships, because they had completely replaced every single relationship I thought I’d had in real life. I no longer got calls from anyone. What would there be to talk about? I’d try to plan outings and be told on a regular basis to ‘message’ people. Like some code language everyone I knew spoke on every occasion for every reason. I would be dead-center in the middle of the coolest experience, totally absorbed in the moment if it, and WITHOUT FAIL, every single time there would be SOMEONE telling me to make sure I post the pictures to their ‘wall’.

    Dude.

    I never thought I could live without facebook because it was so deeply integral to everything I did. I was in the clutches of denial like a crack cocaine addiction. And to be honest, I didn’t fear losing touch with people. I was terrified of looking myself in the actual mirror, and finding a new way of deriving my sense of identity — and maintaining its robust confidence through constant ego-stroking I’d invariably acquire throughout the course of my ‘so-called (facebook)-life.’ It’s scary to me now, looking back, that we’ve all become so voluntarily numb to the truths that this emptiness presents. These superficial modes of existence are a horrifying indication of how hollowed-out we are becoming with every single advance in technology.

    It’s one thing to have access to the world through the world wide web… It’s a tightrope walk however, between utilizing that access and not totally losing touch with the worlds within our selves that have yet to be discovered…

    Even scarier: what happens if we never discover them? Who are we becoming if we don’t become more potent versions of our SELVES?

    Watered-down Brandy shut the facebook down. And in less than two weeks I realized just how ALIVE life felt with the screen off.

    Great post woman!!

    • I’m so glad that you liked it!
      It is so funny how the feeling of “Dude, dude- tag me in these when you put them on facebook!” has become like a built-in part of some experiences. That is sort of what scares me. It is amazing how quickly the line thins between “wow, this is a fun toy!” and not being able to see the line between it and the rest of life. Like you said- that prevents us from exploring some of the worlds within ourselves!

      My fears are not that these things are inherently bad, but that the more automatically I respond to them, the more unconsciously addicted I get, because like you said, everything starts to feel more hollowed-out!

      Right now, my mind is making a connection between these processes and smoking cigarettes- it was like starting smoking, they become fun and interesting..but then after awhile, they just became necessary, and they weren’t adding a feeling, they were just taking away the absence of themselves and bringing me back to ground level. I don’t want social technology to do that to me, especially if I want to be able to write about potent characters with vivid existences :) Who would want to read about someone that sat on Facebook all day?

      I have been loving on your blog the past half hour or so…very awesome stuff!!

      • That analogy to cigarettes is dead on. Facebook users – myself included, sadly – definitely have a seriously hard time enjoying a moment without thinking of the social media ramifications. As sad as it may seem, I’ve found myself acquiescing to going out with friends on nights when I’d rather stay in because I knew someone had a camera and I should be present for any photos going online. It’s sad when Facebook itself becomes motivation for doing something…

        I feel like Instagram is much the same way, as you described that we use these tools for self affirmation. I could easily look at a dramatic thunderstorm cloud and appreciate it myself, but for some reason it gains so much more significance when I snap it and upload it, and suddenly have other people also like it. If anything, social media is limiting our own ability to genuinely like things as we become more and more used to using others likes as a crutch.

        Great post – thanks!

  2. I love how you always make me think. Your points are so clear and valid. I have thought vaguely about these things but you have given me so much more to ponder. I read a similarly themed post on mamapedia recently, where the author questioned her motivation for posting statues as she did. And you are right, we only present the light, not the shadows. How will Facebook and twitter change us as humans I wonder? X

    • I am so glad that you take the time to read and to think about them! I will look up her post as well, maybe it’s good that a lot of people are starting to question such things..like a natural awakening. Also, am I following you yet on Twitter? I hope so, I am starting to use it more! I’ll try to find you in that jungle of @’s and #’s. My name there is Jenerprise!
      I think as humans, maybe we’ll just be able to love extra hard as time goes on. We’ll get so good at waking up, at seeing through the haze of instant gratification, that our compassion-muscles will just be so well-flexed that we can love anything and anyone because we have finally practiced on ourselves :)

    • I love this point: “they only present the light, not the shadows.”

      I’m not anti-facebook; however, I found the real ‘me’ rushing towards some empty light through facebook any & every time I came face to face with a shadow. And I think it is fair to say that for those of us who grew increasingly habitualized in a routine of status updating more than once a day, the shadows aren’t getting the attention the deserve.

      It’s just like smoking. It becomes necessary, to the point that the SECOND stress comes upon us we need to smoke. Kinda like facebook.

      We all have coping mechanisms. I find it imminent that we make sure we aren’t allowing our spirits to use the coping mechanism as a vice for denial, because there is nothing potent about make-believe happiness and online popularity. I’m saying this not pointing fingers; I’m saying it after having looked in the mirror.

      • That’s like exactly the page I’m on right now. When I realize I’m doing something to try and change a “bad” feeling, I ask myself if it’s really making me feel fulfilled, and if it’s a good long-term solution. I’ve been reading this book called “The Happiness Trap” and it’s like changing the way I see all of that!

  3. Jennifer, I found my head nodding in agreement as I read your post. For example, recovering from a major depressive episode did NOT make it on my Facebook status. In fact, I haven’t posted anything much on Facebook lately, because I haven’t been doing anything fun and interesting according to Facebook’s unspoken standards. Maybe interesting by blogging standards, though. Blogging seems to be the platform that best accommodates introspection.

    I have a couple of friends who post on Facebook when they are down. I alternate between admiring their courage, and thinking that it’s inappropriate. Why inappropriate? Maybe because we have all those Facebook “friends” who are not really friends, just casual acquaintances–not people that we would open our hearts to.

    • That is such an interesting point! I was thinking how it is interesting that blogging makes it seem easier and seemingly more appropriate to share all sorts of feelings. Maybe it’s because the purpose is more laid out- blogging can be lots of things, and each blog has its own point or purpose. People come to your blog and know what its about, you don’t make a home screen that’s like “Hello, this is going to be a blog about cupcakes and flying saucers!” and then make lots of posts about the politics of dog play, because that would be confusing. But on facebook, anything goes. There’s no purpose, no real layout of what the point is aside from sharing things.

      So everyone creates one. For some, it’s their literal face to the world. For others, it’s a venting platform. For some, it’s a place to express politics or cupcake recipes or anything. Maybe that’s part of why its confusing- everyone’s using it for something different without quite organizing it as well as a blog is organized :)
      I agree fully that blogging accommodates introspection. I think you nailed it right on the head there.

  4. I don’t have much of a comment because I agree with all that you’ve said. It does start to compound the problem when everything projected at you seems rosy and that is just not reality.

    On another note, I AM a follower, but you are not showing up in my reader. This makes me sad.

    Now to catch up.

    • The reader has a learning disability, I’ve discovered. It doesn’t update, and rarely shows the blogs I actually want to read. It will have seven posts in a row from the same author on most days. Sucky glitch.

      You don’t show up in my reader either, Jennifer. I’ll be catching up as well, and responding to your comments on mine. Your insight adds an unspoken beauty to my days. I treasure it.

    • Peaches I’m glad you agree with it :) It’s always good to have my words ring true with someone I respect.

      I’m sad my posts aren’t showing up..that’s odd. Maybe it’s because I post more rarely than others? I’m not sure. Good to know though, I’ll see if maybe I have something in my settings that affects it!

  5. i love this post very much, jen.
    i can relate to everything you wrote about. i been that girl who feels like shit while reading “exciting” statuses because i felt i was not leading an “interesting” life…when most statuses posted on FB are dramatizations.

    that fuckin’ website. gah.

    • I’m glad you like it!
      I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
      One of the best things about Facebook is that it can hold lots of your lovely pictures of your pretty hair! :)

  6. Awesome post… I shudder to think what Twitter says about people! I think its a combination of approval-seeking and catharsis… Love the way you write.. How’s the book coming along?

    • Twitter is still so new to me, haha it does seem crazy now that I think about it!

      “Blessings of a Meandering Misfit” is actually sort of on hold as I work on a new one- I want to get a lot of practice before actually getting too much farther in, since that one is like my baby. I may have to scrap the whole thing and start over, sadly, to give it the attention it deserves.

      I did, however, start on a fictional book that has much the same theme except with fictional characters, and it is proving to be an inspiring and invigorating thing to work on! I may try to find an agent once it gets a little farther along. :)

      • Good to hear… Maybe you could consider Nanowrimo this year to get a jumpstart on your book? Also, I find Jonathan Fields newsletters on tribal book marketing quite insightful and inspiring if you want to check him out. I would definitely be a part of your cheering tribe if you do write a book!

        • I will check him out! I am not sure about nanowrimo…I am not that sure about anything at this moment, really. Perhaps I’ll see how it feels as it gets closer! And thank you for offering to be part of my cheering tribe, I can’t wait to learn more about it!

  7. I have a Facebook account – two of them, actually – and avoid them both like the plague*. Not only did I feel a tremendous pressure to put on a show, to be continually interesting and have fascinating moment-by-moment accounts of how amazing my life is, I also felt that it was inherently hollow. I hate finding out bits about my friends’ lives that they didn’t feel the need to tell me directly. The worst was hearing from my sister that a close college friend of mine was pregnant; even worse: my sister found out from Facebook! There was a time that friend would have called me. A time we would have spent hours talking about it. And now I find out third party, and it is just so sad. I get it that not all relationships are forever, but Facebook gives the illusion that nothing ever ends. We will always be close! We can see one another’s statuses! This is friendship!

    Except, it’s not. For all the reasons you mention. When you only see the happiness and the manufactured, packaged moments, you aren’t seeing reality and there is an emptiness that sucks at your soul. It leaves you thinking that if you just connect more with other people on Facebook or Twitter or whatever comes next, you’ll fill that void. But I don’t think it works that way.

    That is why I prefer blogs. There is more discussion and greater depth to most posts than there ever is on Facebook. Good blogs are honest; I hope you know I count yours as one of the very, very good blogs!!

    I’m glad you shared the picture of the face formed of fallen things!

    -aniko

    * I use my author Facebook account to participate on the private page my writing group has, but even then I don’t use it for more traditional Facebooking.

    • I’m glad you liked the face, Aniko :) Reading your words reminded me that sometimes, I have dreams about Facebook friends; the ones I haven’t seen in many years. It’s so strange that I know what their garden looks like or what their husbands look like, but not what their voice sounds like anymore. What a strange and hilarious world we live in!

  8. I actually have very few friends that post image enhancing statuses. It seems to me like airing their dirty laundry on Facebook is the catharsis they need to carry on from the absolute horrible existence they are leading.
    Then again, when I talk to them (in person), their life is pretty good. ???
    It may keep me in the loop so to speak, regarding my friends lives, but … I to feel so uncomfortable reading about these (very) personal problems they are airing, to the world basically.
    Indeed, like posting positive statuses about their great life, in the same vein, why post extremely negative statuses? Perhaps for many of the same reasons you wrote about. Happy or “awwww” comments may be what they are looking for …?
    Many friends post these days, “there should be a ‘not like’ preference, instead of just ‘like’.”
    As the Happy Horror Writer wrote “… you only see the happiness and the manufactured, packaged moments, you aren’t seeing reality…” This veneer we see of our friends lives, I just somehow don’t feel closer to them at all, just the opposite in fact. I know there is so much more to why they are feeling this way, and not knowing why they are hurting, sucks.

    Here you are bringing my small thoughts out of the little cubbyholes of my mind and giving them their day in the sun. Thank you again for that.

    • If blogs could be like landscapes, I would very much like mine to be the grassy hill where everyone’s cubby-holed thoughts come out for some sun and a nice picnic with other thoughts that were busy hiding away :) I am very glad you resonated with it!

  9. “For every thought that ever there was will gather there for certain
    Because today’s the day the cubby-holed thoughts have their picnic”
    heh heh, great visual there. PG thoughts only may attend. Have a wonderful week.

  10. When I see something I really like, when I read something that really touches me, when I experience beauty in whatever form it`s presented, there is always somebody in my life I`d like to share it with, that particular friend I know would have loved to be there or see it or read it but couldn`t. Maybe your comment was about to make them smile for a while?

  11. Such a great post! so true! When I started college that’s what Facebook was all about. Showing everyone how ‘cool’ you are, how much you are partying and how drunk you are getting. Now that I’m a senior I barely even update my Facebook status (I’ve never been the picture taking type of girl), and if I do is to share info more than trying to tell the world my life. These status updates go crazy after break-ups or lost of a friendship. I think it’s kinda sad honestly, it makes me wonder if people do it to make themselves feel better which means that in reality they might have self-esteem problems and getting 20 likes makes them feel better. I don’t know but this could be great idea for one of the many research papers I have to write haha :)

  12. Jennifer, another beautifully written post. I have been wanting to write a post about how I “hate” facebook… and now after reading your post, I realize why I feel that way. You have articulated it perfectly. To me, facebook is all masks and pushers. People hiding who they truly are and people who continually want to shove something down my throat. I don’t have a blog-facebook page, I still have my own individual page and I have followed people for the sake of a mutual follow because we are in the same community group, or because we are acquaintances. I also follow some pages that provide inspirations, but they post so much each day that everything I really want to see gets lost. My facebook experience is miserable now. So of course, I have pulled way back from visiting facebook at all, but I am still on it. Sometimes I think I would just quit facebook, but I love seeing my cousins’ babies grow up, so I can’t quite bring myself to quit. Just another life experience where I need to find what I want out of something and just stick with that. And in the meantime, try not to get overwhelmed with everything else coming at me.

    You are such a lovely writer. I enjoy our connection.

    • Aw I enjoy our connection as well! I share similar feelings. Cutting down on overwhelm is key.

      It’s nice that Facebook gives you an option of hiding posts- you could basically hide everyone except your cousins, and then have a Facebook feed full of babies, which is good if that’s what you love :) I wish Twitter had that, so that I could follow people and then decide if I wanted to keep seeing their posts or not, without having to hit the un-follow..

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