Ever noticed how happy and successful our friends seem to be in their Facebook posts? Me too.
They post pictures of themselves smiling at the camera, as though they’re having the time of their lives. Often they’ve just climbed a mountain or completed a marathon or bought a cool, new car.
Good for them. No, really. I’m generally happy for all of them.
A friend of mine from seminary days recently retired and built a house on an island off the coast of Florida. Facebook posts over several months tracked the building of the house and culminated in the delirious joy of moving in.
Today’s photo shows a smiling group of people in a cute, little breakfast nook overlooking gorgeous scenery.
Now, come on. I’ve moved once or twice in my life. I’ve built a house in a new state. I’ve moved from one stage of life to another. (True, I haven’t retired.) And I know that not every transition in life is happy and joyful. Even the best transitions are often filled with doubt, anxiety, and hesitation.
Am I supposed to believe that none of that happened in connection with this move?
And yet I find myself wanting to post good news too. Hey, look at me, my posts seem to say. Here I am eating out tonight at a cool, new restaurant! Look at my plate! (Post photo from smart phone here.) Isn’t that an appetizing entre? Bet you’re jealous, aren’t you?
I have a friend who teaches communications at Calvin College and promotes something he calls “servant communications,” to which I find myself strongly attracted. His name is Quentin Schultze.
Mostly he sounds upbeat and positive when he writes about social media sites like Facebook.
In a recent blogpost he described Facebook pages as something similar to the front porches on older houses. It’s as though we’re out there in our rocking chairs, waving as people go by. We shout hello and share our latest news.
To be honest, I’ve never lived in a house with a front porch like that. My grandma Brouwer did, but most people today do not. I don’t know if the neighborhood where my grandmother lived ever really had that happy kind of familiarity. I’d like to believe it. But I doubt it.
I’m thinking that a more apt comparison of Facebook posts is the annual Christmas letter. You know the kind. Every year you get a letter from someone you once knew, and it’s filled with cheery, sometimes fantastic, news about everything that happened in the last year.
Hey, we sailed around the world! And my wife won the Nobel Prize in Literature! Plus, all six of our grandkids were admitted to Harvard! And that was January! Wait ‘til you hear about the rest of the year!
Letters like these can be a cause of seasonal depression.
Full disclosure: I am one of those people who writes an annual Christmas letter. We’ve lived in six states over 35 years and have tried our best to “keep up” with lots of dear friends we’ve made along the way.
Because of the bad reputation that Christmas letters have, however, I’m self-conscious about it. I don’t want my letters to sound like those other letters. And so I use humor and tell stories.
But, darn it, when my wife wins the Nobel Prize, you can bet I’m going to report that. And you can bet that I’m less likely to share the news that we struggled in our marriage during the last year, or faced lingering medical problems, or worried incessantly over having enough money for retirement. (Don’t start rumors. These were examples of what I might not share, if these things ever happened to us, which they never have. Absolutely not.)
So, where am I going with this?
As Facebook (and other social media sites) evolve, I’m learning to take them with … a grain of salt. What I read may be true, but I remind myself that it’s only part of the truth.
We tend to post the best about ourselves for public view. We want to create the impression that – hey! – we’re doing okay. We may even be telling ourselves – hoping against hope? – that things are great, despite some evidence to the contrary.
I won’t be giving up my Facebook account any time soon, but when you read one of my posts, you’re welcome to ask, “What is he not saying?”