Back in the dot-com bubble, I was talking with a business associate who just couldn’t help but brag about how much money he was making on Internet-related stocks.
It drove me nuts that this guy was getting rich while my conservative portfolio wasn’t doing squat. So I followed his recommendations. I did okay for a while but got clobbered when the bubble burst.
Boy, was I POed.
In the meantime, Mark Cuban sold broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.9 billion, making him an instant billionaire. And instead of letting it ride like everyone else, he had the wherewithal to hedge against a market crash.
God I hate that guy.
It’s natural to compare your own situation with how others around you are doing. Granted, some of us are more envious of the success of our peers than others, but even the most secure and supportive among us have to admit to feeling that twinge of misery at real evidence that we’re being left in the dust in the great race called life.
While money and material possessions are easily the most common metrics for comparison, we certainly don’t stop there. We compare how high we’ve climbed up the corporate ladder, how exotic our vacations are, how great our kids are doing, even how intimate we still are with our ageless spouses.
Now take all those comparisons, all the envy and misery they create, and multiply that by, oh, say a gazillion. That’s what social media does to us.
Wait, you’re going to tell me you don’t feel even the least bit jealous or unhappy to hear all the great things that are happening to everyone but you? Right. Next you’re going to say your online persona is an entirely accurate and transparent representation of your real life. Sure, I believe you. Uh huh.
Look, there have been all sorts of studies showing that Facebook makes us miserable, or at least dissatisfied with our own lives, but why stop there? Why stop with Facebook? How about Twitter and LinkedIn?
Do we really need research to tell us what we already know, that, for the vast majority of us, our virtual presence is nothing but a pumped up, one-sided, feel-good, utopian reflection of the real thing? That our lives pass through a rose-colored filter before our fingers even touch the keypad.
Never mind how ludicrously disingenuous that is. Never mind that everyone and his brother has magically, overnight, become a guru, a CEO, an entrepreneur, a business leader, a social media sensation, an award-winning writer, an expert in whatever subject their grandiose egos and loony imaginations have conspired to conjure up.
Never mind that all we ever see are the happy pictures of family adventures, the super-cool events we got to attend, the perfect dinner parties we hosted, and our kids scoring touchdowns or getting straight ‘A’s.
Is it any wonder that our “normal” lives leave us feeling sad and lonely by comparison?
Just once I’d like to see a Facebook update or a picture Tweet that says, “This is what’s left of the crystal bowl Jenny threw at my head during a knock-down drag-out fight we had in front of the kids last night. She took the kids and ran off to stay with her parents and I just polished off a pint of scotch.”
When we get together with family and friends in person, we sometimes share the cold hard truth, or at least a somewhat more accurate version of reality than we’re willing to post for everyone to see. And when people close to us have bad news or sad stories to tell, we feel empathy for them. Is it any surprise that, the more time we spend online, the more we’re losing that capacity?
Sadly, the social media misery doesn’t stop with unrealistic comparisons. Since tweeting, linking, and updating feeds an addictive need for instant gratification, a bottomless pit of immediate attention, we feel whipsawed like addicts do – manic and grandiose when we get our fix, sad and depressed when we don’t.
Lastly, we feel miserable when we realize we’re wasting huge chunks of our precious lives killing time in the virtual world, time we’ll never get back.
Work makes us feel good because we earn income, take care of our families, and accomplish things. Time spent with friends and family is fun. We enjoy and learn from reading. Hobbies and sports are therapeutic.
But unless it falls into one of those categories – and let’s face it, just a tiny fraction of the time we spend in the social media world does – all that time in front of a display brings us nothing but emptiness, at best.
You know the old saying, "No one on their deathbed ever said, 'I wish I spent more time at work.'" Here’s a prediction: in the future, we’re all going to be saying, "No one on their deathbed ever said, 'I wish I spent more time online.'"
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of the upcoming book, "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.