I think it’s important to preface this blog post by saying that I, myself, am an avid supporter of fitness. I do my fair share of running, yoga, and eating ridiculously overpriced quinoa at Whole Foods (well, I at least try to). But after finishing up a 5-mile run, an hour-long yoga session, or a delicious, organic meal, do I feel the need to post every detail of my healthy day on Facebook?
The answer is no.
I have one particular “friend” on Facebook, who incessantly posts her meals, workout routines, and an accompanying photo of her muscles post-workout every other day. Perhaps this pet peeve of mine comes from the sheer guilt that I am lazily sitting at my computer instead of hitting the gym like she is at that moment, but another question comes to mind: Why does she feel the need to share this information with her entire network of friends? Does she need further justification for her workouts besides looking and feeling good? Apparently, she does.
Adam Grant discusses a particular key factor that drives a person’s social media choices in his article “Why Some People Have No Boundaries Online.” Researchers Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, Nancy Rothbard and Justin Berg characterize this factor as the aim to impress vs. the aim to express. While “expressers” see social media as an opportunity to portray themselves accurately by posting controversial thoughts and their own vulnerabilities, “impressers” take a very different route:
Impressers see social media as a vehicle for looking good- they want to build a positive reputation and attract a strong base of followers. The researchers say impressers aim to ‘disclose information that is flattering (e.g. achievements, good picture), glamorous (e.g. travel observations and pictures) or makes one look smart (e.g. interesting news articles).’ They also avoid controversial posts and carefully control and monitor photos, tags and comments, (1).
I think it’s safe to say that my “friend” falls into this “impresser” category. It must be said, however, that almost everyone on social media networking sites is guilty of posting a few of their achievements when they feel good about something- either looking for justification, positive feedback, compliments, etc. The difference (for me, at least) is the sheer frequency with which users post their achievements. I believe there is a sharp distinction between posting one noteworthy accomplishment (say, losing 50 pounds) vs. posting daily workouts as a perfectly healthy, fit human being with nothing to prove (or lose, for that matter). It can arguably even come across as insulting to those struggling to lose weight, or those unable to find the time to work out in the midst of hectic schedules. Some argue that scrolling through Facebook is their time to relax and enjoy themselves, not to feel guilty for trading kale for cookies or lifting weights for a Netflix binge.
Clearly, the Internet has given us a global audience for our bombast, and social media sites encourage it. We’re all expected to be perfect all the time. The result is more people carefully stage-managing their online image, (1).
Bernstein even goes so far as to say that the economy is to blame: where the job market is the most competitive it’s ever been, we must prove that we are superior to our peers, even on social media networking sites.
Not only do we perhaps subconsciously use bragging as a tool to compete, but it has also been scientifically proven that bragging makes us feel physically great. Bernstein explains:
According to the results of a series of experiments conducted by Harvard University neuroscientists and published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the reward areas of our brain- the same areas that respond to ‘primary rewards’ such as food and sex- are activated when we talk about ourselves. We devote between 30% and 40% of our conversation time to doing just that, (1).
So, in that case, how can I blame my “friend” for talking about herself so much? It clearly leads to an amazing feeling.
In another light, this could also be a classic case of context collapse, as explained by Michael Wesch within his lecture “An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube.” Essentially, the consumer may not interpret the same message/context within which the original producer intended their work to be received (22:26-22:38). I am certain that my “friend” is completely unaware that her posts are frustrating, rather than inspiring (which is what she may have intended). This is one of the major struggles of posting content on social media networking sites, and one we can all relate to.
Don’t get me wrong: I applaud this “friend” for maintaining an impressively healthy lifestyle, but let this serve as a shout-out to her: Be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished. You don’t need others to give you justification for choosing to live your life a certain way.
Also, post a picture of yourself eating a cupcake or a piece of pizza every once in awhile, to make the rest of us feel a little better. I will gladly “like” that picture.