Blue With Envy
Hugh Bassett discusses the impact of the blue-eyed monster.
It’s funny what we’re remembered for. Decades in particular seem to pick up certain attributes, a little quirk of trend perhaps, forever ensconced in our general consciousness, regardless of real significance. Some can be positive: the 60s and their sexual revolution or the 20s and their happy-go-lucky flappers, shaking off the pressure of the First World War with martinis and jazz clubs (well, if Downton hasn’t been lying to me). Then there are the less glamorous decades: the poor little 70s, with their carpeted walls and awkward fondue parties, and of course the miserable 30s, because no decade wants their ‘thing’ to be a capitalised Depression. I suppose they can console themselves that at least they’re not the 1340s, otherwise known as ‘The Plague Decade’. They’re never really going to recover from that.
Probably never going to beat leg-warmers and rah-rah skirts.
But what will the last ten years or so we’ve experienced be remembered for? It’s hard to tell what future generations will decide was our ‘thing’. There are many contenders: Apple products, Reality TV or perhaps terrorism. Realistically, I think we all know what the noughties will be remembered for: Facebook.
Since 2004, the blue and white mega-site has seeped into every crack of our porous little lives. Now boasting around a billion users (i.e. 1 in 7 of the population. Of the planet.), Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is now an integral part of daily life for nearly everyone in the developed world.
Yet never has a decade’s ‘thing’ been so contentious. It is rare for such a popular advancement to be so downright love/hate. I doubt any of those 20s flappers were secretly despising themselves for spending so much time doing the Charleston.
The self loathing was palpable.
But those are the exact feelings that many Facebook users experience. We tend see the online community as a ‘necessary evil’, one we can’t stop checking but would be reluctant to remove from our daily routine.
Some of the upset stems from sheer upkeep. If you want (or feel you need) to maintain an active Facebook profile, it takes time. There are photos to upload, friends to add, groups to agree or disagree to, and events to ignore. The fact that now nearly every job or business requires you to interact with them online, like an out-of-touch parent desperately trying to stay relevant, means that Facebook has become less of a fun, relaxing entity that allows you to stay in touch with your friends, and more of an extra few bullet points on your to do list. At least the embarrassing, flare-clad inhabitants of the 70s didn’t have to spend an extra two hours of their day preserving an online persona through Facebook, Twitter, and all the other virtual trappings of modern life.
Which just left more time for bitchin’ fondue parties.
The biggest grumble by far, however is surely the occurrence of ‘Facebook Envy’. Somewhere between a minor annoyance and a full-blown mental illness (depending on which Internet psychiatrist you ask), Facebook Envy is a modern malaise that arises from perceiving other’s lives online as more fun, successful or happy than our own.
It usually follows a lazy scroll down the social network’s homepage, only to be met with a photo of an old acquaintance, their arm around an unfeasibly attractive member of the opposite sex in front of their brand new car, all on a backdrop of some exotic location you’re probably never going to go to. After a couple of minutes of shouting ‘WHAT?! You’re 21! How could you have possibly saved up enough money to buy a Mercedes? Oh, it was probably from that amazing job your parents got you even though you have no qualifications. And well done on bagging that stunning model, I bet they’re just in love with your sparkling personality and all that charity work you do.’, at a faintly glowing screen you might eventually calm down and think something like ‘If they’re doing that, then why am I sitting around in my pants eating super noodles and watching ‘Bridalplasty’ for the third day in a row? I must be bad at life’.
Still, not as bad as them.
Our parent’s generation were only informed of other’s achievements through word-of-mouth, and if they really wanted to avoid their old classmates accomplishments, unless of course they happened to become movie-stars, was to skip the next school reunion.
As Gore Vidal famously said, ‘It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail’. Yet it’s incredibly hard to see those others fail when people are able to tailor an online version of themselves which only encompasses the positive.
It’s even more difficult to remember that is exactly what other people’s profiles are: doctored, augmented photo-shopped versions of who they really are.
Of course, if Facebook Envy is getting you down, it might be easy enough for one of the rare non-users to simply say ‘well, don’t use it then’. Yet have those people ever met a normal person? Probably not, as they’re not on Facebook, but if they had they’d realise the envy debacle sums up a vexing part of human nature. It’s like picking a scab: we know it may not be good for us, but we’ll do it anyway, just to see.
A ready solution does not easily prevent itself. There are a multitude of reasons why we feel we need to remain on Facebook, yet for some of us it’s apparently causing distress. Perhaps we should take the approach of a friend of mine, who was so beleaguered at seeing the glamorous life of a former school friend, she simply deleted them. We forget that even in the bustling cyber-sphere, ultimately we are in control.
In this way you could go so far to solely be ‘friends’ with those less successful than you, creating in effect a sort of ‘FailBook’, where you would never run the risk of encountering pictures of someone lounging by another exclusive pool or announcing their latest promotion. It would serve only to boost your ego, as you chuckle sanctimoniously how that person you once met at a festival just lost their job at KFC.
Or alternatively, you could just stop worrying about what people think. Let’s be honest, we know which is more likely.