Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
I used to love Facebook. Of course, I would have never admitted it. But the truth is, up until about 2010, Facebook was mainly a website for young people. Young people doing stupid things. And it was glorious. But now, I can't stand it. Now, all it is is one big family photo album full of weddings and babies all the time and I'm so bored with it I can barely bring myself to go on.
A new study is out about Facebook regret. Researchers explored what type of information people post to Facebook that they later regret and why. Interestingly enough, it reads to me like a litany of the Facebook posts of yore that are so frequently absent from newsfeeds nowadays. People regretted posting pictures of themselves partaking in illegal drugs or underage drinking. One of my favorite research subjects is the woman who regretted posting a video of her husband and her having sex when she accidentally tried to post a video of her daughter's first steps and didn't realize the mistake till the day after when she read the comments from her husband's coworkers. But most of the regrets are more trivial and reminded me of the small mundane ways people used to constantly embarrass themselves on social media: After being broken up with, one guy writes on his ex-girlfriend's wall "I f&*#ing hate you! You will never be loved again you anorexic piece of s#%!." Another guy said on his page that he wanted sex with a newly divorced friend. Another woman wrote on a friend's page congratulating her on her pregnancy only to be told that the friend wasn't pregnant but had undergone serious weight gain. Most of the participants then talked about how they became more careful after these experiences, sanitizing their walls and comments.
Which is exactly what I've noticed, and it's made Facebook suck. Facebook used to be one big dare to see who would really throw caution to the wind. People used to drink too much, use the grainy pixelated cameras on flip phones, and take truly embarrassing photos of themselves passed out on bathroom floors. Just from my newsfeed alone, I used to regularly see pictures of bongs, learned what a vaporizer was and began to wonder if maybe the life of a vandal was for me. I remember finding out an acquaintance of mine's husband was cheating on her when their status got changed from married to single, and a friend of the woman posted on her page about the lying cheating jerk she was married to. People used to write lots of flirty messages on the walls of their crushes or make plans to go to the spa in the middle of the day on a friend's wall as opposed to texting each other for no apparent reason except to make other people jealous. But just last week, one of my friend's posted on another friend's wall about Coachella plans and the next comment read "why don't you PM me," as in private message. I found this incredibly irritating. How am I going to know now if the place I'm staying at for Coachella is cooler than their place?
Facebook used to be about us. About my friends' lives and thoughts. But as my friends have gotten older, begun taking their jobs more seriously and started families, my Facebook experience has changed with them. It's like my timeline got married, knocked up and moved to the suburbs, and now all it wants to do all day is talk about new social networking sites for kids. It's practically impossible for me to go on and not come across new bridal pictures and baby photos. And, I'm sure this makes me a horrible person, but honestly, am I the only one that thinks all my friends' babies look alike? I get it, they're cute, you've dressed them well in ironic hipster onesies, but would it kill you to put up one drunk photo of yourself now and again? The worse is when they change their profile picture. I get it, now that you're a mom, you've moved so far beyond vanity that you no longer care about how you look, and the only thing in the world that matters is your kid. But come on, usually this is the same person that put up 500 different pictures posing in her wedding dress and is carefully culling every photo tag for unflattering pics to detag. It seems more plausible that you've changed your profile pic to your kid's because you are sure you officially have the most adorable baby in the world and want everyone to know.
This has all happened gradually, over the last few years, as our parents and bosses have become Facebook friends and as we've entered a new stage of life. But it seems to be at a critical mass; my friends only posts now are about what kind of food they're eating, where they're on vacation or how great their spouse and kids are. The only friends I have that post anything interesting are the ones that use Facebook to broadcast their extreme political views, usually with some preamble in the post about how they never normally post things but this petition is so worth it, or this one video will make you cry, or this one article will change your life. This group is somewhat annoying, but also somewhat tolerable because they're still willing to put themselves out there in a way; I may snicker behind their backs or talk about how crazy they are to all our mutual friends, but at least they're still interesting.
But all my other Facebook friends are just perennially lost to me. What happened to them? These are the friends that used to seem edgy and cooler than me and like their lives were one misstep away from an arrest. But now, every time I login, it's like going to Grandma's house in Florida while she flips through pictures of graduations and Bar Mitzvahs and weddings of people I don't know on occasions I don't care about it.
I'm guessing this may be acutely noticeable for my age group. Having been in college when Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and having joined very early on in 2004, I feel as though my generation is aging with Facebook -- literally I've almost spent a decade on the site. I understand, now that we're all older and care about human resources trolling through our online profiles and that our lives have changed and our posts will be different, but maybe that's a sign we need to bow out of Facebook. Maybe it's our time to turn it over to the younger generations. Let the younger generations make fools of themselves the way young kids do in epic ways on social media. But maybe we, the generation that started it, need to stop using it? The same way you stop going to college bars and get too old to sleep in your car or have blue hair or a tongue ring or work as a waitress for a living. Some things are better left for the young at a particular time in life -- maybe Facebook should be on that list. I was recently at a college bar where half the kids looked they had used fake IDs to get in. It was fun to look around and see how young and nervous everyone looked and how little they knew about their tolerance level. We had one drink but then we left. I didn't want to stay. It would have been weird now if all my friends wanted to go hang out there and talk about wedding planning or who was pregnant or how much being a lawyer sucks.
Dropping in on a college bar brought me a nice nostalgic feeling, but it's not where I belong anymore. Is Facebook really so different? It's something we did in college and our early 20s when we were reckless and didn't have a lot to lose. Can't we leave it at that? Embrace it for what it is, so it stays fun in our memories instead of trying to turn it into something we grow with? Once you have the urge to turn Facebook into a family album, let that be a sign that you've outgrown these britches. Join Flickr and send the albums to your friends. Turn your wedding website into a family website where you post pictures of your kids for the grandparents to see. Email links to Picasa. But please, I'm begging you, leave my news feed alone.
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April 2, 2013 | 11:33 am
Posted by Tamara Shayne Kagel
Much of the discussion surrounding Sheryl Sandberg's dictum in her recent book Lean In that women self-sabotage their careers by not speaking up and failing to be assertive has revolved around a woman's struggle to fulfill a desire for motherhood and a career. Having not yet entered that stage of life, I cannot speak to the motherhood aspect, about which much has been said. But it seems there is little controversy about this idea that women's docile behavior early on in our career or before motherhood is hindering our success in our professional lives. Sandberg argues women don't speak up because we want to be more "likeable" and cites research to support the contention that there is an inverse correlation with likeability and success for women. She specifically calls out young women, presuming that the reason we won't risk being labelled unlikeable by exhibiting aggressive behavior is because of our inclination to seek our colleagues' approbation. She says to us "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" The thing is, she may be right that we young women self-censor ourselves, but she ignores an alternative and very plausible reason for this -- one that women discuss privately in embarrassed tones. As junior high cliché as it sounds, single, ambitious women often wonder "will he like me if I speak up at the meeting? Will he think I'm obnoxious, overbearing or too aggressive? Might he be turned off and see me as unfeminine if I demand attention or claim leadership?"
This question has played a small part, but a part nonetheless, in my own life, and I wonder if for some other young women, it's an even bigger hindrance. For most of my life, under the tutelage of a mother who never in her life feared being labelled obnoxious, I followed Ms. Sandberg's advice. I was professionally aggressive, the only woman to walk up to the mic at a Q & A, the first to volunteer, the one who asked the most questions in a class. But there was a time in my twenties when I started to doubt myself when engaging in this behavior. When you're single for a while, you naturally start to wonder, am I doing something wrong? And so I began a biopsy of my behavior -- do I come off as too masculine? Do I scare men off? I remember being on a first date at a talk with "This American Life's" Ira Glass at Royce Hall in UCLA years ago when a Q & A session arose and a burning desire to ask a question quietly flared up inside of me. Usually, in situations like this I had always aggressively jumped up or loudly yelled to get a question asked with no fear. But this time, I looked at the man next to me and asked myself what would he think if I did that? I liked him and I wanted him to like me and I started to consider the cost of yelling out my question. Most men don't list aggressiveness as a quality they desire in a mate, so might he just label me as being weird or annoying or attention-seeking if I stand up to raise my hand? By the time I listed out all the possible names a man might call me for asking my question, the Q & A was over and I missed my chance.
I hated myself for censoring my behavior for a guy, but it was not the only date I went on where I chose to act more demurely and avoid incidents that might make me seem like a firebrand. Considering that recent surveys suggest 39% of people have dated a colleague (some surveys suggest the number is as high as 56%) coupled with the existence of a number of women whose love interests go unrequited, a certain percentage of women are monitoring their behaviors at the workplace based on what a guy might think. How many women hold back in speaking up at a meeting, asking for a raise or criticizing a work product because of how a perceived love interest might react?
Of course, this whole discussion is regressive and embarrassing to admit. While for a sizable measure of the population, it is noble and respectable to limit one's career ambitions for the sake of a prosperous household, no woman wants to admit something as juvenile as having not spoken up in a meeting because of a secret workplace crush. But anecdotally, it seems to happen all the time to women I know who are lawyers and executives, so it doesn't seem far-fetched to say some percentage of women out there are doing this. And for single women who desire a relationship, potential love interests are anything but trivial. The desire for love and companionship in navigating the quagmires of our futures is real and universal and a strong motivator in our actions so dismissing these fears is no easy task.
So the next question that arises is how well-founded is this fear we have of turning off men by being "aggressive" or "obnoxious?" Do men really find women who speak up less attractive, or are we just doing this to ourselves because women are as guilty of men of being misguided by societal notions to believe traditional notions of femininity are what men want? I have no idea. But I do know that it doesn't happen to all men. Over a year ago, I was at a different talk for an NPR show, this time it was "Radiolab," and again, when the Q & A rolled around, I had a burning desire to shout in a booming voice my potentially noisome question. This time, I was next to my current boyfriend and for a fleeting second, that old self-doubt entered my mind -- would he think I was obnoxious? I could check with him first and ask him what he thought about my question or tell him to ask for me. But I could no longer pretend to be something I'm not, namely quiet -- maybe I am a little obnoxious, but shouldn't he still like me anyway? So with no warning I shouted out to the hosts on the stage, Jad and Robert, and heard my voice echo as the thousands of people in Royce Hall quieted down to listen to the lone women in the audience who had asked a question. "Good question" my boyfriend whispered and squeezed my hand.
Maybe if we do what Sheryl Sandberg suggests and 'lean in' by risking more aggressive behavior, although there will still be men who will label us as unlikeable or annoying, not all of them will. At the end of the day, all you really need to find is one guy out there who will like you even when you are obnoxious. And if someone thinks you're annoying for being aggressive, then he's probably not the one anyway. And perhaps if we all give up our fear of being a little obnoxious, we'll stop thinking of loud women as obnoxious and redefine what's considered sexy and attractive in the first place. There was a time not that long ago when any woman with a career was considered unattractive and had to listen to countless warnings of you'll never find a husband. But now, that seems as ridiculous and outmoded as Patti Stanger trying to convince women that men don't like curly hair. Men's opinions of what is sexy and confident evolves as our culture's opinions of what is sexy and confident evolves. If we decide we all need to speak up more and be more aggressive in our career-driven daily lives, we can redefine what is attractive to a man. In the meantime, let everyone else talk behind my back about how unlikeable I am. I found one person who's going to like me anyway. Meanwhile, I get to take Sandberg's advice to lean in and be as assertive as any man would be while pursuing my career.