You know me: sometimes I just muse about things that strike me as absurd. For years I have struggled with the notion of the Annual Family Holiday Update. You know what I'm talking about: those fancy, often gaudy, missives where the "head" of the family tries to be as clever as possible bringing their whole known universe up-to-date on the year gone by. I really don't have a problem with the idea of a catch-up. We all have such busy lives that we have trouble keeping abreast of the doings of our friends and family. Where I run into problems is that the family letter too often turns into the family "brag fest."
Things in the Doe family couldn't be better this year! Father has continued to top the charts in his role as salesperson for XX Corp. In fact, because he's been so brilliant and closed so much business, XX has had to revise their entire incentive program. I mean, how many reward trips to the Orient and Hawaii can a family handle in one year? Next year we are thinking about giving several of our prize trips away -- there just isn't enough time for us to go on them all!
Little Suzy -- well, she's hardly little anymore -- has made the most magnificent match in Archibald. Who knew he was "closet royalty?" Once the engagement was announced, and the responses to the Save-the-Date card started coming in, well, we realized the venue we had chosen just isn't big enough for the over-1000 of our closet friends that want to share in their day of joy!
Tad has himself had a spectacular year. Certainly we all know of his particular brilliance, but this year, he surprised even us! At the tender young age of 5, he has become the youngest student ever to be accepted at Harvard, in their molecular physics program, nonetheless! Naturally, we accepted on his behalf as he is too young to sign his own name properly. The upside of the early admission is that it certainly simplifies our college application process, allowing us to focus more energy on those incentive vacations.
Finally, not to talk too much about me, but "Mother" has been quite busy this year, putting up all sorts of items to share with those less fortunate, chairing many important committees and galas, and working late into the night spinning my own organic fabric to make sure Suzy, Tad and Father are dressed in only the "greenest," and ingredient-pure cotton. Thank heavens we have those incentive trips or I might never get any rest at all.
Well, happy holidays to you all. Please keep your own family letters coming -- it's so hard to keep up these days, but we wish for you a happier and healthier New Year. 'Til Next Year!
You get the idea...But it's the downstream effects of these letters that I want to talk about -- and how that applies to much of what's going on in social media venues like Facebook. When you read this holiday update where Mrs. Doe blathers on and on about how perfect her life is, how smart and accomplished her kids are, and how ideal her husband and marriage, you can't help but compare that to your own life. Maybe your kids are struggling in school or have suffered a sports injury. Husband works too long and too hard to be much help around the house or with the kids. Property values in your area have tanked in recent years, leaving you upside-down with your mortgage. You are trying to be a well-adjusted, stay-at-home mom, who has given up your promising career to focus on your family. You are trying make ends meet by being a mommy-blogger or filling out online surveys for whatever extra you can get, but somehow you don't seem to get ahead...
During your regular perusal of Facebook, you run across endless daily equivalents of the Obnoxious Holiday Letter. It comes in the form of people bragging about how they made their 20th Million using this system, and you can too, if you pay them for the secret process, invest in their webinars, recruit 200 other people as part of your down-channel...and still you won't make it because that system is "tapped out." Or, you get pictures of beautiful people, in beautiful places, drinking beautiful cocktails and being waited on by beautiful natives of exotic countries. You are assaulted with people holding fistfuls of $100 dollar bills, treated to images of amazing houses -- all "for sale" but not at a price YOU can afford. Other people's kids are winning prizes while yours are struggling at school because of their learning disability...
Look, there's essentially nothing wrong with the social part of social media. But, as we have gotten more entrenched and more connected with social media, incidents of depression and low self-esteem have also blossomed. According to an article in Forbes.com (New Study Links Facebook To Depression: But Now We Actually Understand Why) citing a recent Harvard study, Facebook and depression have been found to go hand-in-hand because of the nature of "social comparison." When you think about it, people tend to post "highlights" of their lives on social media, so it's natural to feel envious about how great their lives are, while yours might be, um, not-so-great right now. The study didn't just plot comparisons of "my life is better than your life" conditions, but went further to show that this link between depression and social media use is pretty universal, whether the content you are reading depicts life better, worse, prettier or uglier and that these effects are shown in both men and women alike. It's the obnoxious holiday letter syndrome, brought to you, not just once a year, but every day, throughout the day by your favorite "social" connection site! A continual reminder of how you don't measure up to others, whether better or worse off than you.
Now, I'm not saying that there isn't good content people shared on Facebook, but you have to consider the overall trend. If you think "social comparison" and depression is a problem for adults, then what do you think happens to our kids who spend virtually all their waking hours interacting with others via social media? That will be the topic of the next post because the data on that topic is far-reaching and quite sobering.
So, the next time you gird your loins for the dreaded holiday letter, consider that much of what is "shared" with the outside world isn't always what it seems. Mr. and Mrs. Doe have their moments, too, where life isn't so perfect and Mrs. finds out that her perfect husband has been cheating on her with the children's nanny they hand-selected from a prestigious placement agency, and the children's tennis instructor has just pooped in the swan-shaped pool because Mrs wouldn't agree to his raise. Ah, but that's for another chapter of "How the Stomach Churns."
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