The memory is vivid.
New Year’s Day, 2013. I’m going about my afternoon pleasantly, when I open my email and a friend has forwarded me what she calls a particularly heinous Facebook status from her newsfeed, written by someone we’ll call Daniel. It read:
“2012 was a biggg year for me. I left my amazing job at NBC to move back to Chicago. I started dating my angel, Jaime Holland. I started yoga (thanks Jake Fisher & Jonah Perlstein!). I wrote an album with Matthew Johannson. Wrote another album I’m proud of. I got to hang with Owen Wilson, and worked with Will Ferrell on an amazing project. Had a conversation about Barack Obama with David Gregory. Danced. Joined a kickball team. Won a couple awards. Helped my sister plan her summer trip. Swam a lot. Golfed a little. Cried more than you would think. Read The World According to Garp. Saw Apocolypse Now. Went to Miami for the NBA Finals. Drank the best orange juice I’ve ever had with Davey Welch. Tweeted. Went to amazing weddings in Upstate New York. Drank a ridiculous amount of milk. Learned how to make sand art. Saw a great light show. Saw the Angels and Lakers. Fell in love with Jawbone Up. Cooked with Jaime. Gardened with Jaime. Watched Homeland with Jaime. Wrestled with Jaime. Laughed for hours with Jaime. Fell in love with Jaime’s family. Worked on a play. Played World of Warcraft. Did some improv. Played a ton of the guitar. Really just had a wild, amazing year. What a world.”
By the time I finished reading, I realized that my non-phone hand was clutching tightly to my forehead, forcefully scrunching my forehead skin together. I had the same facial expression I’d have on if someone made me watch a live event where people had their skin slowly peeled off.
It was everything bad about everything, all at once.
But instead of distancing myself from the horror, I soaked in it. I read it again and again, fascinated by how something could be so aggressively unappealing.
It made me think about what makes terrible Facebook behavior terrible, and why other Facebook behavior isn’t annoying at all. It comes down to a pretty simple rule:
A Facebook status is annoying if it primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.
To examine this a bit, let’s start by discussing the defining characteristics of statuses that are not annoying.
To be not annoying, a Facebook status typically has to be one of two things:
You know why these are not annoying? Because things in those two categories do something for me, the reader. They make my day a little better.
Ideally, interesting statuses would be fascinating and original (or a link to something that is), and funny ones would be hilarious. But I’ll happily take mildly amusing—at least we’re still dealing with the good guys.
On the other hand, annoying statuses typically reek of one or more of these five motivations:
1) Image-crafting. The author wants to affect the way people think of her.
2) Narcissism. The author’s thoughts, opinions, and life philosophies matter. The author and the author’s life are interesting in and of themselves.
3) Attention-craving. The author wants attention.
4) Jealousy-inducing. The author wants to make people jealous of him or his life.
5) Loneliness. The author is feeling lonely and wants Facebook to make it better. This is the least heinous of the five—but seeing a lonely person acting lonely on Facebook makes me and everyone else sad. So the person is essentially spreading their sadness, and that’s a shitty thing to do, so it’s on the list.
Facebook is infested with these five motivations—other than a few really saintly people, most people I know, myself certainly included, are guilty of at least some of this nonsense here and there. It’s an epidemic.
To lay out the most common types of offenses—
Bragging is such a staple of unfortunate Facebook behavior, it needs to be broken into three subsections:
Description: A post making your life sound great, either in a macro sense (got your dream job, got your degree, love your new apartment) or a micro sense (taking off on an amazing trip, huge weekend coming up, heading out on a fun night with friends, just had an amazing day).
- Guess who just got her TFA acceptance letter!!!
- Tailgating, Giants game, night out with Dave, Matt, Paul, and Andy. I love you, Saturday.
Core reasons for posting: Image-crafting (I’m successful; I’m happy; I have a great social life); Jealousy-inducing
So at best, you’re just really excited about your life and you need to tell everyone, and at worst you’re specifically hoping to make people feel worse about their lives and jealous of yours. Somewhere in the middle would be you calculatingly crafting your words as part of an unendearing and transparent campaign to make people see you in a certain way.
Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re just excited and need to brag to someone. Even if that’s the case, the only people it’s okay to brag to in life are your close friends, significant other, and family members—and that’s what email, texting, phone calls, and live talking are for. Your moment of self-satisfaction is profoundly annoying to people you’re not that close with, and they make up the vast majority of people who will be subjected to the status.
Description: Like the blatant brags above except behind a frail disguise. This includes all humblebrags, indirect brags, brags disguised as a rant, etc.
- Apparently they now give PhDs to frauds and drunks. What a time to be alive!
- I’ll be traveling for the summer if anyone knows someone looking to sublease a Soho apartment in July and August.
- On my walk home from work, I was whistled at twice, honked at twice, and one car almost caused an accident slowing down to stare at me. Sometimes I really hate men.
Core reasons for posting: Image-crafting, jealousy-inducing
On one hand, these people are at least self-aware enough to cloak their brag in something. On the other hand, they have the same exact core motivations as the blatant braggers and looking at these examples actually makes the first group seem almost lovable in comparison.
Description: A public expression of your extremely positive feelings for your significant other or an anecdote signifying the perfection of your relationship.
- A surprise trip to Vermont for two nights in a cabin. All I can say is Wow, what a boyfriend.
- Thanks, Rachel, for the best year of my life.
- Excited for a rainy Sunday of pizza, games, and movies with the wife.
Core reasons for posting: Image-crafting (FYI, I have a boyfriend; I’m in a wonderful relationship), jealousy-inducing
The image-crafting and jealousy-inducing motives here are transparent. The only less appalling possibility could be that it’s an attempt to strengthen the relationship itself by showing how you feel in a more substantial way than just saying it in private. But really? You’re gonna drag 800 of us into this shit because you couldn’t find a more creative way to go over the top in expressing yourself?
The one very funny possibility when it’s a guy posting is that either he’s in trouble for something or that his girlfriend’s friend’s boyfriend pulled some shit like this at some point and his girlfriend has now been 10% mad at him ever since it happened, so he finally has to just bite the bullet.
The fact is, there’s no excuse for it, because if you feel the need to plaster your relationship all over Facebook, there are plenty of socially acceptable ways to do so—go nuts with couple profile photos, and enjoy three separate moments of like button and comment applause when you change your status to “in a relationship,” “engaged,” and “married.”
Description: A post that makes it clear that something good or bad is happening in your life without disclosing any details.
- That’s IT. I am DONE dating.
- This could be a biggggg day…
- Moments like these make all of the struggle and all of the pain worth it.
Core reasons for posting: Attention-craving.
The fun part of these is watching the inevitable comments and then watching how the author responds to them, if at all. This process slots the author into one of four sub-categories:
- The celebrity: The author stays silent, treating the commenters like gawking fans.
- 800 people’s collective high-maintenance girlfriend: The author explains everything in the comments, which means he wanted to talk publicly about it, but he didn’t want to just tell the public, he wanted the public to ask him about it.
- The tortured protagonist: It’s something bad. The author responds but maintains the mystery—she’s unhappy about it and she “doesn’t feel like getting into it.”
- Everybody’s special princess: It’s something exciting. The author responds but maintains the mystery—it’s really good and he “can’t say yet but you’ll find out soon!” Now you’ll have an extra hop in your step as you wait for the big news with bated breath! This is a special one because it also brings narcissism, jealousy-inducing, and image-crafting in. What a fun person to have in your life!
Description: An actual status update on someone’s mundane day.
- Off to the gym, then class reading
- Finally finished my paper!
Core reasons for posting: Loneliness; Narcissism; Thinking a status update is supposed to be an actual status update
Allow me to present a visual:
“Finally finished my paper!” Okay…and? What are you looking for here? A fake congratulation from a bunch of people who aren’t emotionally invested in your struggle? Finishing your paper is green territory on the above chart, or if you had been working on it for a couple months, it might scrape the outer edges of the orange. For 90+% of the people who will read the status, it doesn’t come near the red territory, which is all they care about.
Off to the gym, then class reading. Oh is that what’s on tap for tonight? Who exactly are you telling this to? I really want to get to the bottom of this. At some point between leaving work and arriving at the gym, you had an impulse to take out your phone and type this status. Then you put your phone away. Tell me what was accomplished.
We’re talking about serious blue territory here, which means that even your mom doesn’t give a shit. A lot of annoying statuses fall far from red territory, but they all serve the author in some way, which is why they’re posted.
But info about your schedule doesn’t do anything to craft your image or induce jealousy in anyone—so it just seems a lot like Attention Craving’s sad cousin, Loneliness. I suppose it’s nice that Facebook gives a lonely person someone to tell their day to, and if these statuses didn’t come with the byproduct of reminding everyone else that life is meaningless and they’re gonna die someday, they wouldn’t have to be on this list.
The other possible explanation is severe narcissism, as if somehow, because you’re you, even the smallest details of your life are interesting to others. A weird part of the life of a major celebrity is that people are obsessed with everything about them, even their blue territory. If you’re not a major celebrity, this is not a problem you have, I promise.
Description: A public posting from one person to another that has no good reason to be public.
- I miss you! When are we hanging out?
- What a weekend with Julie Epstein and Emily Rothchild. I love my girls!
- All private jokes.
Core reasons for posting: Image-crafting; Jealousy-inducing; Narcissism; You’re over 80 and don’t realize there’s a difference between a public post and a private message.
My grandmother aside, there is no good reason to ever do this. Good is the key word. There are lots of very annoying reasons to do this. Let’s list them:
- To make yourself seem cool and social and make your social life seem vibrant and fun.
- To show everyone what good friends you and the recipient are.
- To make people jealous or feel worse about their own lives.
- Because you’re acting like you’re in high school and you’re one of the popular kids whose social situation is actually an important thing for people.
The one possibility I enjoy is that the message is written to be jealousy-inducing specifically for one individual who will likely be seeing it, whether it be an ex or a friend they hate. That kind of malice is so extreme it crosses over the far line and becomes awesome.
Description: An outpouring of love for no clear reason and aimed at no one in particular.
Example: I just want to say how thankful I am for all of you who have touched my life. Your support means everything and I couldn’t have gotten through a lot of things in the last year without you!
Core reasons for posting: Attention-craving.
I refuse to believe you feel a genuine outpouring of love for your 800 Facebook friends. And if you felt suddenly emotional about your best friends and family, is a public status really the way you’d express it? Wouldn’t contacting a few people by email or text be a lot more personal and genuine? Not relevant, because that’s not what’s happening here.
What’s happening here can really be boiled down to, “Hey everyone! I’m here! Hug me!” You know the inevitable response to one of these statuses, no matter who you are, will be dozens of like button hugs and comment arm squeezes. And isn’t that a little needy of you? You’re not feeling loving when you write this post—you’re feeling the need to feel loved.
The one time this is somewhat acceptable is when it’s part of a huge collective group hug, like on Thanksgiving or Christmas. If you open Facebook on Thanksgiving, you’ll be treated to hundreds of out-of-nowhere Oscar acceptance speeches. (These I could also do without, if you’re wondering.)
Description: When a big event happens, a post chiming in with the opinion we’ve heard 1000 times.
- I feel so deeply for the Egyptian people fighting for their right to freedom. Everyone has a right to freedom and I pray that they prevail.
- My thoughts and prayers are with the families in Newtown after this unspeakable tragedy. I have no words to express my sorrow for those who lost a child.
- I’m disappointed about some things about Obama’s first term, but I’m happy he was reelected and hopeful about what his second term can bring.
Core reasons for posting: Narcissism; Image-crafting (I’m the kind of person that has this particular opinion or reaction; I’m smart and I can say adult things).
These are annoying because A) you’re not saying anything remotely original or interesting on an event the media is already flooding our airways about, covering every possible angle, and B) you’re now making a huge, and often tragic event, partially about you. The sadness you’re feeling about the massacre of children isn’t really a key piece of the puzzle here, and you need not describe to us what the event looks like through your personal lens, especially when the lens is just transparent glass—if I want a side dish of narcissism along with my tragedy, I’ll just read celebrity tweets about the event.
7) The step toward enlightenment
Description: An unsolicited nugget of wisdom.
- “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” -Buddha
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. -Proverbs 3:5-6
- I don’t see what the big deal is about new years and people claiming how different they are going to be next year. If you want to better yourself it shouldn’t matter what day of the year it is…. Me? Im going to be the same person I am today tomorrow.
Core reasons for posting: Image-crafting; Narcissism.
Oh, where to begin.
First of all, let’s be entirely clear that there is no humility involved in a step toward enlightenment post simply because you might be quoting someone else—the clear patronizing message is, “Ahh hello Facebook friends. I am one who knows the secrets of life—allow me to teach you so that you too can one day find enlightenment.”
You know what inspires people? You achieving something incredible and letting it be an example and inspiration to others. For your words alone to be inspirational, you need to be a gifted speaker or writer who really has something original to say—and we both know that’s not you. So for you to consider yourself an inspirational character by simply posting trite quotes is, well, flagrantly narcissistic. You’re assuming that you, just by being you, are inspirational.
Finally, let’s get to your real motive with these statuses: Image-crafting. You want people to see how enlightened you are and admire the spiritual journey you’re on.
* * *
Our friend Daniel’s post was quite a feat—in one simple paragraph, he sliced through my soul, accomplishing nearly every terrible status type and motivation discussed above. The thing is, though, that if you looked right below his post, all you saw were likes and a couple friendly comments.
And that’s why insufferable Facebook behavior will never go away—there’s no dislike button or eye-roll button or middle finger button on Facebook, and it’s bad form to be too much of a dick in the comments below a status. So annoying statuses are just positively reinforced, and people remain un-self-aware that they regularly bring down the quality of everyone else’s life.
The bigger point here is that the qualities of annoying statuses are normal human qualities—everyone needs to brag to someone here and there, everyone has moments of weakness when they need attention or feel lonely, and everyone has some downright ugly qualities that are gonna come out at one time or another.
And that’s why you have people who love you.
The thing that Daniel and most others haven’t internalized is the fact that if they have 800 Facebook friends, only about 10 or 15 love them. For an especially lovable person, maybe it’s as high as 30. Between 1 and 4%. That means that between 96- and 99% of your Facebook friends DO NOT LOVE YOU.
People who don’t love you don’t care about you or your day or your life that much, they’re probably not especially rooting for you, and they certainly want nothing to do with your worst qualities. And you doing something purely to serve your emotional or egotistical needs really should not show up on their computer screen—it just shouldn’t.
Okay, gotta go. Off to the gym, then dinner, then home, then bed.
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