Cyberclinic: The grass is always greener on social media

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The Independent Tech

If you feel that life has just poured lager on your sun lounger, it's an automatic reflex these days to head to the welcoming arms of social media, where a bunch of humans with similar interests, frailties and hang-ups will provide a temporary distraction from your woes.

Unfortunately, our impulse to post tweets and status updates that celebrate our more fortuitous moments can inspire jealousy-related loathing in anyone who happens to be feeling slightly sub-par. Some wise sage has identified a mental state known as FOMO – fear of missing out – that social media tend to aggravate; the knowledge that, say, friends of yours are participating in some diamond-studded orgy of excitement to which you haven't been invited. But I'd broaden that out to a more all-encompassing state of irritation: OFOF, or Overriding Feeling Of Failure.

There's really no need for us to feel this way, but we do.

When I was young my parents would say: "It's not a popularity contest," whenever I bemoaned having to do something that might make me stick out unattractively from the crowd. But social media is the definition of a popularity contest, with prominently displayed totals of friends or followers being the most obvious manifestation of that. We're engaged in a permanent public relations drive, compelled to broadcast our delight when everything is going swimmingly. This may be a casual admission that you're having a lovely evening in with your partner who's just made you a lasagne and is about to give you an Ayurvedic massage, but a sizable proportion of people reading will be thinking: "Up yours, no-one loves me and I've just burned my mouth on a Kellogg's Pop-Tart." It might be a more obvious gloat: a photo of a glorious view from your well-appointed hotel room or that hardy perennial social media announcement: "Wow! I've just had some amazing news, but I can't say what it is!" To which the only response can be frustrated curiosity, or withering annoyance.

Perhaps the purest distillation of this phenomenon is the almost pathological behaviour – mainly by celebrities – of reposting every online compliment they receive for everyone else to see. OFOF.

I rail against this in my own pathetic way by posting honest appraisals of my state of mind when I'm feeling dreadful, although that's probably interpreted as neediness and sympathy seeking. Constant streams of personal revelations are frequently going to provoke emotional reactions in others; after all, they never used to hear about this stuff, but now they have their noses rubbed in it. Rather like the media overload that leads to stacks of unwatched DVDs and folders full of unread web links, there's social overload, too. One that, in the words of one eminent professor of psychology, makes us afraid that we've made the wrong decision about how to spend our time. The grass is always greener, in other words. But we can't be everywhere, we can't do everything, we won't always outperform our mates. It's just digital envy. I'll try and remember this next time I find myself sitting in on a Saturday night, turning to Twitter to chat with others in the same boat, only to discover that they're eating some luxuriously posh ice-cream and all I've got in my freezer is the remnants of a moth-ridden scarf.

As if we weren't all hell bent enough on immortalising ourselves digitally, the iPhone 4 is automatically assisting us in our efforts according to a number of troubled souls currently posting on an Apple discussion forum.

When using Apple's video calling software, FaceTime, some users have been confronted with what they claim to be a random photograph of themselves that they have no memory of taking.

And the iPhone 4 has, they claim, taken of its own free will.

There may be a case for not using your device in a state of undress while this glitch is resolved, although one bored forum member neatly satirised the sweeping paranoia: "A few days ago an image of me riding a horse on the beach showed up for a few seconds. I don't remember taking that picture. The strangest thing is that I've never even ridden a horse before, or been to the beach. So creepy."

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