Curating the internet

Recently, I came across a brief news article offering up a study as evidence of what I’ve already known for a while: Facebook is depressing. The Utah Valley University study showed that of the 425 students who were interviewed, those who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to feel that life was unfair and that others’ lives were better than their own. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that we tend to curate the best pieces of ourselves on the internet. We tend to share the sweetest, most photogenic aspects of our lives, polishing them up before sending them out into the world. You’re more likely to share a photo of your puppy in the brief, glowing moment when she’s sleeping than when she’s simultaneously tearing up your socks and pooping on the floor.

And if you’ve ever drowned your sorrows in your Facebook news feed while you’re in a funk, you’ll know what I mean. As soon as you’ve broken up with your boyfriend, everyone in your feed seems to be blissfully in love. Circumstances or biology are preventing you from procreating as you’d like to, and suddenly it seems as if everyone else in your feed is popping out babies by the dozen.

The problem with the feed—which is not very nourishing, by the way, but often rather draining—is that it’s missing a holistic view of other people’s lives. When you bond with your real-life friends, you share in their triumphs and their sorrows. Most of our hundreds of Facebook friends are actually acquaintances or strangers, and although it may seem that they are sharing aspects of their private lives online, these glimpses have been selected from among many others for public consumption.

Of course, there are a number of ways to respond to a study like this: ignore it, cut back on Facebook usage, stop using Facebook altogether. My own experience of Facebook has been very conflicted. On the one hand, I find it to be so very useful as a directory and as a sort of social memory. I use it to look up contact information or to find a friend’s friend’s spouse’s name that I’ve forgotten. On the other hand, I arrive to look up a bit of information, and then find I’ve lost a couple of precious hours after having fallen down the rabbit hole of the news feed.

This problem certainly extends beyond Facebook to other social networking sites, Twitter, blogs, etc., and there have been many interesting responses to it across these platforms. Some have chosen to regularly prune their feeds by cutting back on people they follow. Others have taken a cue from Jess Lively’s “Things I’m afraid to tell you” post, sharing some of their own flaws and challenges as a balance to their otherwise optimistic and upbeat content.

For my own part, I’ve taken the “regular maintenance” approach to managing my feeds and overall internet experience. My Twitter bookmark is set to a list of people I actually know. I’ve trimmed my Facebook feed by taking some time to block updates from people I’ve lost touch with beyond Facebook. I’ve used Feedly to craft a reader of content that’s consistently thoughtful and inspiring. It makes sense that we curate our public personalities online, and in response, I’ve tried to curate my own window onto what I encounter when I first open up a browser. It takes time, but it feels like a method for encouraging healthy content consumption, without having to feel like I’m fasting or binging on internet “junk.”