The (Digital) Dog Days of Summer

Aug 01, 2013

If the sweltering temperatures and massive traffic jams haven't given it away yet, it's summer, and if you're like me, that means that your Facebook newsfeed looks something like this: pictures of babies at the beach and dogs in sunglasses, panoramic views of vacation destinations, and FourSquare check-ins at the hottest rooftop bar. This annual onslaught never used to bother me before, but for some reason, this summer I find myself spending much less time purusing my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages than I have in the past. Why? Because, whether I want to admit it or not, everyone else having fun makes me jealous, and apparently, I'm not the only one.

Back in January, TIME magazine published an article entitled, "Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself," where they explored the findings of a German study that explained how Facebook can have an adverse effect on your mood. When I first read the story, I thought it was ridiculous. If Facebook makes you sad, don't go on it, right? It's just a social networking site, how much power can it really have over someone? Well, a lot, apparently. As the summer months wind on, I'm beginning to find that out first hand.

While I'm not spiraling into a deep depression over my friends having more fun than me, I'm certainly beginning to question my life choices thanks to Facebook. Maybe I should take some time off work and go on an exotic two-week trek through Honduras? Instead of going to the gym after work, maybe I should grab some friends and head to drinks by the Boston harbor. While I'm at it, I should get a dog and dress it up in cool summer outfits and make sure to Instagram every single one of them. Sounds fun, right?

Alas, that is not me, and I'm okay with that (for the most part), but, after checking Facebook for the fourth time in one day, knowing full well I was just going to see the same pictures of people ditching work and hitting the beach, I began to wonder why we post certain things on Facebook in the first place. Do we really want to share our lives with our friends, or are we looking to show off?

The answer might be a little darker than I anticipated. According to The Atlantic, social networks breed narcissism. Here I was thinking that my friends just want me to know what's going on in their lives! In a March article, writer Bill Davidow, points out that our ability to tailor our electronic gadgets and favorite websites to our own likes and dislikes has made us very entitled. Davidow writes, "In virtual space many of the physical interactions that restrain behavior vanish. Delusions of grandeur, narcissism, viciousness, impulsivity, and infantile behavior for some individuals rise to the surface."

Not good, but it makes sense.

A few weeks back, Buzzfeed, a website I frequent on a daily basis, ran a story about Facebook's "dirty little secret." According to Buzzfeed, Facebook doesn't want anyone to know exactly how many times their post gets viewed by friends. Why is this even a secret? In their note, Facebook admits that they have our best interest in mind. Many of us, myself included, believe that only a few people see what we post. I mean, if all our friends saw everything we posted, wouldn't we have many more likes and comments? Wrong. As it turns out, many more people see what we post than we think, they just ignore it. And there goes our self-confidence. As the Buzzfeed article notes, "The company knows full well that the only thing worse than speaking to an empty room is speaking to a room full of friends and family and having them ignore you."

So, why do I, knowing that my newsfeed packed with pictures of everyone having fun, go on Facebook at all? If we know that we're just contributing to some sort of narcissism epidemic, why do we continue to do what we do?

The answer to this question comes once again from an Atlantic article that covered a survey about why users logged on to Facebook. The results aren't shocking in any way, but they do give a little insight into the social networking culture that has taken over our world. The top four reasons for people going on Facebook are: to see what my friends are up to, to relieve boredom, to look at my friends' pictures, and to procrastinate. Turns out we like our friends, but we hate boredom and doing work even more.

It may not be intentional, but to a degree, we're all on these sites to boast a little about ourselves. This makes me worry though. While some of us grew up in a time when social networking wasn't even a blip on the radar, there is a generation of people behind us that have only ever known Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Does this mean that we are creating a more narcissistic, self-centered generation every time we log on to our social-network of choice? Maybe instead of a summer vacation, we all need a social networking vacation. No shirt, no shoes, no Facebook? No problem.