Fill in the blank: Facebook and Pinterest make me feel ___________.

Sometimes when I check Facebook, I laugh.  Sometimes I roll my eyes and sometimes I just feel depressed.  The range of emotions with Pinterest range from giddy excitement to agitation to a general sense of being overwhelmed.  As I reason I am not alone in responding to social media this way, I am determined to get to the bottom of this.

My reflection on social media began when I checked Facebook (which I do approximately one time per week, less frequently in the summer) and commented to my husband that Facebook made me feel bad.  When he asked why, I didn’t really have an answer except to say that everyone was doing fabulous things in fabulous places and looking fabulous while doing it.  He replied that it was me who was making myself feel bad, not Facebook.  Okay, he’s right.  But it piqued my interest.  Why the hell was I letting Facebook make me feel bad?  I never even post dammit!

A pair of social scientists named Jones and Harris took a stab at this concept well before social media.  In fact, before I was even born in the year 1967,  and the field of social psychology subsequently emerged from their work.  They ran experiments which determined that our brains, particularly our friend the amygdala, are responsible for whatever attributes we may ascribe to a given person based on their behavior.  This is called “attribution error” or more recently by Dan Gilbert at Harvard “correspondence bias.”   In plainspeak, this means that the driver who cut me off this morning and then gave me the finger on the way to soccer camp may not have actually been an angry asshole, as I pegged him at the time.  He may have been a perfectly lovely gentleman who was having a bad morning.  Our behaviors at any moment in time are just that, and rarely indicate the vastness of who we are.   Our brains, as we have talked about in previous posts, stereo-type the person based on the action.  Have you ever seen a mom yell at her kids in the grocery store and immediately assume she is a bad mom?  Have you ever done the same thing?  We tend to neurologically assume things about another person even if we ourselves have been guilty of the exact same behavior in the past.  (By the way, I still think that guy was an asshole).

So if we continue in this line of thinking to Facebook, when we see a photo of mother/daughter lunch date, we assume they have a great relationship.  If we see someone’s photo after they finish a race, we assume they are in great shape (and if you have low self-esteem, that they are fitter than you).  Maybe there’s a gorgeous photo on a guy’s page of his lovely wife and adorable kids and we assume they are a happy family.  Only to find that mother and daughter fight like cats and dogs, that race day photo was the last time they exercised, and Joe Schmoe is cheating on his wife and has declared bankruptcy.  They don’t post that shit.  Of course, it could be true what we attribute to what people post on Facebook.  But in suburbia,  your dirty laundry is not usually aired on the pages of Facebook.  We rely mostly on gossip for that!  It’s plausible that if you check Facebook in the wake of a divorce, job loss, binge or other perceived downfall, that a status update like, “Feeling great today!  The world is full of possibilities!” will make you feel pissed.  This is not a reflection that you are a bad person, a narcissist or anything else.  It’s just how you feel at the moment.  Just go to the next post about cute kittens.   No doubt there is something that will make you smile.

Pinterest brings the vision board concept to a whole new level.  Remember when we took out scissors and old magazines and cut out pictures and glued them to our vision cardboard?  Man, that is so 2010!  There’s a digital version now, and the photos and quotes are better than ever.  Pinterest is the quintissential time suck and it is both inspirational and overwhelming.   If you have glass jars, a glue gun, permanent markers and about 5 hours to kill, damn, you can do just about anything.  Your house can be straight from Crate and Barrel and your kids’ rooms directly imported from Land of Nod.  You can look as cool, rested, well-traveled and fit as the best of them.  Or maybe not.  But the idea is to be inspired, not burdened.  LA Weekly blogger Ali Trachta recently wrote how Pinterest made her feel like “a dejected loser” because Pinterest boards are the “visual equivalent of a pile of mail I keep meaning to get to.”  While I completely relate to her feelings of not being able to muster the female heft of being the ultra-crafter, dresser, decorator and bearer of witty quotes, I see Pinterest more like the lofty goal.  Rather than the expectation.  But man did this gal get slammed.  People wrote to her saying things like, “you’re doing it wrong,” or “you’re too insecure to get it,” and “you’re buying into stereo-types.”  Social cognition tells us otherwise.  So Pinterest makes her feel bad, so what!  Some days it makes me feel bad too.  Like when I purchased a store made birthday cake for my to-be 11 year old daughter that I could have easily made myself with step by step instructions on Pinterest.  But here’s the thing.  She just wants a cake with dolphin on it.  No matter who makes it.

So there it is, suburbia.  Feeling like a failure really is on you.  Stereo-typing is a natural function of the human brain.  Emotions can’t be changed in the moment, but thoughts can.   So go forward to Pinterest and Facebook!  I need a new salmon recipe and a good laugh from my sister across the country.  That’s why I use social media.  How ’bout you?