We know the feeling well. While your friends are eating, drinking and being merry with mason jars of jungle juice, maybe you’re stuck studying alone at home, condemned to envy their Instagram photos of the new trendy gastropub with a rave review from the New York Times. Or maybe you just started a new job, on the bottom of the rung with hardly any vacation time, and your Facebook informs you that your free-spirited, unemployed friend just scored airplane tickets to Brazil. What?!
A few blogs and news articles have broached the phenomenon of anxiety and signs of depression resulting from the constant comparisons to enhanced versions of our friends’ online social lives.
Last year, a burst of articles appeared after a University of Michigan study of 82 people suggested that there was a correlative link between prolonged Facebook and feelings of dissatisfaction about their lives.
The Economist noted that the study didn’t explore how socializing online was different from socializing in person. The study also didn’t examine how maturity and age may affect our sense of well-being. Maybe preteens in the throes of hormonal puberty might feel extra lonely or depressed when they think they’re missing out, as opposed to college students or young professionals in their twenties.
We’ll admit, FOMO is a bit of an inner torture, and it’s hard not to get trapped in its cycle. We feel compelled to track the latest events of our friends’ lives simply because we’re a mobile generation. Many of us have moved away from our childhood homes, away from our college towns, away from our first professional job.
And unlike past generations, we have the apps and websites to not only let everyone know that a move has taken place, but that you’re having a damn good time.
Facebook makes it easy. Cataloging your life’s adventures on a social feed like a CNN news ticker is much more effective than sending email blasts to long-lost friends.
A New Yorker article explained that there were caveats to the study. People use Facebook for different things. It pointed out that another German study found its participants to actually be happier when using Facebook and in fact, in many cases, encouraged political participation. Passive scrolling also led to less engagement than actively looking up a fond old friend.
On one hand, social media eliminates the “ickiness” of social contact. Because a direct message, email, text, let alone a phone call, can seem too personal, like an invasion of virtual private space. Social media creates a comfortable arm’s length distance. We can check Twitter for friends’ stream of consciousness thoughts, their Foursquare for the restaurants we didn’t dine together at, their Instagram for photo skills and, finally LinkedIn for what’s new in their career.
Social media also reassures us that our friends are doing well for themselves. And with all of the other commitments screaming for a sliver of our busy schedules, maybe the only free minutes we do have to show we care is while we’re waiting at the grocery market or for the oil change to be done. We don’t need a play-by-play record, or an email every time a friend achieves a promotion or makes a snowman in the winter. Just a check-in sometimes. And that’s not us missing out – it’s how we can share in your joy from afar.
But there’s a fine line between a curious check-in and when curiosity turns into a jealous obsession and a sense of lower self-worth that causes greater harm to our emotional well-being and overall happiness. When we constantly mull over a friend’s life–or a stranger’s, we lose the more important virtue of being thankful for our lives. Even if you didn’t post 10 Instagrams about the girls’ night you had, it doesn’t mean it’s forever locked in obscurity.
Our best moments are when we experience the physical presence and joy of our best friends, and then at the end of the day, remember to be grateful. But maybe there are also moments, perhaps even a whole day, when it’s best to check out of checking Facebook.