Friday, February 06, 2015

Facebook, pride, and envy

There's a growing body of evidence that Facebook contributes to low self-esteem and depression. Reuters reported last year, "Witnessing friends' vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness." The Huffington Post recently reported on a survey of over 700 college students that found that "while heavy Facebook use was not linked directly to depression, frequent users who experienced feelings of envy were more likely to identify with statements corresponding to depression." Finally, studies by Drs. Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer of the University of Innsbruck led them to conclude, "The longer you're on Facebook, the worse you feel."

This doesn't surprise me. I'm a heavy user of Facebook. I post often, have a lot of FB friends, and read their posts throughout the day. Okay, I'm addicted. And I'm thinking about giving up Facebook for Lent or something because I believe it does throw fuel on the fires of my flesh. 

That's not Facebook's fault, it's mine. I own it. But I do wonder: Is there something about Facebook that makes it an almost irresistible magnet for pride and narcissism?

Think about it. Do I ever post about my sadness, feelings of inferiority, or anger? Do I spread the news about my boring day? Do I tag photos of me staring off into space thinking, "Been there, done that"? Does anyone? No! Well, that's not true. Some people are up front about their struggles, and I take my hat off to them. But the usual Facebook post is the wonderful vacation, the smiling family photo, the highlight or victory or promotion or answer to prayer. So when many people read such happy posts, what are they to think but "What a loser I am! I don't have wonderful vacations. I don't have a happy family. Why, I'm not even married. I can't even have children. God hasn't answered my prayers in years. I must be good for nothing."

So yes, Facebook probably contributes to depression. It paints a distorted vision of reality. It creates hopes and expectations that cannot come true. It gives pride an outlet for acceptable expression. It stirs up envy and covetousness.

At the same time, Facebook is a technological marvel with benefits. As a parent of grown children who have spread out across the fruited plain, I love keeping up with their activities through Facebook. I can maintain ties with old friends without having to attend class reunions. So I don't want to give up Facebook. 

What is to be done? Maybe the answer partly lies in everyone being more honest. We can post about our discouragements as well as our advances, our failures as well as our successes. We can ask for prayer. We can do what the Apostle Paul did: "boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:9). At the very least, we can decide that some things--however worth celebrating they may be--do not need to be posted. There is something to be said for keeping some things to ourselves.

And as a Facebook addict, that's something I need to remember.

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