The other day I read a disturbing Facebook status update: a man wished his wife a happy anniversary.
Of all the modes of communication to declare continued love for his lady, he decided that the more private methods wouldn’t suffice. No, a public declaration was necessary to emphasize that he’s yet to reconsider his commitment to their union.
A romantic may interpret this gesture as the digital equivalent to shouting from a mountaintop, demonstrating to the entire world that his love has no limit. A culture critic, on the other hand, sees something else.
This man’s anniversary message was neither the first nor the last of its kind. In fact, Facebook has primarily become a depository for people who feel the urge to announce life’s most noteworthy milestones with the same aplomb as its more mundane observations. By no means is a wedding anniversary mundane, especially by contemporary standards, but both ends of the Facebook status spectrum beg an important question: for whom are these updates really posted?
Most of us on this planet view life as something to “get right,” or at least figure out. And the typical script of marriage and children accounts for a substantial amount of the online posts that demonstrate our need to feel validated by others. Insecurity must be what prompts us to crave the literigurative thumbs up, because whether the tiramisu you made came out too great to NOT photograph or your 2-year old son finally DIDN’T smear poo everywhere, we feel the need to make it everyone else’s business.
But why? It’s unlikely that the majority of our Facebook friends will ever savor a repeat of that tasty treat. And humans (most of us, anyway) eventually find less disgusting mediums with which to paint, so to whom should these posts matter besides the couple that barred you and your kid from play dates until he stops making shit-murals?
Of course, before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other outlets like them, emphasizing experiences at their own expense happened with more primitive technology. The emergence of handheld camcorders afforded a new way to remind us of major milestones as well as customary moments that no one really cared to experience even as they happened. Before that, families amassed libraries of photo albums that now serve primarily as a monument to hideous fashion and even worse hair.
Today, the high volume of online posts plays a more ironic role; as technology facilitates documentation of life, our experiences have become more disposable, less rich. The era has arrived during which people are subject to by-the-hour coverage of honeymoons and childbirths, with the handheld device now an integral part of the family. But if our inability to remember phone numbers anymore is any indication that technology is supplanting our memories, how long before we all struggle mightily to recall the funny thing she said on that gondola ride, or the story the nurse told us about the last lady who refused an epidural? “I don’t remember; I was Instagramming at the time” may be a likely refrain in coming generations, one that makes me sad already.
The debate about whether technology is uniting or dividing us includes valid arguments from both sides, concluding that humanity as we know it has always been fraught with reconciling its communal nature with the merits of individual achievement. So while the Internet is not an external force imposing its will on a resistant society, it does indicate our priorities.
Such is my right on Facebook, I commented on the adoring husband’s update: “Dude, she’s right there; just tell her.” But even then I knew I was missing the point. His post, along with the millions like it, were hardly for the addressed second person. And although our thirst for validation predates the ‘Like’ button, I worry that relying on technology to manage our experiences may cheapen them in a way that makes them unworthy replicas of the moments we were trying to capture in the first place.
So my plea is not that we abandon the technologies that have changed our culture, but rather that we ask ourselves whether posting our experiences is worth compromising the experience itself. Let’s see what happens when our phones don’t frame our lives, when we embrace the idea that our happy moments aren’t always everyone else’s business or at the very least…maybe…just maybe…no one on the Internet should give a shit.