>Author Sarah Madison: Does Facebook Make Us Depressed?

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It had been a bit of a rough week for me. I had a health scare with my boyfriend, which sent us first to the ER, and then overnight in the hospital for a battery of tests. Long story short: everything is fine–no major problems. Ironically, I handled the whole situation very well while it was occurring. It was after we were given the all-clear that I fell to pieces a bit.

All the running around, schedule changes, and late nights following up on missed client communications left me short on sleep. A few days after the scare was over, I dozed off on the couch while watching television. When I woke, I realized I just needed to go to bed, so I headed for the bedroom without turning on the light. My dog, Hawkeye, was stretched out in the middle of the bedroom floor–a place he never lies as a rule. I tripped over him and crashed headfirst into the bedframe, breaking my nose.

Poor H–it wasn’t his fault–unlike when he jumped up on me a few days earlier and clonked me in the jaw, causing me to bite my tongue sufficiently enough to make me lisp for 24 hours. This time he was snoozing quietly, minding his own business, when I fell across him.

The pain was so intense I couldn’t move at first. I clutched my nose, conscious that my face was wet. I finally managed to get to my feet and staggered into the bathroom. When I turned on the lights, I was shocked to see that I was covered with blood. I don’t believe noses are supposed to make the noise mine made when I straightened it, either. It was after 1 am. I had already spent more time at the hospital than I wanted to that week. Everyone I knew that had broken their noses and had them surgically repaired said the repair was ten times more painful than the break itself. It wasn’t that crooked. I decided to put ice on it (well, okay, freezer pops, as I was out of ice) and go to bed.

The next morning, the first thing I did (after looking in the mirror and wincing) was to tweet about it. I suppose I was looking for a little OMG!sympathy. It has become very natural to me now to update my status via twitter or LJ. Aside from the 90% of my followers who are spambots, I know most of my twitter followers. I don’t personally know all of the people I follow back, though most of them are highly entertaining (like @rosannecash) or informative (like @ebertchicago).

I’m slower to make updates on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about Facebook, frankly. Many of my LJ friends, who value their privacy highly, will not have anything to do with it. I don’t like the fact that posting all your information is the default mode and that I have to manually check and make sure that I haven’t inadvertently made public things I want private with every new Facebook update. I used to have a Facebook account under my real name, but I deleted it when I was contacted by a psychotic and seriously scary dude from my past. I wouldn’t have a Facebook account now, except that everyone tells me it’s mandatory for success as an author. Okay, well, if you say so.

I loathe the Facebook games. I ‘hide’ every game that my ‘friends’ play. I hide their Zodiacs and Horoscopes. I scroll past their constant music updates and their unfunny jokes. Frankly, it is hard to take Facebook seriously as a social networking site to promote yourself professionally. I have problems with people who post things about their personal lives that they really, really shouldn’t. Um, you know that these things can be used against you in a court of law, right?

The TMI culture is not specific to Facebook, mind you. My problem with the impulse to update the world on our every move is not limited to Facebook, either. I have problems with people who make updates in capslock (you know that’s shouting, right?) and make comments about their lives that make me uncomfortable (and question their mental stability). I really, really have problems if you update me on every single freaking song you’re listening to or book that you’re reading. Granted, I’ve accidentally done the same, since I didn’t realize my post was linked, but seriously, once you figure out that is happening, figure out how to disable it, for chrissake.

I have problems with people constantly reminding me of books, music, or art that they’ve published or reviews they’ve received. I know why they do it. Every time they tweet or post about their creative work by name or list a link, they are increasing their internet presence on the web. It’s a smart, tech-savvy way thing to do. I appreciate the value of such tools, as well as the articles that advise in how to make the most of self-marketing. I get it. I really do. I make use of it myself on occasion. But there’s a difference between judicious use of these social networking devices and a constant hammering of your followers with repetitive “me” information. There has to be a balance between building some interest in a new release and flooding your followers with six tweets per hour on the subject. Something in between stating that you’ve fallen over the dog and broken your nose and posting every step you take during the course of the day, starting with the moment you get out of bed and blow your nose to the time you brush your teeth at night (oooh! MINTY). Something more than using social media as a bullhorn and something less than using it as a microscope.

In my previous persona on LJ, I tended to friend a limited number of people and only if I checked out their journal and liked what I saw. I did this in part because I wanted to limit my own reading list, but also because I wanted to know that if I created a friends-locked post that I wouldn’t have to worry about who was reading it. Here, in my persona of author, I’m trying to friend back everyone that friends me–all in the name of being accessible. Now, I’m ‘friends’ with hundreds of people on Facebook and LJ and Twitter that I don’t really know–all in the name of networking.

Does it really work? Is it really worth the time? Worse, is it making us depressed?

I ask this because I mentioned Facebook and Twitter to the BF in conjunction with the Bad Week I’d been having. We were talking about the inadvisability of his using twitter to update his status while he was still in the ER and had no specific information to give to anyone who might be concerned when they read his update. Also, his battery was dying, so there was going to be a period of inaccessibility post update as well. I told him he was better off waiting until he had some definitive answers—to wait until he had the ‘all clear’ and could post about his experiences humorously as well as with the assurance that everything was okay. Then he said something that struck me.

“Facebook makes me depressed.”

“What?” I was startled. How could Facebook make you depressed, for heaven’s sake? Watching the news makes me depressed. I get depressed when I read about social injustices or people behaving stupidly to each other. I get depressed when I look at my bank balance or think about the poor business decisions I’ve made over the years. But Facebook? Facebook is Mafia Wars and Farmville and Cafe Whatever. How can that possibly be depressing? I asked him to explain.

He sighed. “Every time I see someone posting about some great event in their lives, I feel envious of their success. People tend to post about the good things that are happening in their lives. It tends to present a picture of other people’s lives which is exciting and interesting, instead of boring and ordinary.”

I thought about it and realized he was right. Facebook has a way of reinforcing the same ideas we get from watching television–namely that everyone else’s life is better than our own. I once read an article that suggested that people who watched a certain amount of TV each week tended to be more depressed because they couldn’t help but compare their lives unfavorably with the unrealistic dramas they watched on television. Everyone on TV has more money, more success, more sex, better looks. They have more drama, more excitement. Even though you know that it is just make-believe, a part of you wonders why you don’t have what your favorite character has.

I suspect it is true of Facebook (and other social networking media) as well. I think that there is a tendency to use it to toot your own horn. Perhaps that’s one of my problems with it–I prefer to have more in-depth conversations with fewer people. I also realize now that I know very few people on my Facebook friends list–they’re mostly other authors, just like me, hoping to increase name recognition and get people interested in my stories. I think that’s probably why I am sometimes more affected by these random celebrations of success than I would be by someone I ‘know’ on LJ. I don’t really know the hundreds of people on my Facebook list the way I know my LJ friends. Instead of feeling a sense of joy for my friend’s accomplishment, I feel a little pang of envy instead. Why them and not me?

I read an update recently that really drove home the sense of inadequacy that Facebook can instill in me at times. It was someone whom I barely know–though I get a sense of what kind of person she is from her posts—she seems like a genuinely nice person who deserves all the success that comes her way. However, when I read of her spectacular achievement, I was depressed by it.

I pointed it out to D. “That will never be me,” I said.

“Do you want it to be you?”

It was an interesting question. I want to be successful, but to the extent that I’m writing well enough to sell the next book and help out with the bills a bit. I’m not looking to be the next J. K. Rowling by any means.

Still, I persisted. “I’m just not writing that kind of story. I’ll never have that kind of success.”

“Do you like your stories?”

Wow, an even better question than the one before.

‘Yes. Yes, I do.” It’s true. I write the kinds of stories that I like to read myself–sometimes because I can’t find the story I want to read, and so I have to tell it myself. I’ve been having a bit of a problem with self-doubt lately, to the point where I question every sentence that I put down on paper. I don’t think I’m the world’s greatest writer, but I do like my stories, if that makes any sense.

“Well, then. What’s the problem?”

I felt like pointing out to him the fact that just the other day he was complaining of the same thing I was complaining of now, how could he turn the tables on me like that? But he was right. What matters here is not what other people are posting about their lives, successes, or failures. What matters is the life I’m currently living. Whether I’m going to show my horse this season or go to that seminar in April that I really want to attend–versus the convention that I ‘should’ go to because it would ‘increase my presence’ but I have no desire to attend. What matters is not what I watched on television Tuesday night and whether I enjoyed it, but whom I was with and if I enjoyed their company. All the flag waving and cheerleading, the blogging and the tweeting and the posting—none of it really mattered if I didn’t have anything of interest to say. None of it mattered if it kept me from actually living.

From writing too. Let’s not forget how we are extolled the virtues of self-promotion. I do understand the ‘make or break’ mentality of it. The necessity of it. I even comprehend why it is easier to sit down and write this post rather than work on the current story in progress—this is much, much easier and something that can be managed in a small snippet of time—sometimes the only useful block of time I have in the day.

It doesn’t change the fact that there is pressure to be entertaining, to call attention to yourself, to make yourself memorable in 140 characters or less.

I realized that morning, sitting across from the BF at breakfast, that every decision I’d made in my life–even the bad ones–had brought me to this moment in time. Sharing a heart attack-inducing breakfast at Denny’s with the person who is the best thing that has ever happened to me, discussing my work as a M/M romance author. You know what? It was worth it. Every bad, sucky moment of the last thirty or so years just to be able to reach this point.

Heh. I guess I should go post an update or something. 🙂

Hot Men in Hot Water: Immerse Yourself in a Sarah Madison Romance

http://www.sarahmadisonfiction.com/

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Embracing the Courage to Follow Your Dreams… | Sarah Madison Fiction

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