Fear of missing out means I can’t ditch the thumbs up

There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of self-admiration. The problem with Facebook’s pervasive ’thumbs up’ is not that it puffs up egos, but that it completely punctures them, writes Clodagh Finn

COULD it be that Facebook’s thumbs-up ‘like’ icon is the most powerful and tyrannical symbol of our time?

Of course, in one way, it’s just a bit of innocent fun.

What harm if you find yourself sucked into the vortex of Facebook several times a day, clicking your approval as you’re whisked through a mind-boggling array of posts.

After all, your voice — sorry, thumb — counts.

And so you hear that Pippin has used the cat-flap for the first time.

Thumbs up.

Scroll down.

Isn’t it a disgrace that an author of Donal Ryan’s calibre can’t earn a living as a writer in Ireland and has to return to his civil service job?

Thumbs up.

Scroll again, this time going deeper down the rabbit hole.

And it really does feel as if you’ve tumbled, head first, into some sort of dystopian wonderland when you see read that CNN is running with the following headline: ‘Trump doesn’t own a bathrobe’.

Somehow ‘thumbs down’ just doesn’t seem enough for a post like that.

Thank heavens helpful Facebook added five new emojis in 2014 to help us nuance our outpouring of emotion.

Apparently, you’d need 20 to 25 digital buttons — so few? — to express the full complexity of human feeling but that involves far too much clicking, not to mention subtlety, so the number was whittled down to six.

But that’s plenty to be going on with because once you’re bobbing along on the roiling sea of Facebook spin and spoof, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the emotion rising to the surface.

It’s a little like gorging on Big Mac meals — you come away feeling fit to burst and strangely empty at the same time.

Was that envy of the deepest shade of green that coursed through your veins when you saw several of your closest 900 friends leading bright and shiny lives in permutations too numerous to mention?

Or was it something else?

Hard to say.

To be fair, there’s some great stuff too. I chanced across a video of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing a tap dance routine and it filled my day with an expected ray of sunshine.

I also laughed out loud at this: “Wife: Look, I haven’t worn this in 8 years and it still fits!’” Husband: “For God’s sake woman, it’s a scarf!” And, to be fair, there is the real thrill of being connected to people who will wish you ‘Happy Birthday’ when they are prompted.

One Facebook friend put it beautifully this week when he posted: “Don’t care what anyone says, FB is great for reconnecting and keeping in touch. I could hear each voice and see your face when I read your greeting and as much as I try to pretend to blow birthdays off, it meant a lot. One life. x” Nice one.

But what’s the best way of describing that feeling when your self-esteem hits the ground with a dull, hollow thud after being exposed to the wrecking-ball of external validation?

There are those who criticise Facebook for encouraging narcissism.

Last year, a university actually studied a group of supremely fit people who charted every move in their gym routines on Facebook.

The researchers came to the conclusion that those people “tended to be narcissists”.

If only the ‘wow’ emoji could be infused with a little hint of irony.

Let’s not get distracted here.

There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of self-admiration.

We’ve had decades of self-flagellation and put-downs; if you run 3km on a Monday night, you’re absolutely entitled to shout about it.

The problem with Facebook’s pervasive ‘thumbs up’ is not that it puffs up egos, but that it completely punctures them.

It does so in two ways: it makes us look for approval in places where we won’t find it and it leaves us open to the merciless whims of others.

And yet we can’t stop.

Post a pic and wait for the dopamine rush as it is received, or not, in a world governed by the rule of thumbs.

IF only the insidious ‘like’ phenomenon were confined to the digital ether.

Will we look back on the era of Facebook and say it was responsible for making us crave external attention and esteem not only online but in real life too?

A friend recently made the keen observation that a Facebook ‘like’ and a KPI — if you’re not aware, that stands for key performance indicators, count your blessings — were frighteningly similar.

How many workers are forced to hold up their professional contribution against some outsider’s notion of what it is to be a good [insert your profession, trade or calling here].

As Astute Friend put it: “It’s as if they hold up this funhouse mirror to an organisation and they expect us to undergo plastic surgery so that we look normal in the mirror. It turns our normal appearance into the freak show.”

There are few people in the workforce whose performance looks good when refracted through a manufactured KPI, just as there are few surfers who come away from Facebook feeling entirely adequate.

A KPI might say something useful in management-speak, but more often than not it feels like an indiscriminate ‘like’ on a Facebook page from someone who doesn’t really understand a business’s core activity.

And, like Facebook, they’re an endless distraction — hours of form-filling that inform metrics of dubious value.

Thumbs down to that, or perhaps I should keep schtum because all those thumb-prints are being fed into the maw of a giant data-crunching machine which can pretty much tell what kind of shoes I’m wearing.

I’m damned if the connecterati get to pass judgment on my blue floral clogs, but every time I go to delete my account a little voice urges me to log on, just one more time.

They call it FOMO, fear of missing out.

And missing out is the very worst fate that can befall a person in 2017.


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