Monday, January 17, 2011

Parallels Between Social Networks and TV

Ben Casnocha points to a post from Stan James (highlights are Ben's):
In my trips back to Colorado, I have been struck each time by the discord between people’s Facebook lives and what they say in private. On Facebook they have been on an amazing vacation to exotic beaches. In person they confess that the vacation was a desperate attempt to save a marriage. On Facebook they have been to gliteratee tech conferences. In person they confess they haven’t been able to sleep for months, and are on anti-anxiety medication from the stress of financial pressures on their company...
What’s interesting is that this feel-bad Facebook effect seems to come from a distinct source: not-so-close Facebook friends.
In the case of true close friends, you know about all the crap that is going on in their lives. From deep interaction, you know the specific pains and doubt that lies behind the smiling profile picture...
Since TV was invented, critics have pointed out the dangers of watching the perfect people who seem to inhabit the screen. They are almost universally beautiful, live in interesting places, do interesting work (if they work at all), are unfailingly witty, and never have to do any cleaning. They never even need to use the toilet. It cannot be psychologically healthy to compare yourself to these phantasms.
So it’s interesting that social networks have inadvertently created the same effect, but using an even more powerful sourceInstead of actors in Hollywood, the characters are people that you know to be real and have actually met. The editing is done not by film school graduates, but by the people themselves.
In the end, my friend’s strategy seems to be the right one: don’t spend too much time perusing the lives of people who aren’t in your life. And spend more time learning about the uncut, unedited, off-line lives that your friends are actually living.

Joshua Bryce Newman has something similar to say:
There’s a lot of research behind the idea that we measure how well we’re doing in life not by absolute measures, but by relative ones.
Most people would (perhaps obviously) choose to earn $75,000 over $50,000, all else being equal.
Yet change that choice to be between earning $50,000 while your friends and colleagues earn $40,000, or earning $75,000 while your friends and family earn $100,000, and the popular option flips. Most people choose to earn less overall, rather than to earn more overall while still earning less than those around them.
Evolutionarily, we’re wired to look for our standing within a group. We determine how we’re doing by checking how well we compare.
And that, I think, is the danger of Twitter.
Most people’s average days are, well, pretty average. Yet within any given day, at least one relatively interesting thing is likely to happen. That’s the part people tweet about:
“I’m at [fill in the blank interesting place]!”
“Just ran into [fill in the blank important person]!”
“OMG! I love [trendy thing]!”
Basically, you get the highlight reel of all your acquaintances’ lives, 140 characters at a time. All of whom, extrapolating from there, seem to spend their entire lives attending parties, being fabulous, and generally living very well.
But, like in reality TV, the trick is in the editing. You live the entirety of your life (the highs, middles, and lows), and only read about their lives’ peaks.

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