Illustration by Allie Goertz
Facebook is arguably the most essential tool of our generation. Most of us use it on a daily (and probably hourly) basis. Staying connected to people near and far has never been this easy. But staying so connected with everyone from our past, present, and ultimately, our future has taken a toll on people’s self-image. There arises a new “Facebook persona,” in which individuals attempt to make their life look appealing on-screen.
It starts with thinking in Facebook statuses—a process I’ll admit influences my own life. If something even remotely interesting or slightly random happens to me, I exaggerate it and up it goes on my wall. I like to make people laugh. I don’t think thinking like this is a bad thing, because I surf my friend’s status updates to find humorous posts as well, but creating these posts becomes a bad habit. The other day I almost put up a status of a funny occurence in my life that I thought was hilarious—but it happened to me in seventh grade. Also, come to think of it, it actually didn’t happen to me, it happened to my friend. But naturally, I was going to write it in such a way that you would think it happened to me just moments before I posted it. Again, there’s nothing inherently terrible about this, but I realized the lengths I was going to just to get a laugh out of people via Facebook. I couldn’t just tell the story to a group of friends and laugh about it with them, I wanted to reach as many people as possible and have them all think I was funny.
That’s part of the appeal of Facebook for many people: trying to have a lot of virtual friends reading and seeing how awesome everything in your life is compared to their own lives. While sitting in class with a friend, we were zoning out on our computers, and he looked over to my page and saw the event invitations I had at the time. He turned to me and said, “I wish I was as good of a college student as you are.” Of course, I thought he meant “good” as in “you have the intellectual mind of a god,” but it turns out he just wished he had more invites on Facebook. It didn’t bother me too much at first, but then I realized that he valued me more because he thought I had a solid amount of social invitations on a networking site. His perception of my online persona factored significantly into his opinion of me.
And it’s not just appearing socially active online—it’s a portrayal of an identity. I love to read people’s “About Me” sections. So rarely does anyone have anything to say that resembles who they are. Sure, it’s difficult to nail yourself down in a paragraph or less, but this portion of the site should really be called the “Who I’d Like to Be” section, the “How to Make Yourself Look Interesting While Looking Like You Don’t Really Care” section, or the “I Wrote This My Freshman Year of College and Don’t Want to Update It, Quit Creeping on My Page, Colleen” section. But seriously, people offer up the most obscure information about themselves to try and magnify their uniqueness.
There are also the over-emotional sharers. They don’t try to make their lives look awesome, they just want people to take part in everything they think is crappy. This is especially true of people who have recently been dumped. I think if I personally went through a terrible break-up, I would either avoid social networking sites, or fall into the category of “look how great life is going for me” posts. But the feeling-sharer types will post “...missing that son of a bitch...WHY?!” while their ex can fully view this. It’s this incredible need for attention and validation of feeling that makes my heart hurt, or makes me want to throw up all over the keyboard (depending on how much I like you, mostly).
These issues on Facebook—the want to look cool, seem popular, and feel validated—are all problems humans have without social websites. I’m not saying that any of these problems have arisen from the creation of Facebook, merely that it causes these internal conflicts to intensify. We’re all under the impression that we’re constantly under the eyes of hundreds of people, and insecurities are a byproduct of this. I’m not trying to denounce anyone who takes part in these behaviors, we all do it to some extent. I mean, I wouldn’t write this if I myself didn’t want to appear like I have all my shit figured out and am now free to comment on everyone else’s sad life, right?
But hey, now that I’ve thought about it more, being funny on Facebook is cool. Trying to make your life appear perfect is pointless, and I just don’t understand people who have lots of feelings that need to get out, but please, share a funny story. It’s a nice thing to do, and it fuels positive energy, because it makes everyone laugh. I don’t care if it’s made up (I’m a writer, after all), but I want to laugh. Or better yet, come write something funny for this paper. Then you can post a link to it on your Facebook and bask in the glow of everyone commenting and “liking” the fact that you’re published.