December 30, 2011

you say christmas cards, I say primitive facebook

I was talking with my dad last year about Christmas cards. We were going through the list of people we see each year in the cards and how it's nice to get up-to-speed on their lives. He made a comment about how he should get back on the holiday card bandwagon so he could keep up with those people more effectively. In my head I thought: isn't that what Facebook is for? Which is when it occurred to me. Christmas cards are just a primitive version of Facebook. 

Every year I looked forward to the lovely day on which the very first holiday card would arrive. I loved as they stacked up in the card-sleigh (the sleigh in which we stacked our cards), and every time a new batch rolled in I would go through them like they were baseball cards, picking MVP's, laughing at poems written in earnest, crying as I read aloud from a heartfelt letter. We'd see who dyed their hair since last year and who is living in their mom's basement again and it was great fun. Perhaps something of a horrible exercise in judging books by covers and whatnot, sure, but fun nonetheless.

Then along came Facebook. 

See, in the olden times, pre-social media, there were Christmas cards. You'd spend a month of the year receiving small doses of people's lives, pruned to look as pretty as possible. You'd get all caught up on their year through a concise anecdote or two and what is without a doubt the picture they've decided is the best they took all year. But I bet you'd also have a little their life looks so perfect moment of resentment. In that moment you tend to forget that you yourself wrote your card to show off your good parts. You yourself picked that picture of you at the one formal event you attended all year in order maybe to appear more glamorous than you are. These are things our brains forget to remind us when we feel the pang of low self-esteem at those whose lives seem prettier than ours on holiday-themed cardstock. We're just a bunch of [carefully wording, photoshopping] liars. 

So Facebook, I'm pretty sure, would be the equivalent of if every single day of the year from every single person you have ever known you got an upbeat holiday blurb and the very best picture of them they could locate. It's like constantly being beaten over the head with other people's success and good fortune. Where before we got one little mini update once a year and that was enough, at the present moment I think we are significantly too aware of what everyone is up to, all the time. I think it's not terribly healthy. 

And talk about a horrible exercise in judging books by their covers and whatnot. Woof. It's no wonder we're sent into a tizzy when someone posts a bad picture of us or when we tipsy-post something we shouldn't have. Within moments we'll know if someone Likes it. Maybe someone'll comment something sassy or reproachful and we'll feel ashamed. Maybe as the minutes and hours pass, no one will say anything. That's the Facebook kiss of death. That's like someone calling right after the holidays and telling you, "oh I got your card this year" but not saying whether they liked it or not. You're left to wonder, and likely you'll assume the worst. You'll berate yourself for not including the picture of that one day your hair looked really not like a lion's mane, or mentioning all that volunteer work you're doing. Better luck next year. 

We should all try harder to not get sucked into the holiday card game. To recall that while that girls' profile picture makes her look like a supermodel, mine is from the one day I intentionally dressed up for the specific purpose of getting my picture taken and the other 364 days of the year I was probably wearing my sorority sweatshirt with the puff paint stain or one of it's siblings, such as the softball hoodie I stole from my high school. 

So while it's fun to keep up with people, to stay in touch, to see how everyone's doing after all these years, let's just remember something. Facebook, much like a Christmas Card, isn't a full picture of reality. 
It's just a happy snapshot of a normal, messy life.