It has been said that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” . . . or at least most of us think it is. Erma Bombeck said that the reason the grass is green on the other side of the fence is because the yard is over the septic tank. A recent study by researchers at Utah Valley University state that this is especially true when it comes to looking over all of the friends posts on Facebook—the grass might look greener, but the reality is often quite different.
The unwritten rule of Facebook (and probably just about any other social networking site) is that people don’t post pictures about the parts of their lives that suck. No, they post only the best pictures and activities of their lives . . . they sell an impression—a positive one at that. Facebook is about impressions and managing other people’s impressions—at least that is what the study concluded. Other research has shown that Facebook users carefully cultivate impressions about themselves that highlight positive attributes and associations, while downplaying or excluding undesirable traits (ah, yes, the American pastime of denial). What you see is not always what you get:
No big deal . . . right? Everyone does it. No blood, no foul . . . or so we thought. The researchers from Utah Valley University were curious as to how these exaggerated and awesome profiles might impact the self-perceptions of regular Facebook users. To find out they had 425 undergraduates complete a survey about their use of the social network site and their outlook on life. The results? Grass envy . . . the grass looked greener on the other side of the Facebook post than the side they were sitting on. This led these individuals to believe that their friends lived happier and more exciting lives than they did, and that life itself was unfair. Then to make matters worse . . . those with the greater number of “friends” had even a greater sense of those feelings. It didn’t matter if these were close and personal acquaintances or someone you talked to once in fifth grade . . . the more “friends” the greater the sense of “boy does my life suck!” The researchers stated that the tipping point was around 354 so-called “friends”.
Impressions are important, especially first impressions. All of us have had that pounded into our heads since we were little kids. But, my parents taught me that you can’t believe everything that you see . . . first impressions are not always the reality . . . especially in this day and age of Photo Shop. You’ve got to take them with a grain of salt. Thus it is that I don’t believe every post and picture I see on Facebook, especially when I know the poster personally. So far, I have avoided getting a case of Facebook envy.
I primarily use Facebook as a portal to share information—not information about myself, but of things I am interested in and a part of. I administer three Facebook pages besides my personal page. One is for the church I serve as a pastor on which I place daily devotions, post calendar events, and the weekly e-newsletter. Another is for the partnership of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Montana as a place for discussion about the partnership we have entered into. It is filled with information, devotions, and occasional questions for discussion. And, the last is on for the regional service area that I work for at the university . . . it has articles and information about upcoming workshops for educators. On my personal page I post my photographs, links to my blog, and cartoons that make me laugh. On none of the pages do I glorify my personal life . . . mainly because it is pretty ho-hum most of the time . . . pretty mundane. If anything I have ever posted (outside of living in the great state of Montana) has created envy in you to the point that you think that life is unfair, well, I apologize. It wasn’t my intention to create Facebook envy in others.
I have also avoided getting Facebook envy thanks to the fact that I don’t even know close to 354 people to invite to be “friends” on my Facebook page. At last count, I have exactly 95 friends and probably more of half them haven’t spoken to me since asking me to “friend” them. But I guess it is nice of them to care enough to keep up with whatever is happening in my life. That is another reason I use Facebook . . . to keep up with others. Primarily it is to keep up with my family and a couple of close friends. Everyone else is just icing on the cake, I guess. But I am a long, long way from being on the nexus of Facebook envy with 354 friends. Heck, that would be over half of the town I live in. I know for a fact that the majority of people in town don’t even know I exist!
The researchers did offer a couple of “tips” to avoid getting Facebook envy. First, they recommended that you stay at or below an average of five hours a week on Facebook. It seems the longer you stay on Facebook the more apt you are to believe everything that you read. Second, they recommended that you restrict your group of “friends” to only include those people who are real friends and family . . . no one should have every Tom, Dick, or Harry off the street on their list of friends. If you want to keep up with the world that is what Twitter is for, and in only 140 characters.
Facebook is a wonderful tool when used correctly . . . but, on the other hand, when it is used to mislead and misrepresent, it becomes something else. It is tool for facilitating civic and political participation, networking for personal improvement with others of a like-mind, and sharing information. It also has some great jokes, pictures, and posts that can make us think and laugh. Don’t get caught up in the myth-making that can happen when everyone is attempting to put out only the best impressions. The truth is usually a whole lot different than what any of us perceive. In the meantime, if you want to friend me on Facebook . . .