Are perpetually happy online personas a big lie or simply a matter of protocol?
September 10, 2012
Status update: “Posing with the Beaver!”
One of the wonders of social media is that it allows us to present only what we want of ourselves to the world. Wrinkles, warts and divorces remain hidden. We put our best face forward and keep ugliness and negativity far from curious eyes. We show only virtues and rarely defects of body and character. Frankly, we are being more than pleasant. We are presenting idealized versions of ourselves: who we aspire to be versus (perhaps) who we really are. Facebook is the textbook example but the myriad other microblogging platforms provide ample camouflage as well. Duh, you say. Why would anyone want to share anything less than bliss in his or her personal life let alone Tweet about it?
The dilemma (if dilemma is even the right word) is that everyone is living a kind of virtual lie and one that grows bigger and deeper with every status update and adorable photograph we upload. Say a gal posts only sugar and spice and everything nice; her idealized self, the woman she hopes to be and wants others to think she is. But what if that same person is, in fact, seriously depressed or even suicidal? Is it a kind of betrayal to her friends and family to be falsely presenting all that positivity? Is it dangerous? On the other hand, is bad news better left unsaid? Does it fall under the category of “too much information?”
Status update: “I ripped Bob’s face off for betraying me!”
I don’t know the answer. After all, I’m just as shiny and happy on Facebook as you are. I post photographs of my adorable children just like you do. I am happy. We are “totally enjoying dinner at Café Louise!” Or I am “so looking forward to Lily’s dance recital tomorrow.” And so on. The bitter argument I had with my spouse last night is never communicated. My disdain for dance recitals is avoided like the plague. God forbid my numerous Facebook “friends” think I have challenges at home or am anything less than a perfect husband or father.
When I scroll through your Facebook pages I rarely see anything but delighted and happy people. Sure, you post snarky comments about this politician or that pop star but when it comes to you and yours you are as positive as a Disney Princess.
Status update: “Gary may be gay but our love will last forever!”
Some people are braver than others: like the man who shares his battle with cancer or the woman who opens up about her struggle to land a job. So, yes, there are plenty of examples of self-disclosure taking place online. Yet, the vast majority of us don’t “go there.” Our Facebook pages are like a fifties-era sitcom. Sis and Johnny love school and sports and going on vacation. Father’s knows best. And mom is always “That Girl!”
I don’t expect any of us will change this “Life is Beautiful!” approach to social networking but I am calling bullshit. Life is messy and complicated. Relationships implode. People get sick and die. Children are maladjusted. In the end shit happens all the time. Just not on Facebook.