Facebook is not just a social network, it is a phenomenon that has changed our lives in significant ways. At the turn of the century, Google had already begun to fundamentally change the way we searched for information, people, places etc. Google as a brand has won over the hearts and minds of students, critics, academics, professionals, and about anyone who is aware of the Internet. In 2006, a research study conducted in the UK by me, determined that Google enjoyed high brand equity with positive brand associations, high brand awareness and loyalty, and overall brand equity in comparison to its competitors in the search engine product category (Ahmed, 2006). The brand did not have any negative things associated with it. Enter, Facebook! No matter how real it seems, with the familiar and much loved faces of our friends and family, at the end of the day it is a virtual, make-belief world, which lacks reality. For most of us, life has become too busy. The rate race coupled with our relentless pursuit of growth and finding happiness in some distant part of the world has resulted in us being more disconnected with our close ones. It is not surprising that about a billion people are active on Facebook.
According to the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, “The world’s gone social. And women are more social than men.” In an article published on Forbes.com titled “What Men And Women Are Doing On Facebook”, Goudreau (2010) highlights data supporting the fact that women are leading the charge online on a majority of social networks. The proportion of women on Facebook exceeds the proportion of men. Goudreau (2010) offers interesting perspectives on the evolution of men and women over time and how the historical perspective of the two genders results in the difference in their choices in terms of networking online. I have observed that women are more active users of Facebook, often browsing through photos of their friends, commenting on the same, updating their status frequently, and liking status updates of others. Men do the same but are more likely to update something pertaining to work, a news story, or just play games on Facebook.
Research suggests that despite women empowerment, women today are less happy compared to their predecessors. Women have a lot of choices today which means that life is more complex for them compared to earlier. Research by Stevenson & Wolfers (2009) suggests that despite the fact that the lives of women in the US have improved in many ways since 1972, the happiness of women has declined both in absolute terms and relative to men. Women tend to be the relatively less happy and more moody lot anyway. Facebook adds a new complexity to life in the 21st Century. A recent research study by Chou & Edge (2012) indicates that those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier and agreed less that life is fair. Also, those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. So Facebook is actually making us more bitter and sad about our lives!
On the surface we seem to be happy going through what our friends are up to, but at a deeper, more subconscious level, some of us actually feel sad after looking at the portraits of happiness that we try to paint on Facebook. We are happy when our friends “like” our status update or latest photo. All of us do not reciprocate with similar feelings when we see the happy updates or photos of the others. It is a fact that we use Facebook to share the ultimate presentation of ourselves: a platform to showcase our achievements, our beautiful family, the quotations that we are able to write ourselves in those rare moments of pure genius, the exotic locations we visited recently, and the restaurants we ate at. There is a problem with this hunky dory image that we portray of our lives. We completely downplay the sad moments, the challenges we face, and the disappointments we have. I am not suggesting that we put our sob stories and grudges out there. I just want readers to be cognizant of the fact that our lives on Facebook often encapsulate only the happy moments. When the path that we have chosen or was chosen for us gets tough, we are either not that active on Facebook or are sulking a little by looking at how happy our friends are and how accomplished and complete their lives are. Envy is a sin in many religions of the world. At the same time, it is easy to feel envious when you seem to have a rough deal in life compared to others. Happiness is sometimes relative. For some of us it is not good enough to be happy, but it is important to be happier than others – happier than at least those who we know live a similar life and face somewhat similar obstacles.
Most of us quietly face the challenges that come our way – joblessness, infertility, being single, divorce, separation, or simply the wish to see the world. According to an article published in the Washington Post, infertile couples find it difficult to cope with the happy pregnancy stories of their friends, which are not meant to hurt them, but they end up feeling bad. Before Facebook, they could easily avoid meeting these friends or coworkers for a while as they got over their trauma, so that they would feel less bitter or anxious about their situation. These couples tend to sometimes hide the updates of pregnant friends but the thought of going off Facebook means losing connections with friends which is not so easy, in good times or in bad times.
Movies based on happy stories leave most of us feeling quite happy, exalted, and uplifted. It is because we know that movies are a medium used to create a certain affect. Contrary to the film medium, Facebook seems very real and true. Everyone must have some real life story, which is powerful in making us realize just how fake or misleading our Facebook profiles can be, even when we don’t intentionally want them to be that way. Some of you may recall the marriages that seemed to be made in heaven at the start. These couples share beautiful moments of their perfect marriage on Facebook and photographs of doing small things together. All of us must have felt that fuzzy feeling in our stomach when we see a young couple romance like that, reminiscent of the high school musical in days of yore. And then you hear news of them parting ways. Often this news is silent and reaches you through mediums that are not new or social. Some of us might closely know people who kept the fact that their marriage was simply not working out for a few years secret for the longest time. If we are good friends, we do not like being good-time Charlies! Most of us want to have friends for life, sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Yet how many times do we put up photos of the times when we are fighting as if it was the end of the world or feeling angry like a raving lunatic, throwing our hot new Blackberry or iPhone with such a vengeance that it flies across the room and lands in the most inconvenient spot? Just where you didn’t want it to land but it’s too late by then. We all look less attractive and desirable then, and these are the fine details of our lives that you will never find out on Facebook. The naïve ones think that their friends actually live a life as glossy as their Facebook pages reveal, and therein lay the problem. I think that sometimes smart people who hang around on Facebook for long enough, start having funny ideas about the state of their relationships and life as well.
If you were to meet the same friends in person, you will discover many interesting things about them which are not on Facebook. You might find out that they do not always enjoy the tantrum that their toddler throws, contrary to what is depicted through their recent Facebook status. In real life, these super awesome Facebook parents are overwhelmed at handling a spirited little one with a mind of his own, intent on having his way or the high way! They also do not find all the antics of the kid to be so adorable all the time. But the desire to be the perfect parent is something that can perhaps only be satiated in the make-belief world. There are no perfect parents or kids in the real world. Sometimes, our friends are not as hopelessly in love with their spouse or at peace with their family either in the real world. Simply because relationships with those who are close to us are tricky; we sometimes have a problem living with them and deep down know that we will have more problems living without them.
There are a few solutions to be happy and content in a connected world. Well, firstly use Facebook occasionally. If not for any other reason than the fact that you could utilize the hours of your life in a much better way by doing more meaningful things that would actually make you happy, like saying thank you to someone, appreciating what someone did, reading a story to your child, keeping a journal etc. Secondly, if you like sharing your views or writing, then create a personal blog and blog away. Blogging happens in the virtual world but is more real. It is like a journal of your thoughts, musings, and ideas about things, people, events and about anything that matters to you. There are people from different walks of life who blog and a diverse, geographically disperse, and multicultural audience reads them. Readers of your blog are often genuinely interested in your thoughts and views and less likely to have an opinion for the sake of having an opinion. Blogs are also far more intellectually intense compared to most activities on Facebook.
Facebook is so designed for us to ride on the happy wave that it has a “like” button and not a corresponding “hate” or “dislike” button. Often as you like something on Facebook, you are judged for it. I have not witnessed people get closer over Facebook. We are however definitely more aware of the intellectual caliber of our friends. We also know those friends who have intelligence but have not utilized their potential yet. For those friends who are always on Facebook, we know that they are either really lazy to do something more concrete with their lives, or just enjoy stalking people, or are great at multi-tasking. For those who are inactive, they are often too busy to care to update anything, apprehensive of what they might come across on Facebook which might make them feel worse about their life, or do not want to bother riding the make-belief happy wave and are content surfing the waves of deep blue oceans or the fighting the waves of the red oceans that their real life bears a resemblance to.
We all seem to be less private today because of Facebook primarily. Slowly it has made us more at ease with sharing our life’s happy story with friends, acquaintances and the world at large. You could be a little angry at your coworker, politicians, controversial celebrities, but we are such saints that we are never even slightly mean with those who are close to us or vice versa! According to our timeline, we also never falter – we are wise, optimistic, as beautiful as we can possibly look, and always very happy! An advice for the frail hearted people who take things to heart: use Facebook with caution. Things are not what they appear to be in the virtual world. I am glad I am not a teenager anymore. Studies show that teenagers spend a significant amount of time making their profile look cool. When we were teenagers, we did cheeky things by the side of the canal where nobody could find us, we would wake up early to see the sunrise in lush green fields on the outskirts of the city, we would call our friends no matter how much mom scolded us. We weren’t on Facebook! Thank the lord for little mercies! We actually have lived a “real” life!
- Ahmed, S. (2006). The Effect of Purpose Branding on Brand Equity. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Surrey, United Kingdom.
- Chou, H. G. & Edge, N. (2012). Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 15(2): 117-121. doi:10.1089/cyber.2011.0324.