In the Atlantic this month, novelist Stephen Marche wonders whether Facebook is making us lonely.
It’s worse than that.
It used to be easy to pretend that other people’s lives were going worse than yours. Once you got out of high school, you never had to hear from them again. Reunions were legendary and terrible for exactly this reason. “I can’t go back there,” you muttered to your friends. “They’ll see instantly that I’m not a surgeon!”
Facebook is the annex to Hell that consists entirely of other people’s Christmas letters. “Oh,” you say, as Carl posts news of his most recent six Pulitzers on his wall. “Ah,” you say, as Mimi displays photos of her engagement ring. “My, my,” you murmur, as Facebook thoughtfully alerts you that Jason and Beyonce are now friends.
You click “Like” until your finger aches. Then you have to go to a secluded area and scream wordlessly for several hours.
Facebook is a perpetual and ongoing high school reunion.
If only Facebook were actually making you feel farther and farther from the world. If only it were simply reducing our connections to other people to the level of silent clicking noises in distant rooms. That might just be bearable.
No, you have to wake up (Marche reports that nearly half of 18 to 34 year-old Facebook users check it within minutes of waking up) and Like everything.
Sometimes, a Like is just a Like. But as often, it’s the equivalent of gritting your teeth and smiling miserably at Karen as she waves her Emmy at you. “Sooo great,” you hiss, rupturing your spleen. “Suuuuper.”
Before Facebook (halcyon days that grow fainter every minute), you only suspected that everyone was hanging out without you having a better time. Now you know it. There are pictures.
Happiness and comradeship and the warm comfort of a confidant — all fading rapidly. But the green-eyed monster has cranked things up a notch. Marche quoted Moira Burke, who conducted a long-term study of Facebook users, observing that: “If two women each talk to their friends the same amount of time, but one of them spends more time reading about friends on Facebook as well, the one reading tends to grow slightly more depressed.”
Hey, Camilla just got into graduate school (twitch) and Ann was elected to the Senate (twitch) and Marcel won the Goncourt prize (twitch) and look, Christine made a delicious cake and failed to invite you (twitch). Before, these things happened, but you didn’t have to know about it — or like it. Now you do – and with a capital L.
By comparison, your own status, “I regret no part of the decision to stay up until 3 AM watching E! True Hollywood Story: Tiny Tim and weeping noisily” began to seem ill-advised. Only one person had liked it, and it was that creepy vest-wearing guy who had invited himself to your prom.
You don’t truly understand the torture that all this constant, shallow interaction implies until sixteen of your best friends have “Liked” the statement that your dog just died. “There’s no dislike button,” they explain, as though that somehow improved matters.
Of course there’s no dislike button. The only thing worse than all this obsequious Liking would be the alternative.
It’s worse than loneliness.
“Whenever a friend succeeds,” Gore Vidal wrote, “a little something in me dies.”
And these days, it shows up on your dashboard.