I was looking at my Facebook feed today, and saw a picture of a friend and her boyfriend lounging by a gorgeous beach, sipping mimosas, and basking in the sun. I immediately thought, “They are always doing cool stuff.” This, of course, made me a little jealous, and kind of bummed me out, because even though my lady and I do lots of interesting things, too, I felt like our life is just not as awesome as my friend’s here.
I thought about this some more, and recalled the other times when I felt a similar punch to my ego after having seen what my friends were up to, after oogling at their beautiful Instagram pictures, or reading their witty tweets, or just being in stupified awe at how much better their life is than mine. This feeling of not being as cool or as interesting as everyone else is not new. The list is long, and the feeling sucks.
That’s the Facebook filter. It’s what happens when everyone pretty much only posts things that make their lives look really really interesting. Online social networks can be a few different things, and one of them is a self-manicured tabloid that we share with our friends. If you were given a chance to broadcast your life, you probably would not post a picture of your messy room, or tweet about about that bad performance review you just got. You wouldn’t start a tumblr about all the hours you spent arguing with your parents about money, or record a Vine of your failed attempts at quinoa.
You’d capture the beautiful moments, the perfectly photographed (and filtered) scenes, the head-nodding insights, and the trips to Hawaii, not the trips to Bakersfield (no offense, BK).
You, me, and everybody online want to mostly show everyone what will make us look good, because that’s a human need, and that completely makes sense.
But what happens at the other end of the sharing? Everything you post, and everything others post that you see, will cause a reaction, and likely a comparison. If I am having a mediocre day, and I see a picture of you finishing a marathon, this will only make me feel even more insufficient. “I never run marathons…”
It’s one of the dangers of sharing our lives online: we aren’t always consciously aware that the online self is not a complete portrait of the full self. Who we are online is, for the most part, decided by us. We can curate our presence online, and exercise a level of editorial control that is nowhere to be found in the rest of our lives.
You can be devilishly clever on Twitter. Your life can look like plucked out of a Wes Anderson movie through a Walden filter on Instagram. You can look like the Most Interesting Man in the World on Facebook. And why wouldn’t you try to be? But when you are on the other end of the screen, remember that this is not the whole picture. Know that I and everyone else in real life do spend most of our hours farting around, and most of our days watching way too much Sportscenter in our messy rooms. It’s important to remember this, pretty much all the time, because otherwise you are comparing yourself in a way that’s unkind to yourself, and unfair to your pursuit of happiness.