Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Facebook Status Makes You Sad...

... and yours makes me sad. Thus sayeth the Germans.

According to a study performed jointly by two German universities and reported by Reuters, reading other users' status updates creates feelings of envy, which we attempt to assuage by up-selling our own accomplishments and experiences, which then causes envy in others.

Apparently the greatest offenders, making up 56.3% of all "envy-inducing incidents", are travel and leisure updates. Not since Uncle Frank used to pull out the dreaded slide projector at family gatherings to show snapshots of his trip to Moose Jaw has the cold terror of vacation pictures gripped us so firmly.
Most studies tend to be a little sensationalist... you have to drum up interest to keep the funding flowing. So one should take these findings with a grain of salt. When the study claims that over 1/3 of participants reported a "negative" experience in their last Facebook usages, you also need to note that nearly half reported a positive experience, using words such as "joyful" and "fun".

The study does highlight that one particular type of social networking user is most at risk for these feelings of dissatisfaction: the passive user.

Passive users spend most of their time reading other people's updates, seeing how many likes other people got for status updates, seeing how many comments were generated by someone else's life... it's like 365 days a year of Christmas letters from people more successful than you are.

We're all used to receiving Christmas letters. Any of us who has written any sort of Christmas letter or other newsletter knows how challenging it is to present one's life in as exciting and interesting a way possible. Yet, any of us who has read such a letter also knows how it feels when the writer is too successful in doing so. If the results of this study are any indication, writing our own amazing letters (or rather, status updates) helps us overcome our feelings of envy of other people's successes.

So is the only solution a status-update arms race, constantly trying to top the last thing we saw posted? Or can we get to the point where we are genuinely happy for each other when we see amazing news or gorgeous vacation photos?

And am I really one to talk, with all the tropical photos I've posted in the past 4 months?

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