5 Things You Learn About People Only on FB (against your better judgment)
I don’t really like Facebook. That’s why I am on it so very often. If that doesn’t make sense to you, congratulations.
Some people argue that interacting via social media is terribly impersonal– that it strips away all the myriad cues of communication that we social animals tend to rely on: facial expression, tone of voice, body language, eye-contact, exotic black market animal pheromones, etc. Those people are, of course, totally right and no fun at all.
The fact is, social media has ironically opened up an entirely new sphere of understanding each other that is not always flattering or even comfortable. Unwittingly, we all reveal far more about ourselves via our Facebook and Twitter feeds than we intend to, and I don’t just mean those embarrassing Christmas party iPhone photos. The following are the top five amusingly and uncomfortably revealing Facebook types:
5) The “Accidental” Self-Flatterer:
What it boils down to: “Boy, it sure is fun/difficult/amusing to be this awesome!”
This is probably the easiest one to fall into. I do it myself without even consciously trying. Here’s a made-up example from my own life: “Boy, the drive home is going to be fun; the final-game crowd is already lined up below the window of the agency I’m working at today”.
This is cloaked in the guise of a complaint about traffic, but the underlying meta-message is a lot more self-aggrandizing: ain’t I cool to work in a city that has a world-series baseball team, and I’m working so near the stadium that the traffic is clogged, and I’m freelancing at a cool downtown agency? Because I’m a totally cool artsy type who doesn’t even care about sports, right? Aren’t you jealous and sort of hating me for being this awesome and aloof?
Look at my cool lack of a smile. I’m so totally ironic and not at all doofusy.
I’m not proud of explaining that, but what am I? Gandhi? I’m as insecure as the next guy, especially if the next guy is the guy who posts something like this: “Sitting here at the bar laughing it up with my crew while everyone else is just staring at us like WTF? LOL!!!!”
See the trend? This is presented under the guise of a personal anecdote– making an amusing jackass of yourself because you’re having such a great time in a public place. But what is it really saying? I am like totally the life of the party, and everybody else is all a bunch of stuffed shirts who wish they could kick it as hard as I do. Those poindexters are all just jealous. Please, please, be jealous of how cool I am pretending to be.
Sometimes it is not so obvious as this. Sometimes it is just a sort of baffling, meaningless comment that couldn’t possibly matter to anyone else: “Talking to my best pal! So good to hang out with her today!” or “Making muffins for the kids for breakfast!” or “Helping the hubby clean the gutters!”
Note the use of exclamation points– these are dead giveaway. All of these sorts of comments are meant to say the same thing: My life is a movie-montage of fun, meaningful moments! See how fabulous each and every day is in my world? I’m a real grown-up person, with friends and family and keys and credit cards! Wheee!! See how together I am!? Are you seeing it??
“This is everyday for us! We never stop matching or having adorable family moments!
YOU’RE SO JEALOUS YOU HATE US!”
The “accidental” self-flatterer is in all of us, methinks. It’s just a matter of how subtle we are about it.
What it really says about us: “I’m secretly insecure and need everyone to think my life is as meaningful as the people on TV.”
How to avoid it: Point it out online when you find yourself doing it. In the comments section, add “Objects on my Facebook page are not as totally awesome as they appear.”
4. The Issues Promoter:
What it boils down to: [LINK TO OPINION PIECE AT ISSUE-ORIENTED WEBSITE]
They come in all styles, stripes and flavors: religious, political, social, whatever. The Issues Promoter sees him or herself as a valuable resource for their FB circle of friends, posting daily (or even hourly) links to online articles about their issue of choice– and it is always the same issue. They do not offer comments or critique of the article, or sum it up for those too lazy to read it. The articles are then ignored by all of their FB friends, who may or may not reply with 1) hearty kudos if they happen to agree with the headline, or 2) snarky arguments if they happen to disagree with said headline.
A sub-set of the Issues Promoter is the arbiter who will allow these discussions to spin on for some time, and then unleash a ten-paragraph reply in tiny FB print clumsily rephrasing the article as if it was their own.
“I posted the link! OBVIOUSLY I’m the genius here!”
This is not to be confused with the person who occasionally posts links about various subjects, usually with some explanation. I am talking about the one-note zealot banging away endlessly at the same issue, never initiating with their own thoughts and arguments, but constantly holding someone else’s in front of them like a battering ram.
This is probably a hard one not to fall into if you happen to be the sort of person who believes strongly enough in something to regularly read about it. Perhaps we all think that we can change the world with that one well-timed link to a watertight argument. More likely, perhaps we are too uncomfortable with our own depth of knowledge on the subject to attempt our own defense of it.
The Issue Promoter is prone to see important debates as social sporting matches, rooting for their team simply because they want to be on the winning side, and not because there is inherent value in the related opinion/cause/issue.
The thing is, it doesn’t work. Linked articles are rarely read, and they never, ever change anyone’s mind.
What it really says about us: “My personal identity is too flimsy to matter to myself or anyone else, so I am identifying myself with this cause. Think of me when you think of these important issues, especially when they are proven valid and right. Go team!”
How to avoid it: Post links to articles you completely disagree with, and defend them.
3: The Self-Help Resource Center:
What it boils down to: “For anyone obsessed with problem X (LIKE ME), here’s a hint (THAT I’M DESPERATELY GOING TO TRY) from the following expert (WHO I WILL MURDER WITH A BASEBALL BAT IF IT DOESN’T WORK).”
This is one of the really uncomfortable ones, because it reveals so much about the person posting it. They present their findings with a good-natured wink and a helpful nudge, as if they are merely helping out those less fortunate than themselves, with the hopes that they might find their way through this oft-disappointing road of life. Beneath the lighthearted tone, however, is the heartbreaking knowledge that this poor person is desperately struggling with this very issue, and spending most of their waking hours locked in a manic pursuit of answers.
I’ll try for a goofy example:
“Men: prostate problems are a normal and manageable sign of aging– they don’t have to be debilitating to your sleep or your sex life. Remember the three Ps: Pee before bed, Praise your prostate for every good performance, and Palmetto (Saw, the pill, available at your local health food store). [LINK TO ARTICLE ABOUT THE THREE Ps]”
The one thing we can be pretty sure of about the guy who posts that is that prostate problems have virtually taken over his life. Most specifically, he’s missing sleep because he’s hopping up to pee every few hours, and he’s blaming his lack of a healthy sex life on his flimsy prostate rather than on his beer belly and complete misunderstanding of middle-aged wifely romance. This is just one big heaping barrel of TMI.
Sometimes it gets sadder. Sometimes its the lonely forty-something guy desperately seeking a girlfriend, using his high school graduation photo as his profile pic: “fellas: it’s all right to be single and awesome. No woman is as important as feeling good about yourself. [LINK TO ARTICLE ABOUT MALE SELF ESTEEM AND HOW TO GET SIX-PACK ABS IN A WEEK BY EATING BACON]”
For someone struggling with any serious unhappiness in their life, this is the easiest FB habit to understand. After all, no one wants to believe that they are the only one out there with that particular problem. Posting a helpful snippet of advice about how to overcome said problem is strangely comforting: this is very common; everyone deals with it and is looking for help, just like me; I’m not alone; we’re all in this together.
I’m not even suggesting we stop doing it. But it probably would be useful to realize just how much we are, in fact, sharing about ourselves by posting that “helpful list” of the ten best ways to manage the heartbreak of toenail fungus.
What it really says about us: “I am terrified of this and need a support group of friends to help me get by. Even if they are imaginary.”
How to avoid it: start a blog and be completely honest about your struggle. Real people with the same real problem will probably drop in to say hi.
2: The Hermit Crab:
What it boils down to: “Look at my fancy new shell! I’m cool/profound/amusing because of my shell!”
In nature, the hermit crab is that crab that doesn’t have its own shell, but puts on whatever shell-like object it finds lying around the floor of its aquarium, because that’s the only place I know of that they live. I think. I’m not totally sure about this. Let’s just pretend I know what I’m talking about, and there’s this thing called a hermit crab that you can trick into wearing a Coke can as a shell if you stick it in your aquarium.
If such a thing exists, a lot of social media personalities are just like them: they have very little identity of their own, so they adopt other identities and wear them around like a shell.
A hermit crab for all I know.
These are the people who post trite graphics (that they themselves didn’t make) of supposedly profound bumper-sticker slogans, or videos of popular songs, or quotes from famous people. There is no attempt whatsoever to personalize these things. The hermit crab just wears them around in the belief that no one else will notice its just a shell they put on.
Again, this does not apply to the individual who occasionally posts such things in relation to something unique about them or someone else. If you are a writer and you occasionally post a witty inspirational quote about what it means to be a writer, that makes sense. The true social media hermit crab, however, doesn’t feel the need to connect their shells to anything unique about themselves. In fact, the less it has to do with them specifically, the better.
Another even sadder version of this is the person who regularly updates everyone on what TV show they are watching (or even worse, looking forward to watching). There is simply no rational reason why this should be interesting to anyone, anywhere, except perhaps that one other hermit crab who is wearing that same pop culture devotion as their own shell.
What it really says about us: “I am a crustacean and there is nothing interesting about me– I don’t even taste good with butter. I apologize. Here is a colorful shell to look at instead.” (again, assume I know what I am talking about regarding hermit crabs and what they taste like with butter).
How to avoid it: this is impossible to avoid until you realize that the one thing people care about even less than the minutiae of your daily life is the minutiae of what entertains you. Perhaps ask your friends to tell you how little they care when you post such things. It will be brutal but powerfully effective.
1. The Gamer:
What it boils down to: “So-and-so needs a new baby elephant seal to bedazzle people at their zoo so they can continue to pay for the upgrades to their farm and answer a question about you in a fun new word game about ninjas and mafia assassins! Will you help?”
I don’t need to say any more about this, do I? Granted, I’ve never played any of the games associated with Facebook, so it may be that I am totally missing out on all the mind-numbing fun. Maybe I am just a snooty curmudgeon [hint: there’s no maybe about it] but when I want to play video games, I play the real thing, not some half-baked browser atrocity that looks like it was made by six-year-old girls with a book of internet clip-art.
“But,” (you say to me in that nasally shrill voice that I would be using if I was imitating you right now, which I totally am) “I get bored at work and don’t have access to my X-Box or whatever! Playing games on Facebook is the best way to secretly waste my employer’s time and money!”
Fine. Maybe. But I know when most of you are at work, and when most of your Farmville notifications start popping up on my wall. Let’s just say the old work excuse isn’t gonna fly when it’s midnight and the office has been closed for seven hours, Mr. and Mrs. American Gothic. Happy Farming!
“ALL THE BOREDOM OF REAL FARMING WITH NONE OF THE PAYOFF!”
What it says about us: “I am so easily entertained that the video equivalent of a cup-and-ball game will amuse me for days, and I am OK with EVERYONE KNOWING ABOUT IT.”
How to avoid it: it isn’t really your fault, so forget it. Besides, it’s sort of fun knowing that the president of the company fantasizes about giving it all up and starting a baby animal petting zoo.
So that’s it. If you, like me, occasionally do any of these things, don’t sweat it. Inadvertently revealing our inner selves to a somewhat haphazard group of internet denizens, many of whom we may never have actually met, is probably helpfully humbling. If you do one or two of these things all the time, however, you might want to take a sober look at your social networking social skills.
And if, like me, you are considering writing an app that filters out all of these personality types from your social networking experience, realize the following unavoidable truth: it will be an app that simply turns your computer off.