Anti-Social Media

If you Google the phrase "Facebook Depression," the query returns 283 million results*. Many of those results, including the very first one, are links to entire lists of articles dealing with the subject. Huffington Post alone boasts no less than fifteen stories on the subject. Not everyone agrees on the severity of social media's influence on depression and anxiety. In fact, has an article both for and against the idea. So, while the extent and influence of the issue is uncertain, it has clearly become a public concern.

What is it about a seemingly innocuous online social tool that has everyone so up in arms? For many users - I would even go so far as to assume that this is most users - Facebook is a harmless way to stay in touch with people that they otherwise might not. It's a great way to keep track of former classmates and coworkers - the kind of people who you might not see anymore, but still consider to be valuable connections.

It's also a fairly non-invasive way to get better acquainted with someone. A friend request online feels far less personal than asking for a phone number or a one-on-one hangout session. It's a way to get insight into the character of someone you've just met, but if you turn out to be incompatible, you don't have to feign interest to their face. Pretending to enjoy someone's company is incredibly awkward, no matter how extroverted you are.

"My number? Uh, just tweet me."

Last but not least, it's a way to be social when it would be otherwise impossible. As many of you know, I've spent the majority of the last couple years battling serious illness, which led to significantly decreased mobility. I haven't driven a car in over two years. A large amount of that time was spent alone in my room while other family members were working. At that time, I counted it as no less than a blessing that I had access to services like Facebook. It was the only viable means of interaction that I had. It wasn't until a few weeks had passed that I realized the full extent of the effects social media was having on my mental state.

When you become physically unable to see the people who matter most to you, it's only natural to want to find a way to keep track of any major developments in their lives. The problems arise when this instinct starts to border on obsession. Many of you may be familiar with the scenario. You sign on with the intention of taking only a few minutes to see what's going on in the world, but find yourself rage-quitting the tab perhaps hours later. Why? What is it about a site - that intends to help you interact with your friends - that instead lends itself to fostering bitterness and cynicism? Well, there are a few factors.

1. The Constant Bragging

Krystal doesn't even have a job!

Okay, this one needs a quick disclaimer. We all know that one person who, both online and off, makes astoundingly passive-aggressive announcements to create drama and gain attention. We know who these people are, we have come to expect it from them, and we usually prefer to ignore it. While very vocal, these people tend to be the minority. The vast majority of people choose not to advertise their mistakes and shortcomings. So, what you see on someone's profile is not a true representation of who they are, but an idealized version. You see far more happy vacation photos than you do of people bored at work.

It's the cyclical "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality that leads to all the self-accolade, and it only escalates as everyone tries to outdo everyone else. Evidently, some people want in on the braggart action, even when there's nothing particularly exciting going on in their lives. This is why you see pictures of people's food. Unless they're a caterer advertising their services, the only reason to post that is to show off their ability to feed themselves better than you.

Congratulations, hipster. You have mastered a basic survival skill. Now, about dressing yourself...

2. Flaws are Funny or Not Your Fault

Have you ever watched a couple break up on Facebook, or seen the fallout after someone got fired? People start flinging blame at each other like it was monkey poo. It can become quite horrifying, but no matter what happens, it's never the poster's fault. The other person destroyed the relationship single-handed. Their boss always was always envious of them and therefore wanted them out of the picture. Occasionally you'll see some truly elaborate contortions of reasoning as people try to prove to themselves and their friends that they are perfect.

Even when someone does criticize themselves, it's typically done in a humorous light. This is seen in the extreme with self-deprecating comedians like Louis C. K. or Brian Posehn. These guys are able to laugh about their problems onstage with a bunch of strangers, and that's admirable. It's one thing to crack a hyperbolic joke about being an awkward white guy as a professional comedian because everyone knows they're joking. That's what they get paid to do. However, without the sarcastic tone and silly faces to go with the diatribe, the comments may come off a little differently.

When your average Facebook user attempts this style of humor, it often results in another first world problems meme. Now imagine scrolling past pages of those kinds of posts, while bedridden, or after someone you loved passed away.

Equally distressing is the trivialization of certain mental disorders such as bipolar, attention deficit, or obsessive compulsive disorder. There are people who insist they have ADD just because they managed to distract themselves from a term paper. OCD is not just checking your phone a few times per day. It's crying while washing dishes because your hands are scalding, and you were supposed to leave half an hour ago, but you can't stop, even though the dishes are already clean.

Ask me how I know.

The point is, when minor annoyances become your frame of reference for what constitutes a serious problem, every stressor you face suddenly seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Plus, if everyone else is so befuddled by everyday nuisances, it's hard to feel comfortable sharing something legitimately life-altering.

3. Your Friends Are Not Your Friends

It's difficult to pin down the average number of friends per Facebook user, as most of these statistics seem to be obtained through surveys. The number seems to be somewhere between 245 and 360, though the average teenager may boast more than 425. That's a big crowd to get lost in. Considering that most of those people are probably no more than acquaintances, not everyone is going take the time to wade through everything those people have to say.

On top of that, Facebook doesn't necessarily share your status with all of your friends. It uses algorithms to determine who and what shows up in your news feed. If you pass the algorithm test, timing matters too. How quickly your post gets buried depends on the activity of others, and not all users log in daily. There's a variety of reasons why your actual, real-life friends might not see your status, but that can be difficult to remember when you have nothing better to do than Facebook.

4. There's Too Much to Care About

Today, thanks to the internet, we are able to access formerly unimaginable amounts of information at mind-boggling speeds. Facebook is one of the hubs where people share what they've uncovered. Even if you manage to limit your friends list to informed and well-intending individuals (which is certainly a feat) you're bound to get overwhelmed.

While I was struggling through the worst of my illness, it was practically all that I could think about. To me, it was this vicious, looming monster, and I couldn't figure out how others got through their day without worrying about it. At the same time, I knew people waiting for organ donors, people living with cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis. As I started to recover and look outside myself again, I realized that just about everyone has a monster that they're trying to warn us about.

For many people, it's a condition that they or their loved ones suffer from. For others, it's a pet cause, whether environmental, political, social, or otherwise. Unfortunately, many of the more devout activists blend into the hordes of meaningless posts of "share this if you think cancer is bad!"

Because clicking magically generates money. That's how we fixed the economy, remember?

5. It's Not Actually Social

Social means: "marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates" or "tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others." I won't try to argue that this never happens on Facebook. I, for one, have several friends I keep purely because they are intellectuals whose opinions drastically differ from mine, and we can remain civil with one another when debating those opinions. However, it is disappointing how little prevalence these substantial conversations have as opposed to all the "filler" posts.

It's also disheartening when you attempt to translate your online "social" life into the real world. If you've ever planned a party with Facebook Events, you know. Of the people invited, many may never notice. Of your friends, many are probably former classmates, coworkers, and the like, who may be out of context for your event. From what you have left, a percentage will have the standard issues with attendance, whether it be work schedules or car trouble. The worst part is that you get to see exactly how many people turned down your invitation, and how many never even bothered to respond.

It's my party, I can cry if I want to.

And then you get to see what they're doing instead, and who they're with. When someone says they make it to your shindig, but then publicly advertises that they're out being social with someone else that you're both friends with, it hurts, no matter how legitimate their excuse may be.

*Search conducted 5/30/2013