Facebook and the Show-Off Culture

Today, we’re going to do something a little different in our discussion of pop culture. This is more about what random people as opposed to professional entertainers generate, which I take to fall under the auspices of pop culture.

I’ll admit that I simply have too many Facebook friends. I have 711 of them to be exact, out of which I actually talk to only a tiny fraction. I keep telling myself that I’m going to “spring clean” my list of Facebook friends partly because I know I’m never going to talk to them, partly because I, quite frankly, find their presence on my news feed more than a little annoying. However, laziness always wins the day, and I never get around to doing it.

As we all know, Facebook is a forum where people can show other people what they’re doing. Ideally, it’s to help friends update friends even if they can’t directly communicate. However, I’ve seen many instances of the updates having degenerated to outright bragging and other ways of whoring for attention.

One such user archetype I see is the user who feels the need to always remind us of his academic accomplishments. I find that to be the case with medical students more than anyone else. And I’ll be perfectly naked about this: I see it more in Rutgers Medical School (say what you want, it has completely ceased to be UMDNJ) students than I do in those who went off to more prestigious schools. Very frequently, their statuses contain a big word describing a disease, chemical, body part, or bodily function almost purely as a way to remind us that they’re in med school. The worst part? They often have a fan following that comment on their postings like, “omg how r u so smart?!?!?” to which the poster responds (while barely containing the urge to say, “ikr!”) with something like, “lol i study well”.

I find that particularly irritating as a result of having been brought up in an Indian household. That is to say, a household where your mother is always competing with every Bengali mother you know to see whose kid has the highest SAT score, whose kid is going off to the most prestigious university (read: school with lowest rate of acceptance), and whose kid is going off to medical school. The reason is because I think it’s the perfect way to cheapen the whole concept of getting an education. People treat college entrances exactly the same way they treat BMW X-series SUVs: as a material commodity that serves no purpose besides being something to show off and making your peers green with envy.

Similarly, I’m sure you see Facebook friends who constantly update their profile picture to show themselves in a very slightly different configuration with their significant other. With these people, I find myself wanting to ask, “Are you posting a picture of yourself and your boy/girlfriend because you love him/her, or are you doing it because you want to tell the world, ‘Look at the hot guy/girl I’m dating!'” As a Cornell student, I’m all too aware of people dating each other purely to boost their social status, and it likewise cheapened the very idea of romance to me.

These archetypes, in addition to others (i.e. “lol im a banker!”), are symptomatic of the fact that we, as people, are in almost constant search of validation. It may be due to having read a little bit of The Analects of Confucius, but I feel like if you truly believed in your heart that you have something to be proud of, you would be perfectly content knowing it yourself. I think if you truly felt like you’re poised to be a great doctor and an asset to humanity as a whole, you wouldn’t need to remind your Rutgers undergrad classmates all the time (or worse, go to mixers to brag to women about how much money you’ll be making once you graduate). I feel like if you truly felt like your kid is a good student (ie you actually feel like you’re a good parent), then you are perfectly happy if just you, your spouse, and your kid knew it. Finally, I’m of the opinion that if you truly loved your boy/girlfriend, you would be satisfied knowing that your boy/girlfriend knows, even if nobody else does. What I think is, however, the archetypes I outlined don’t actually believe what they’re saying, and thus they’re looking to their community (such as the world of Facebook) to validate their claims and thus mitigate their insecurities.

As somebody who is only 22 and lived a rather sheltered existence, I’m not about to say I know anything at all, but I do think envy is basically the most toxic emotion anyone can have. What I find particularly disturbing is the fact that many people, whether they admit it or not, ultimately¬†want to induce envy in others. If I were to say I didn’t feel jealous every now and again, I would not only be a liar, but a very bad one at that. By letting myself fall to such emotions, I allowed these posters to ultimately succeed in their goals.

It’s because of experiences like this, I wonder what life would be like if people didn’t have something like Facebook as a means to brag and make people jealous. I know the “keeping up with the Jones” mentality existed well before the Internet, but I wonder if news spread as quickly. As people probably knew less about things that would make them jealous, I legitimately wonder if people were happier back then.