Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why Social Media Have to Sound As If Everyone Else Is Happy

(Retrieved from Blogjob, where it was tagged: Angela Nissel’s Broke DiariesArthur Brooks’ Conservative Heartenvy as cause of depressionhappiness through distraction from self-obsessionOzarque aka Suzette Haden ElginScott Adams’ Dilbert BlogSteve Milloy’s Junk ScienceThe Daily KosThe Drudge Reportthe writing lifeYsabetWordsmith aka Elizabeth Barrette.)

This post began with a reaction to a study reported by Arthur Brooks in this book:
Because the part of my reaction that was finished, yesterday, suggests that there may be a sense in which blogging is bragging--at least, bragging that we're still alive--it seems to have made readers feel defensive for totally wrong reasons. I apologize for that.

What Arthur Brooks reported was that researchers found that a lot of people out there, not bloggers so much as social media users, are feeling discouraged by what they see on social media. Everyone else seems to be having more fun than they are, so they feel worse about their lives than they otherwise would.
I suspected that @angela was observing a defensive reaction among people who may be deliberately misrepresenting their lives on social media, pretending they're having more fun than Taylor Swift or Tim Tebow:

I'd like to describe a coping strategy that we can use to protect ourselves from feeling envious and miserable of the people we e-meet on social media. Here's what I do: (Breathe.) Understand that it's not lying (breathe); it's publication.
Nobody wants to read all the details of anybody's life, least of all of Anna Nicole Smith's life. Do you?
I'm a celiac. For about twenty years I've enjoyed roaring good health by simply eliminating wheat products (and cheese, coconut, a few chemical additives and pollution-prone meat products) out of my diet. Suddenly, due to bioengineered crops and the overuse of pesticides as food preservatives, I'm out of control of the Family Curse again..."But how can anybody tell that you don't just enjoy the attention you get by having some sort of minor health problem every few days, Ms. King?" I don't, but there's a way people can tell all right, a dramatic, unmistakable, visible symptom. Two obvious reasons why I don't post that: (1) You didn't even want to know that I look into the toilet after sitting on it, did you? and (2) I wouldn't enjoy taking those photos either. Nobody really wants to follow the daily details of private miseries, not even their own.
There are excellent blogs (Angela Nissel's comes to mind, and, more recently, Elizabeth Barrette's) that are about living with some sort of unpleasant conditions--low income, disabilities, full-time home care of someone with extreme disabilities--but, in order to be excellent, these blogs have to transcend the unpleasantness in some way.
Among the great, legendary, superstar bloggers, which are your heroes? Matt Drudge, Brad Hicks, Michelle Malkin, the Nielsen-Haydens, the Daily Kos? (Yes, I'd like to know, even though it's tangential to this paragraph.) Whoever they are, they did not become superstars by posting a steady stream of consciousness of their problems. Great blogs are not about "me, me, me, me, me" every day. They're about news and/or writing and/or science and/or even sports or video games. Blogs are personal, so they contain occasional notes on personal details like "I'm sick" or "my dog died" or "my car's in the shop again," but occasional is key.
What we post on the Internet is, or should be, what we'd be willing to publish in the newspapers...which is not an honest display of "See how self-obsessed and boring I can be." It's like conversation; it needs to be interesting to someone other than ourselves.
So when I use the Internet, as when most of my e-friends use the Internet, it's not to publicize every detail of our lives, every family fight, every pair of shoes in the closet. It's to publicize the most interesting highlights of what we do with and for other people. A good blog (or social media stream) is at least as much about its audience as it is about its author.
Some people just don't produce great blogs (or social media streams), because their talent is for something else. What they post is strictly for their friends and family, or, if they're celebrity actors, athletes, musicians, etc., for their groupies. Nobody who's not acquainted with these people would follow them online. In the case of teenagers, I suppose a boring blog may at least offer some safety benefit.
Anybody can post a picture of an expensive product and suggest that s/he owns it, but is that the content of a blog worth following? Even before the Internet, there were photo-fake shops, at beaches and amusement parks, where you could have your face pasted into an image of a spaceship, racing car, muscle man or bikini beauty...well, it was a souvenir of your trip, anyway, and that's about all that could be said for that kind of thing. As blog or even social media content...boring, boring, boring.
So, if everybody on social media appears to be less miserable than you are...first of all, weed the bores out of your contact list, unless they're a lot more fun to know in real life than they are online. Pity the poor dweebs who have nothing more interesting to post than "me, me, me." Follow the blogs, streams, and sites from which you're actually learning something--not only the names of the writers' pets, either.
Then, if it still seems that everybody is less miserable than you are, please understand that a lot of us blog about our passions partly to take our minds off our problems. Yes, we're alive, literate, online, and at least we're healthy enough to take an interest in global weather patterns, recipes, games or whatever. Does that mean we're all perfectly healthy, immensely wealthy, young, and "in love"? Hah. Some of us are middle-aged, widowed, and dyspeptic; some of us, like Stephen Hawking, are crunching numbers and proving theories mainly to distract ourselves from our horrific fatal diseases.
Then, if you're still not having fun, please post something about one of your passions--not an "honest" expression of your misery, not a "lie," but something that educates your audience about something you like to do, make, or study...and, bingo, now you are having fun.