FERGUSON: How to deal with Facebook envy

January 25, 2013 

A few years ago I set up a Facebook account using the e-mail address I use to get feedback from readers of this column. My intent was to give readers another way to stay in touch with me, but it turned out that not very many people who read my column wanted to stay in touch with me enough to bother “friending” me on Facebook. My Friends List was embarrassingly small.

But once I had an account I went ahead and connected with family members, coworkers and some people I went to school with. My Friends List is still pretty small compared to the hundreds, if not thousands of “friends” a lot people have on Facebook, but for an introvert like me the illusion of having that many social connections was pretty satisfying.

I think the key to my satisfaction with Facebook is the fact that once I was happy with the size of my Friends List I stopped logging on to it. My generally favorable opinion of the site is probably closely tied to the fact that I don’t use it to actually try and communicate with anyone.

A recently published study by two German universities would seem to validate that theory. It found that 1 in 3 people who use Facebook regularly were measurably less happy with their lives as a result. The ones who were most likely to be unhappy were users who merely browsed other people’s contributions to the site and did not actively post information of their own.

The source of their unhappiness seemed to come down to envy. The most disenchanted Facebook users tended to be driven to despair by the fact that they received less birthday wishes and fewer “likes” and comments on their pictures and postings than other users on their Friends List. It sounds a lot like high school, doesn’t it? No wonder I never felt compelled to spend much time there.

Facebook reminds me a bit of the year-end newsletters that some people stick inside their Christmas cards. You know what I’m talking about -- the ones where they tell you how awesome their lives have been over the last year. They don’t actually include the line “you should be jealous of me,” but it’s certainly strongly implied.

Facebook is a lot like that, it’s just more high tech and it’s available all the time instead of just once a year. It’s just another way technology is making our lives better, I suppose.

So you should probably stay away from Facebook, but if you just have to see what the people you love, like, or barely know are up to, keep this in mind. Just like they do with those Christmas newsletters, people edit heavily on Facebook. They tell you all the good things that happen to them but they generally leave out all the unpleasant or embarrassing details that befall all of us with great regularity.

Most people aren’t going to tell you that their son just got a DUI, their daughter got another tattoo, or that Mom broke Dad’s nose when she found out he was sleeping with a co-worker.

A very small number of Facebook users do actually post embarrassing stuff like that (and frankly they are the only ones that are worth following) but most people are going to whitewash everything and make their lives seem nearly perfect.

Just remember that a person’s Facebook profile represents what they want their life to seem like to the outside world and you should be able to keep your envy down to a reasonable level. If that doesn’t work, just post this quote from a recent CNN article as your status on Facebook today and you’ll feel a little better: “Research from Western Illinois University showed a link between the number of Facebook friends you have and how active you are on the site to the likelihood of being a ‘socially disruptive’ narcissist.”

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.

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