is it time to stop the twitter sycophantic-a and get real?

Posted on May 15th, 2011

In Sunday Life this week I get more authentic online

3_acts_wideweb__470x327,0

A theme that crops up consistently in this weekly flirt with life betterment is something I call “too much-itis”. Or “battered (by) life syndrome”, a condition charcterised by a sense that too many commitments and distractions are dragging us down. The American Academy of Pediatrics have just diagnosed the latest symptom: Facebook Depression, caused by reading friends’ updates and feeling your life sucks in comparison to the fabulous “wine weekend away with the boyf” and “ZOMG! Most blissful afternoon on the harbour with besties” everyone else is breezily engaged in.

I used to call this malaise Friday Night Alone Watching The Bill-ophobia. Previously, a mere suspicion everyone was out having more fun than you fuelled the panic. But since everyone now has Facebook and Twitter on their phones, there’s no doubt. We all know exactly – in real time – how much fun everyone else is having. Which has upped the heart-sink.

I now call it Friday Night Alone Reading Status Updates-ophobia.

Me, I’ve become totally overwhelmed by other people’s status updates. An article in this magazine on the subject a few months ago, prompting a wave of  “me too!” feedback. My journalist friend C has since taken a Twitter hiatus. “I can’t deal with the spin. It feels so grubby.” My single friend G has turned off Facebook; “Too many ex-boyfriends with baby photos!”.

Quitting social media altogether is one solution. I’ve previously tested e-toxing (living offline) and creating e-boundaries (like using the Freedom app which blocks social media for eight hours at a time) in this column. They’re great. But extreme. I personally get a lot from Twitter in particular – it’s the most efficient way for me to read the news each day.

So this week I experimented with some more balanced – and balancing – approaches.

A new Stanford University study has found much of the misery caused by social media stems from the rampant positivity of updates. It causes us to overestimate how fabulous our peers’ lives are, but underestimate their sadness and loneliness, which makes us feel sadder and lonelier. Which would suggest sharing our shitty experiences might be an antidote that we can all contribute to, generously. Stephen Fry does this. In January he tweeted “I’m so so unhappy”. It immediately made me – and hundreds of thousands of his other followers – feel less alone in my own unhappiness.  During the week I tried such a course. I tweeted about my overeating, how unproductive my week had been and about the dark sadness that overwhelms me at times. It lost me three followers.

But it felt giving and less grubby.

Another downer about e-bragging and “interniceness” (as the New York Observer termed it) is the sycophanticism. Positive vibes are great. Better than then Gawker-style snark that characterized the web a few years ago. But the reality of newer outlets like Twitter is that it’s now easier to unfollow a snark or stooge. Bad vibes lose you followers. Conversely, reposting other people’s tweets and blogs – with fawning ZOMG! comments – attracts followers to your own feed or blog.

Further, following other people’s status updates causes homophily, a term that means “birds of a feather flock together “ and is being used by academics to describe the way social media is causing everyone to read the same articles, develop the same opinions and speak the same (sycophantic) way.  Thus dissenting opinions are shut down and outlook is narrowed. It reminds me of being at school and suddenly it’s no longer cool to wear socks with your Roman sandals. Suffer the loser who fronts up in knee-highs.

It used to make me depressed in Year 5. Now, catatonically so.

One antidote that occurred to me this week is to mix up the online voices I’m subject to. So I joined the Australian Skeptics’ and conservative US shock jock Glenn Beck’s Twitter feeds, and disconnected from voices who regurgitate others’ missives with follower-gathering zeal. While I was at it, I broadened my reading with the “unsugggester” widget on literary site LibraryThing, which “takes ‘people who like this also like that’ and turns it on its head”. I love it! You type in, say, The Da Vinci Code and it suggests a broadening option, in this case, Traditional Fair-Isle Knitting.

I ended the week feeling lest conformist, like I’d stepped away from the sad “comparathon” emerging online, and owned my views and outlook again. Although, I unfollowed Beck within 45 minutes. I have limits you know.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
  • Mia

    You won me as soon as you mentioned Stephen Fry. :)

    Seriously though, all social media is bullshit. And much like high school. I lost complete faith in Fakebook when a friend who I hadnt seen for a while was announcing his 6 year anniversary with what he called the “bestest boyfriend in the world” etc etc ad couple-y nauseum. The sick-fest was bad enough… but being one of his closest friends at a point, I wondered how many of the people who “liked” the status knew the boyfriend was an alcoholic who punched his partner in the face after a few. Probably not many.

    I dont watch the news, I dont follow Twitter, I dont spend much time on Facebook cos I feel all these things are healthy for us in small doses only, if at all. Sometimes its better just to log off. You arent missing anything!

    And what’s wrong with watching the Bill on Friday night..? Quality time with yourself is AWESOME.

    Letting other people & their lives dictate how you feel about yourself is nuts. Recognize it for what it is, and log off if you arent happy with it. Our parents & grandparents survived just fine without it.

    [Reply]

  • Paul

    Well said Mia, couldn’t agree with you more.

    [Reply]

  • Anthony Porter

    Sarah, too much of anything is harmful. But if you are isolated, in hospital or north pole social media could be ideal for discussing anything and everything. However, there is the danger of it being used as another crutch like TV, alcohol when you really could be having real contact with real people over a lovely dinner.

    [Reply]

  • kallie

    Love your comment Mia x

    [Reply]

  • Emm

    I sit home all the time lately and I too, feel like everyone else is ‘living’ while I am stuck being static.

    You described facebook depression better than other articles. I kind of feel like other people are enjoying their lives more than I enjoy mine…partly because I’m not really enjoying it. I feel like I am a floating jellyfish.

    I found out people on fb have blocked me because I post too much ‘crap’. (I don’t mind. That’s what those features are for but I also think, well they might miss out on something that might interest them.)
    Ha ha, I just use it differently than some. I think of it more as a place to share articles I’ve read or local events. Sometimes I post updates about what I did that day but I don’t get too personal. I don’t like to brag, not intentionally, on fb. One friend, that I can’t stand, posts updates about taking too many pills and claims they are jokes. Or she makes pity posts where you know you’re supposed to ask, what’s wrong or something. I don’t want to seem like that, so I just don’t bother with downer posts.

    I like the anonymity of twitter, where I feel like I can rant or share my real opinion. If I am speaking directly to another person, I try to be tactful, not rude but I am slightly more free with what I would say than if I was in person.

    [Reply]

  • Brett

    Sarah,

    You’re a sweety, and I’m sorry for making fun of your kind thoughts about Scott Rush this week. Don’t forget you are amazing and even those of us who haven’t actually met you can tell this, therefore no doubt your blood and flesh friends doubly so. I also bet that many people enjoy precious moments with you that need no status update to affirm them.

    Keep working hard, good luck with the book, and enjoy your food. Moderation is good but life can’t be all about moderation.

    WN

    [Reply]

    Janine Reply:

    Why apologise to Sarah now Brett for making fun of her comment on Scott Rush then go and write all this gushy stuff to her??

    [Reply]

  • Grace

    Oh Sarah, you are wonderful. I too have suffered from chronic Friday Night Alone Watching The Bill-ophobia. It was dreadful. Your own admission has brightened my heart.

    My experience with the status updates is a little different: It seems all my really cool friends are waaaaaay too busy doing cool, fun stuff to bother updating their status. It’s the people with not much going on in their life that seem to update all the time- “Up early to walk the dog. It’s freezing!” does not make me feel sad or envious. Hehe:)

    Thank you for yet another insightful and inspiring post.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Yep, it works both ways doesn’t it!

    [Reply]

  • Johnno

    “During the week I tried such a course. I tweeted about my overeating, how unproductive my week had been and about the dark sadness that overwhelms me at times.”

    No you didn’t.

    Hardly being authentic are you?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Yes Sarah did… remember the column is written a few weeks before it is published!

    [Reply]

    Johhno Reply:

    Like she said for a year on her blog how she was writing a book but really wasn’t?

    People who always talk about authenticity and trying “to be more authentic” are usually fakes, especially those online.

    [Reply]

    Janine Reply:

    Are you talking from experience Johhno??

    Johhno Reply:

    No, I never use the word “authentic” myself. It’s too much one of those blogging wank-words that is the latest fad.

    The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.

    [Reply]

    Janine Reply:

    We’re all entitled to our opinions.

    Interested why you read this blog then, Johhno, based on the above comments? There are plenty others out there.

    [Reply]

    Johhno Reply:

    Just calling a spade a spade Sarah. You know, being authentic.

    Janine Reply:

    I reckon there is something more personal going on here, but will leave it be.

    Been fun Johhno!

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Johnno, yes, you need to be aware that old-school publishing takes THREE WEEKS from when I submit my column to the time it hits news stands.
    And on the book front…I’ve been STRUGGLING to write a book for over a year. I was commissioned 15 months ago and due to illness and several other setbacks, I haven’t been able to get on top of it.
    No one is ever truly authentic. We can only aim for it. It’s our reaching for the real that makes our life what it is. It makes us human.

    [Reply]

    Kathryn Reply:

    Here here Sarah!! Johnno, wouldn’t it be more ‘authentic’ for you not to read this blog?

    [Reply]

  • http://www.heartsights.com Joe Blaney

    I love your writing very engaging, I caught your blog when I was looking at blogs that were popular and then a mutual friend suggested your site. coordinated incidence.

    Im a 51 year old happily married father of four and have a very similar story to yours, big career, big life, about 10 years ago I decided I had to change some things if I was to get more nectar from life, as I went along. What intertests me is a pattern I detect in the two blogs I have read so far, Being that you sought mostly lifestyle solutions to what were in effect lifestyle problems.

    I tried many of these over my life with varying degrees of success, it was not until I went higher specifically spiritual…aka yoga, meditation, shamanic reading, that the real reason behind the lifestyle problem popped out. In my case the shaman got me there quickly. Yoga and Meditation are great lifestyle choices and help immensely.

    Facebook or media proliferation in themselves can effect you, only if there is availability to be effected. Life is fast and getting faster, so as long as one has a propensity to be effected this will repeat. I suggest talking to a Shaman who can help one get to the core issue fast, before the gradual grind of the lifestyle manifests in illness.

    I have four children a lovely wife and a very hectic life and I can handle it because I have cleared myself of the availability to toxic emotions or energies to over run me mentally or physically. I have issues and now I can process them differently, keeping my issues out of my tissues.

    Recognising the archetypal issues and dealing with them will allow a full life to be lived, enjoying all the nectar even in the “moshpit” but uneffected by it negatively.

    The medical world are very quick & hijack these, so as to get us to focus on them and ultimately monopolize the treatment of them. We need to be strong given the relentless pace at which information bombards us. We need different answers and there are plenty of them around.

    Hope this helps

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Thanks Joe, I agree “we need to be strong”…yoga and meditation etc build up a stronger core so we can deal with the chaotic winds of change! x

    [Reply]

  • Fiona

    Emm, you wrote “One friend, that I can’t stand…”

    If you can’t stand someone, why are they your friend? This just reinforces my own belief that so many people use fb to make it look like they are popular because they have sooooo many friends. Why anyone would continue to associate, by choice, with someone they can’t stand is beyond my understanding. It’s ungenuine. And a waste of energy, time and effort.

    [Reply]

  • Terry Kelly

    Absolutely. Great column. Bad news can actually be good for you.
    Yes, Stephen Fry, one of the world’s best known Skeptics, is a legend and an inspiration. He ‘s very “well read”. He got that way by…um…reading. Not going to parties – although I’m sure he does that too. And he’d be great company.
    Really we can grow out of the having to go out on Saturday night thing. Last night was wonderful. Julia Zamiro and Sam Pang taking the mickey out of the Eurovision Song Contesters was followed by the the witty, sharp and delectable Julia hosting a real music show on the brilliant “Rockwiz”. And then the FA Cup final. Meanwhile the ABC had the unbearably tension packed and sophisticated “Spooks”.
    When too much brilliant television is barely enough!
    The poor old party goers didn’t know what a feast they were missing.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    You weren’t watching Dancing With The Stars, Terry!?

    [Reply]

  • http://oneaprilmorning.net Laura

    Beautiful column Sarah!

    I don’t use Facebook anymore but I love twitter. I don’t really care about amassing followers, I just like to connect with like-minded people I wouldn’t necessarily come across in my day-to-day life. I actually love the fact that almost everybody I follow has similar ideas about things, because I find myself in a minority on a lot of issues in real life so it is refreshing to see that people do think the same way as I do.

    Also, for me, spreading positive vibes is one of my favourite things about twitter… people being supportive of things they love, and just ignoring things they don’t, rather than being mean and snarky (the people I associate with, anyway – I know there is a lot of snark around!) Particularly this week, comedian Ben Pobjie wrote an incredibly honest blog post about his battle with depression – the outpouring of support was so heartwarming. (You can read it here, if you like: http://bit.ly/kHh3VP )

    And finally, when it comes to painting rosy pictures of our own lives on social media, I think Sarah is right… we do need to be more authentic. Not just tally our achievements and Kodak moments, but also our failures, frustration and sadness. I can relate to the “watching the Bill on a Friday night” loneliness (although for me, it was So You Think You Can Dance and The West Wing) but I think we also need to take Sarah’s advice from way back and “do what we like to do” and be secure in our choice to do just that. I enjoy spending time alone… I hate clubbing and obnoxious parties. So, reading updates on Facebook about people’s “fabulous” lives, I have to remind myself that even if I were doing what they were doing… I wouldn’t be any happier!

    Anyway, I will stop rambling now. Thank you for the food for thought Sarah!

    [Reply]

    Adam Cordner Reply:

    That was a good ramble!

    [Reply]

  • Jenn

    That’s the problem with this new social media…everyone is too busy comparing their lives to others and wanting what they haven’t got. Who cares if an ex-boyfriend is posting photos of his kids on FB. He’s obviously an ex for a reason and people need to move on. I personally think checking on people’s status is unhealthy. Read a book, pick up the phone and actually speak to someone.

    [Reply]

  • Patricia

    On many of your posts I can relate to a lot of what you say Sarah!!

    Re your post today. Yes I know only too well that “overwhelming feeling of sadness”. I also expressed those very words to a friend the other day, in regards to that very emotion.

    My answer to these people who need to be constantly entertained, who are always busy, busy is……

    “It is not what you do, but how you feel” !!! ….

    that is the most important thing.

    [Reply]

  • jane

    Funny to read this now, I am now half way through a month-long of a Facebook ‘detox”. I am amazed at how much more positive I am with my life, how much more I appreciate my life for what it is, and not comparing myself to others. I’ve also realised that the quality of my interactions with my real friends has improved. Instead of just reading what they have been doing on a post or writing a short note on their wall I have made more of an effort to call them and have proper conversations. I don’t think I would go to the point of cancelling my membership, but I am considering the frequency with which I log in. It always leads back to the same thing – balance, and finding your own definition of balance.

    [Reply]

  • Lisa

    Just a technicality but The Bill was never on a Friday night. This kind of changes the authenticity of the article for me.

    [Reply]

    Grace Reply:

    Must have been Saturday nights then. Just as sad.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    You’re right Lisa…and it was corrected by the subs for the magazine version of the column!

    [Reply]

  • Mrs Bok

    Hi Sarah, I’m working on a project for the UN for the Libyan crisis and twitter has proved absolutely invaluable in getting humanitarian aid agencies to the right places – whilst avoiding the bad – and bringing attention (if not aid) to places that are being ‘lost’. So whilst I agree social media can be inane and annoying, it’s easy to block twitter feeds that bother you…but for the good that it’s doing, I’m all for it.
    Work aside, from a social perspective, I’d never know what some of my cousins look like on the other side of the world if it wasn’t for facebook and it’s allowed me to connect more with family like my grandmother. Again, it’s easy to block feeds from people you don’t want to hear so much from…or to put them on limited profile so they can’t see much about you either…again I find the good outweighs the bad (I definitely block all of those annoying application/game updates!)

    [Reply]

  • Trace

    Gave up on Facebook as I found it boring, have never “Twittered” and don’t follow anyone else. I don’t care that people are apparently having a fabulous time while I’m at home on a Friday night or Saturday or Sunday, because this is what I want to do. I’m having far too much fun with my life to worry about what other people are doing. Live your own life, don’t try and live someone elses because you think you need to.

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/Annanotherthing Annanotherthing

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m glad that I finally know why you were asking which right-wing conservatives were on twitter!

    As others have said, it is nice to know that there are people online who share your interests, in an enthusiastic way. I don’t think that having an online presence necessarily occurs to the detriment of one’s “real” life. I reject the notion that just because we are able to selectively represent ourselves online that this leads to a lack of authenticity.

    I recently attended the wedding of a school friend and was amazed at how quickly we each reverted to our high-school persona. The pre-conceptions of almost two decades ago are an almost irresistible force. My point is that each time we encounter a new tribe we are redefined, by our current careers, our interests, our relationships, our values and the way we evolve our personalities, so what is it about twitter (or any other online forum) that makes this more or less authentic?

    If I to follow a number of people whose ideas resonate with me and whose opinions I agree with, does this make me a sycophant? Or can I simply rejoice that a number of the political commentators I follow are also devotees of The West Wing? That the NBA beat reporters I follow also watch The Wire? That a number of the bloggers I enjoy reference each other?

    Anna

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Ha, I’ve gradually had to drop all the right-wingers off Twitter…they were getting me angry and down! I think Scott Morrisson MP is still on there!

    [Reply]

  • advodiaboli

    Move on to Fouresquare.

    Real time GPSish coverage of where you are. I announce I’m at the doctors, supermarket, Kmart or local trash/treasure market. Most in one suburb.

    In fact I’m “Mayor” of three, so pathetic are my wanderings.

    Friends are at expensive clubs, bush hideaways, and I just know what skiing season will bring. I’m tempted to stand outside exclusive men’s clubs and… cheat? No the guilt would crush me.

    Recently I “checked in” boasting about waiting for my flu vax. Doing my bit for Big Pharma – pro bono no less. Then commented on busker potential at the Sunday market. As Mayors must do of course. Responsibility calls.

    Sigh…

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Cheating at FourSquare…That’s very funny!

    [Reply]

    Mel Reply:

    That was brilliant. I’m mayor of my street too, coles,the sushi bar and the laundromat.

    [Reply]

  • Raechel Temily

    Beautiful Sarah ….

    Love your words, they always make me smile as they’re just so straight to the point and perfectly articulated (and you know I’m a fan of that ha ha) … saying the things we’re all thinking.

    Um, I would like to confess that my (infrequent) status updates about mid-week ‘weekend’ getaways in the country and perfect trips to the farmer’s markets (which don’t involve getting lost or muddy … where the hell did you end up??!! Too funny …) buying organic heirloom tomatoes are quite misleading. Yes, it’s true.

    I would like to say, just for the record, that in between my status updates I can be found at home in my ugg boots watching downloaded episodes of Gossip Girl on my laptop in bed (look, I told you this was a confession, stop laughing … ) when most of my friends are out rocking their Balenciaga booties in the newest, cooler-than-thou speak-easy in Darlinghurst or sitting front row at Paris Fashion Week.

    On the other hand, I also have a bunch of friends who feel the need to constantly update the mind-numbingly boring minutiae of their day to day lives through their fb updates …. hilariously painful in a whole different way.

    That said though, I think our humble and quiet Byron Bay days – teepees, muddy detours, TV nights in, the whole shebang – are pretty amazing in their own way.

    P.S. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her in the real world, Sarah is ridiculously, beautifully, breath-taking authentic … in the truest, rawest, best possible interpretation of the word.

    Reaching for the stars, sometimes falling, sometimes flying … but through the truth of her own attempts, giving other people permission to share theirs. And that’s pretty special.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Raech, I just saw this. Thank you. Sometimes failing, sometimes flying…aren’t we both!?

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: News + Link Love | Life In Limbo

  • Jackie K

    Great article and excellent comments too – thanks all. I use facebook less and less and twitter more and more. Twitter is excellent way of learning what’s new in all worlds that interest you, but yes the like-mindedness and sycophancy (and self-importance of some who have sycophants) can infuriate. Also it’s a massive time-sucker-upper! But then that’s my fault! I unplug from all on regular basis (including my blog) but it loses me “followers” – but as time goes on no doubt we’ll get better at managing this stuff.

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: Does Your Happiness Suck? | Obey My Blog

  • Pingback: {74 ways to be inspired} hearing authentic voices | 74 Lime Lane

  • http://www.londoneer.org Pete Stean

    Late to the party again!

    Sarah thanks for this inciteful post. I’m down to about 5 minutes a day on Facebook now just to check direct messages, event invitations and so on. People who I care about (and who care about me) have long since discovered that sending me a message on FB is not the way to get my immediate attention! Anyone who tries clearly doesn’t know me that well…

    On Twitter I have taken to pruning my follow list every couple of weeks to get rid of the inane tweeters – people who only retweet or only repeat famous quotations and never say anything original. I can’t complain too much about Twitter though, as it does tend to drive lots of casual readers to my blog…

    [Reply]

  • http://my.opera.com/jesseschmidt/blog/ christian louboutin

    This design is spectacular! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my
    own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.

    Too cool!

    [Reply]

  • http://starwealth.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/why-day-trading-has-been-so-hard.html starwealth.blogspot.co.uk

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well
    written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and come
    back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.
    I’ll definitely return.

    [Reply]