I owe a lot of my social life to Facebook. I joined at a close friend’s suggestion back when it was still thefacebook.com, back when it was university-only and I could refer to people’s profile images as their “Facebook photos” because it hadn’t yet become the largest image-hosting service on the planet. It rapidly became a low-effort way for me to stay apprised of my friends’ activities and life events, a way to occasionally meet new people, and a way to rapidly get basic info about people I’d just met elsewhere and figure out whether I wanted to deal with them any further. Facebook was a big part of how I came out as an atheist, among other instances of shedding secrecy, and it continues to be part of how I explore and define myself. I have an extended network of like-minded fellows largely because Facebook let me become far better informed about people than AOL Instant Messenger or face-to-face contact ever would.
This widening of my horizons is made possible by the way social networks like Facebook combine a personal statement, a connection diagram, and a 24-hour cocktail party. Only in this cocktail party, it’s not just okay but intentional and expected that everyone is constantly eavesdropping on everyone else to degrees that would get people thrown out of regular parties. Communication no longer has to be direct, immediate, and personal, and anything that takes the need for synchronicity out of talking to people meets with my swift approval. I do not have the time, energy, or inclination to stay on top of all of the people whose life events interest me or vice versa, except by a channel like this.
So it baffles me that the otherwise consistently wonderful Wait But Why has arranged for people talking about their own life events, in and of itself, to occupy all seven entries in a list of “Seven Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook.” This person, in no uncertain terms, finds other people sharing good or bad news about their own affairs to be a personal affront, a way by which people extract pleasure from others without offering them anything in return.
I am blown away by the sheer narcissism of this concept.
Apparently, the writer of Wait But Why cannot imagine reasons why people would want to share good news from their personal affairs besides wanting to induce jealousy in their friends and family. The idea that one’s friends and family might have a preexisting interest in one’s activities (by virtue of caring about one as a person) seems to not exist in WBW’s universe. As WBW sees it, the only possible motives for talking about one’s activities are all prurient trolling for undeserved attention. Apparently, everyone Tim Urban knows is the villain from a 1980s teen movie. This would perhaps explain why Tim Urban cannot deal with Facebook like a reasonable person.
Out here in reality, people experience happiness when people they care about have good news, whether that good news is finally earning their Ph.D. or coming home from a well-spent vacation. People have suggestions and comments and snarky rejoinders for when that one out-of-touch contact of theirs finally discovers something they’ve known is wonderful for a while. People derive pleasure and make new friends by sharing things they’ve enjoyed and finding that other people enjoy them too. People learn about and better themselves by sharing philosophical thoughts and seeing what other people have to say about them…or who says nothing at all in response. Facebook and similar social networks make all of that and more possible by demolishing the exhausting, time-consuming smallness of the social world and replacing it with something boundless in time and space.
And into that vastness, Tim Urban of Wait But Why casts only annoyance that other people are ever happy about anything, because he is constitutively incapable of sharing in others’ joy and regards all expressions thereof as cruel taunts. Where other people find a means of communicating and staying in touch with multitudes of human connections, Tim Urban sees only a television channel that “selfishly” refuses to keep him in particular continuously entertained. His world is apparently a deeply awful place.
Also? Referring to someone’s complaint about being sexually harassed in public as a “humblebrag”? Classy.