It’s certainly not news that sites like Facebook make us feel bad about ourselves. From the BBC to Time magazine, from commentary to rigorousresearch, we’ve been hearing users complain about social media-provoked low self esteem for some time.
Read these studies and editorials, and you’ll learn about things like the availability heuristic, correspondence bias, and affective wellbeing. But it’s a less-scientific term I learned from the links that interests me more: “Compare and Despair.”
From Psychology Today: “[M]y most favorite game in the whole wide world is Compare and Despair, and social media provides a never-ending stream of opportunities to play this game. Some days I'd wake up and go online to see Facebook status updates like, ‘Just filmed a segment on The Today Show’ or ‘My book hit the New York Times Bestseller list,’ or ‘I was quoted in The Wall Street Journal--check it out!’ when all I'd done so far that day was brush my teeth and have a cup of coffee. Even if I start out feeling moderately OK about myself, by the time I get off Facebook I feel like I haven't done anything with my life because I'm not ‘about to send my manuscript to my agent!’ or ‘having the best day EVER and sooo grateful for all my many blessings!’”
We’ve all done it, right? Secretly suspected that everyone else was having a better time than you, that they were doing life right while you were stumbling along just trying to figure it out. And we’ve been doing it since ages ago, long before The Facebook was a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. It’s not entirely fair to shift the blame for our human frailties from our own shoulders to those of social media.
But it is fair to call them out when they encourage the behavior. As LinkedIn did this week, with this gem of an email subject that landed in my inbox yesterday: “Kaila, see how you rank in profile views compared to your connections.”
Look, it’s bad enough that social media, by its very nature, can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and envy, and LinkedIn is generally not an egregious offender in that regard. But this headline is blatantly manipulative, designed to touch every raw nerve of doubt that, well, you just don’t measure up. They might as well say, “Kaila, you aren’t a LOSER, are you???”
I’m not a loser, in case you were wondering, and neither are you. You’re not a loser even if you’re in the lowest percentile of LinkedIn profile views. You’re not a loser even if, like “South Park”’s Kip Drordy, you have 0 friends on Facebook -- or if, like many of my friends, you’re not on Facebook at all. You’re not a loser if your Klout score goes down, or if your life isn’t perfectly Instagrammable.
These sites don’t tell us whether we’re winning at life. They tell us whether we’re winning at using a particular platform to convey a particular version of ourselves.
Don’t we have bigger things to worry about?