Facebook Users: Does Anyone Really Care What You Ate For Lunch?
My friend, Eric, asks a lot of questions. He pokes and ponders things that many people don’t. He even wrote a book for high school kids that reflect his thoughts: 50 Questions Every Graduate Should Answer.
This summer, while visiting Eric, he criticized something I posted on Facebook.
The previous week, I had bumped into a bodybuilder on a beach in Thailand. We did a few exercises. Then I asked my wife, “Hey, could you take a photo of us, side by side?” I posted the picture on Facebook. “I met Arnold Schwarzenegger Jr. at a beach in Phuket today,” I wrote. “This might make a pretty good ‘before and after’ shot.”
The guy made Thor and Captain America look like prepubescent kids. But Eric challenged the reason I posted it. “Your facebook friends said you looked pretty good in that picture. Were you fishing for an online compliment?” At first, I thought he was crazy. I felt defensive. “Of course I wasn’t,” I replied.
But as usual, Eric got me thinking. Was he right?
If you use social media, question some of your personal posts. Ask yourself, “Exactly why am I posting this?”
Guardian reporter, Carmen Fishwick, says we upload 80 million photographs to Instagram every day. Roughly 1.4 billion people put posts on Facebook. That’s one fifth of the world’s population.
Most of the time we post about ourselves. In 2010 Mor Naaman, Jeffrey Boase and Chih-Hui Lai published “Is it Really About Me?: Message Content In Social Awareness Streams.” The researchers say we spend 60 percent of the time talking about ourselves when speaking to others, face-to-face. But on social media, that jumps to 80 percent.
Social media encourages a “look at me” behavior. But the trend might have begun before Kim Kardashian was in diapers. In her book, Insight, The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World, author Tasha Eurich says she searched for the word “me” in more than 15 million published books. Its usage increased by more than 87 percent between 1975 and 2008.
Eurich says when we share more information about ourselves, we often focus less on others. Researchers Sara H. Konrath, Edward H. O’Brien and Courtney Hsing say empathy might be dropping. In 2010, they published results from a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Review. The study included 72 samples of American college students from 1979-2009. Researchers asked the subjects to respond to prompts such as these:
“I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective,” and “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.”
The study showed that empathy had dropped among college students. It fell most dramatically after 2000.
Jeffrey Kluger is the author of The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed–in Your World. He says the popularity of selfies shows that we’re becoming more self-centered. Narcissistic behaviors, he argues, aren’t just more common than they used to be; they’re also celebrated. He sites celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Lance Armstrong, Kanye West and Donald Trump.
You might wonder whether social media lures narcissists or whether we increase our levels of narcissism just by using social media. I don’t think it matters. Social media is a tool. But how we use it matters.
In the aforementioned study, “Is it Really About Me?” researchers examined Twitter users. They put people into two categories. Eighty percent of users are what they call, Meformers. Such people usually post about themselves. Twenty percent are Informers. They usually post to inform, entertain or inspire. Not surprisingly, the study found that Informers have more friends and followers than Meformers.
This prompted me to examine my own Facebook account. I posted 26 times over the past 8 months. Sadly, just nine of my posts were Informing. Seventeen of them (including that beach shot in Thailand) were Meforming. Check your posts to see how you’re doing.
Posting about you and your family isn’t bad at all. We often enjoy reading about our friends. But social media presents a slippery slope. From now on, I’ll do less Meforming and more Informing. After all, nobody really cares what I ate for lunch.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.