We Need a Facebook for Failures
The schadenfreude network
“If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?” ― Voltaire
Facebook causes depression, according to research cited in The Atlantic. From sea to shining sea, this country is populated with an army of shrinks and life coaches, with a pharmaceutical industry churning out new drugs every year. Despite these, we’re more lonely and depressed than ever before. And Facebook is causing it.
I read this article by myself in a suburban food court, seemingly the only adult male without a job in the entire Washington metropolitan region. My own Facebook feed seemed to confirm that I was uniquely unemployed and unemployable. It was filled with the humble-brags of friends from their well-paying, super-cool, deeply satisfying jobs: “I love my boss!!” “This project ROCKS!!!” “I’m getting a raise!!!! Just sayin’!”
This digital view into the apparently perfect lives of others leads to despair. None of us can measure up to the fantasy stories we see online. “We hate it when our friends become successful,” as Morrissey said.
On Facebook, we only present our ideal selves. In the Panglossian fantasy of Facebook, you see only the best of all possible worlds. You look at photos from that idiot you knew in high school, who now lives in a sprawling McMansion (square footage duly noted). You seethe as you read about a former coworker who know runs his own advertising agency – big clients and big paychecks! Just like Mad Men! And in the domestic arena, Facebook presents a Lake Wobegon world where all kids are above average. Every child looks perfect and they’re constantly winning trophies.
It’s impossible to look at this stream of happy news without making implicit comparisons to your own ordinary life. You’re found wanting.
But it’s all lies – lies by all omission. We rarely see the failures, setbacks or daily disappointments. We don’t see the hard work and struggle that can’t be captured in a digital like.
For example, I recently won $1000 in a literary contest. Yea me! Likes piled up. For my Facebook friends, it was a bolt from a blue, an accomplishment born out of nothing. Effortless, easy. But what we don’t see are the Sunday mornings I spent writing in a coffee shop, the years that I spent working on other stories and the fact that my winning story was part of a novel that I abandoned, thinking, “Why bother? No one reads anymore.”
Facebook has a hard time capturing that kind of messy process. A little blue thumbs-up is a paltry reward for such work. There’s no emoticon for existential angst.
We need a Facebook for Failures. This would be a new social network where people would share only their setbacks, disappointments and disasters. It would be a place for total honesty, where you reveal that you’re living out of a van, that your children are spoiled rotten and that you’re about to undergo an embarrassing medical procedure.
Instead of a social network, it would be a schadenfreude network, where you get better by looking at people who have it worse.
This isn’t the best of all possible worlds. It’s time we have a social network that reflects that. It’s time for a Facebook for Failures.