My “A-ha” Moment About the “Spiral of Envy”

Today’s entry from Mark Schaefer’s {grow} blog, “Facebook, the ‘spiral of envy,’ and our Botox life,” put into succinct words precisely what has nagged and pulled at me about social media for the past two years. The crux of Mark’s essay was that we put so much gleam and shine on our online lives that it drives others into this descent into digital madness, where we constantly feel the need to one-up our friends, or we succumb to the illusion that our world is a grayer, less exciting version of what we see on Facebook, et al. One of the commenters labeled this the “Jones effect” (as in “keeping up with the Joneses”), and that’s the perfect way to describe it. It’s an dramatic arms race: our friends showcase their (so-called) awesome lives, and we feel we need to make ours more awesome as a result. No wonder folks get all bent out of joint in these realms.

This phenomenon affected me in the latter way: feeling what I was doing here was less important and less worthy than what others were saying out there. I’ve written a few times about the so-called “silent partners” in our online relationships: those folks who follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook, and yet never seem to either read, acknowledge, or respond to you from that point forward. I couldn’t figure it out, despite my best efforts, and I dropped my usage to the ultimate bare minimum for several months last year as a result. Now I have something I can use to identify this sensation, and it makes that much more sense.

People put so much guilt around our online relationships. You do it, and others around you do it. Don’t dare unfollow someone on Twitter or unfriend someone on Facebook lest they find out! Better to use some curated list or hide posts instead. It’s all so much unnecessary subterfuge. We need to be honest and just realize that we’re all people. We post because we want a reaction. Sometimes they’re trivial things, but we want a reaction all the same. So, it seems natural that people will decide to share things that are the pinnacle of wit, wisdom, weariness, or woe. Mark’s right: we don’t hear about the paint drying or toddler accidents; that’s the unattractive back alley side of life. But, we also need to realize that not everyone wants to hear those shards of our shiny lives, so it shouldn’t faze us if some folks tune out.

Your life is awesome. Perhaps not today, but your life is awesome. Don’t let those shiny “Botox lives” tell you otherwise.


  • Carole Verona

    To answer your questions or to post a meaningful comment
    here, I would have to go back to school and get a PhD in communications or
    maybe in sociology. I would have to look up the etymology of the words
    “social,” “media,” and “social media.” I would have to document how each of
    these words or concepts applied or applies to our efforts to make contact with
    one another since the beginning of our time on earth.  Hieroglyphics cave drawings, smoke signals,
    telephone, telegraph, radio, TV, letters, newspapers, magazines, and now Facebook
    and Twitter.


    I was around when Al Gore invented the Internet, so I know
    first-hand that what we call social media is a recent development in the
    evolution of how we communicate. I believe that it is part of a giant
    experiment and we are still figuring out how we are supposed to use these
    tools. And by the time we figure it out, we will have moved on to a new
    development or trend.


    I mean, how seriously can we take all of this if pizza
    joints and shoe stores insist that we “like” them on Facebook?


    I posted something about my cat and got 17 “likes” from
    people all around the world – some of whom I’ve never even met. That’s
    hilarious! I got a warm and fuzzy feeling from that. Mission accomplished.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Awesome! Thanks for carrying the conversation forward!