Friday, 13 April 2012

Facebook: Helping People Feel Inadequate Since 2004

I like having Facebook in my life - for the most part. It's a useful tool for a lot of things and I would say that, on the whole, my life is better with it than without it. Nevertheless, there are days where I'm forced to wonder if Zuckerberg and Co. are deliberately trying to undermine humanity's sense of self-worth.
In particular, I wonder sometimes if Facebook app designers specifically set out to find new and ingenious ways to make us feel inadequate.

Consider, if you will, the 'My Friends Map' app. For those of you who don't know it, this is an app that allows you to produce a map of where all your Facebook friends live, which you're expected to then post to your wall. For the sake of reference, here's what mine came out looking like:

This is meant as an example, not to make me look cool. Trust me, the 'international-ness' of my friends is the least interesting thing about me.

As a geography geek, I can appreciate this sort of thing, and it's certainly an interesting visualization. Nevertheless, it bothers me that the intended purpose of this app is to publish such maps on your wall to show off to your friends not only how many friends you have but also how international your group of friends. It's easy to say "Who frickin' cares if Jessica has three friends in Istanbul and five dots in what looks like Belarus?", but in the end we all care how we look to our friends - and apps like this are pretty much guaranteed to make us feel less cool, less sophisticated, less worldly and, well, simply less than.

(Note: this tool could have potential unintended consequences. For example, if the lion's share of your overseas friends are located in Yemen, Sudan and northern Pakistan, you probably want to avoid advertising that fact on your wall - unless you want to have CIA operatives with binoculars crouching behind your rose bushes.)

But My Friends Map isn't the worst of the self-esteem-undermining tools that the Book of Face has to offer. Consider this lovely app. This takes international one-upmanship a step further, whereby you get to advertise to everyone in your Facebook network how awesome you are based on the number of countries you've visited.

Oh yeah? Betcha you haven't been to Antarctica and Andorra!

There you have it. Now not only can you take that whirlwind European tour you went on when you were 21 and make yourself out to be a globetrotter comparable to Kofi Annan or Hillary Clinton, but you can also turn that four-hour layover you once had in Addis Ababa into a bona-fide travel experience that you can brag about to your friends. Does anyone really care? Of course they do - it's on Facebook!

What is this app trying to say? From the standpoint of this app, the six years I spent living and working in Japan, learning the language and absorbing the culture is no different from the seven hours I once spent in the terminal building in Kuwait City. It's a country. It goes on the list. This is to say nothing of the fact that some of the most worldly and globally aware people I've met are not particularly well travelled and that a great many self-proclaimed globetrotters that I've met are, frankly, closed-minded and blinkered by their own cultural conditioning. It's all about the points you rack up in life. That is all.

Numerous studies have pointed to Facebook and other social networks having a negative effect on people's self-esteem. Furthermore, the great paradox of Facebook is that the more friends you have, the greater the negative impact on your sense of self worth you're likely to suffer. A recent article in Men's Health on the subject notes that the more 'friends' a person has, the more likely they are to be spending their day enviously reading about someone else’s paradise vacation, new girlfriend or job promotion.

Given the fact that FB already puts us in a precarious position vis-à-vis our own self-esteem, is it really necessary for app designers to keep coming up with new ways for us to feel inferior? I would like to issue a challenge to whoever the people are who design these things to actually create something that will foster people's sense of self-worth rather than perpetuating this endless cycle of social media one-upmanship.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my Friends Map hidden. Whoops, I just posted it. Guess I'm just as guilty as the rest of y'all.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, Ben, Facebook apps are meant to create a society of phobic, self-deprecating, socially awkward, cowardly lemmings completely lacking in self-esteem. How sad.

    According to Klouchebag, I'm a 'bit of a prat'. Nice. My Klouchebag score is 39...

    Thanks, but I'll stick with TwitCleaner, which claims I'm frickin' awesome. Note that (as far as I can tell) TwitCleaner isn't a Facebook app. That might explain the reason its results are more like positive reinforcement. And, given a choice, I'd rather put the gold star on my fridge than the D-.

    These kinds of Facebook apps are deserving of no better than a failing grade of F(OAD), as far as I'm concerned. ;-)