Our lives may be full, and our experiences rich, but when it comes to squeezing the latest mini-chapters of our personal journeys into the limited space of a Facebook status update–with the added pressures of being clever, looking cool, sounding interesting, and eliciting responses–there are only so many ways to tell the folks on our social networks all about it. You begin see the same stuff over and over again: “Sean is hungry.” “Chris is tired.” “Ann is in a boring meeting.” “Bob had a crazy dream.” “Jane needs to study.”
English professors claim that there are relatively few distinct story plots, and that every piece of literature is just a retelling of one of those narrative archetypes. I’m convinced that the same is true of the things people write in their Facebook status updates. On the following pages you’ll meet some of the most common “archetypes” I’ve recorded so far.
The ‘Okay, This Person’s Life Is Legitimately Interesting’ Update
“Greta Schurman qualified for the Olympics!!”
“Jared Penn arrested five big-time mob bosses today.”
“Adam Melby is safe in his Baghdad hotel after a bomb exploded at the market.”
Face it, Facebook fans. Many of us go there to record mundane activities like grocery shopping and watching TV. But once in awhile somebody posts a status update that leaves you wondering, “Wow, your life is that interesting and you still think it’s worth logging on to Facebook?”
Social networking is a paradox because usually the people who are the most active online are the least active in real life. At least that’s a common criticism. Is it a fair assessment? We’re not so sure, but it does warm our heart when we see people manage to lead an exotic life offline and still show up online to tell the rest of us about it in an ‘Okay, This Person’s Life Is Legitimately Interesting’ update. Unless, of course, it’s actually an ‘I’m a Big Liar’ update.
Now, off to drink some water and brush my teeth.
The ‘My Job Sucks’ Update
“Ann Ash is in a meeting, yet again.”
“Mindy Theo wants out of this cubicle!”
“Alex White would rather work at Dunder Mifflin.”
Since so many of us are attending to Facebook while working, it’s no wonder that the ‘My Job Sucks’ update is so popular. Work is on our minds. And often it sucks! If it’s not the mind-numbing work you’re assigned to do, then it’s your insensitive boss, your hectic commute, your chatty coworker, your long hours, the bad coffee in the break room, the bad smell in the bathroom, or the bad severance package that you’re anticipating any day now.
On the other hand, if you’re inspired to post yet another ‘My Job Sucks’ update, at least it means you aren’t in a position to post an even less enviable ‘Help! I Really Need a Job!’ update.
The ‘Oh Come On, Just Tell Us What It Is–Are You Dying?’ Update
“Lewis Davies just got some sad news.”
“Abigail Evans feels sick about what happened today.”
“Debby Stein can barely breathe over this.”
You clearly have some big bad news–so bad, in fact, that you can share only the vague news that you have news, not any of the details. As a result, the rest of us have to write you private messages, fearing that a wall post or status comment is too public!
With the ‘Oh Come On, Just Tell Us What Happened–Are You Dying?‘ update, you elicit tons of sympathy and worry. But either your news is too sad and personal to bear mentioning on Facebook at all (so shame on you for exploiting it) or you’re being melodramatic (so shame on you for taking up our time and sympathy). None of that would happen if you just cut to the chase: Are you dying? Or did you just spill marinara sauce on your nice white pants?
“Nora Leo loved spontaneous salsa dancing in the park today! Yay, sunshine!!”
“Vicky Tabor had the best ever DQ Blizzard and now gets to see Cheryl and Tyler at the Toby Keith concert!!!! Life rocks!!!!!!!!”
“Aaron Proctor found an extra quarter in the Laundromat change machine!”
The ‘You Never Seem This Happy in Real Life’ updates come from the mopers and negative Nellies in your life who never have anything positive to say in person, but who magically transform into positive-thinking Pollyannas when they assume their virtual identities: Suddenly they’re all ga-ga over cheap gas or good weather.
Facebook is full of giddy people bouncing off the walls, often over very simple pleasures. In fact, sometimes the simple pleasures often seem to get more than their share of the limelight–maybe because the poster feels pressure to make something out of nothing–or because many truly thrilling moments aren’t appropriate for a status update: “Yay, my cancer is gone!” “Yay, I got into Harvard and my best friend didn’t!” “Yay, my wife is finally losing all that extra weight!” So instead, we revel publicly in the small things. And as a result, our online persona may be a lot sunnier than our real-life presence.
The ‘Look How in Love I Am’ Update
“Pete Lark sends a kiss to the love of his life and future wife!”
“Holly Quint could lie in bed with Ben forever.”
“Bob Chani adores his sweetheart more than life itself.”
Though our own love lives gravitate toward the “it’s complicated” description on Facebook, yours seems to be 100 percent perfect–and naturally we love hearing about it every day. But sarcasm aside, what compels some people to gush on Facebook? Could it be that they’re overcompensating for something–that they feel a need to prove something to others…or to themselves?
Undoubtedly the ‘Look How in Love I Am’ update is sometimes an expression of innocent exuberance–the product of a person overcome by joy and appreciation for their significant other. But not always. Sometimes it’s an attempt to quell internal doubts (“See? I really must be in love”) or a coded message to an ex (“I’m happier without you, loser!”).
The ‘Big News Break’ Update
“Kelly Babson is PREGNANT!”
“Jeremiah Post quit his job.”
“Sybil Connor is finally free after a month in jail!”
When you encounter a ‘Big News Break’ update, you need to be aware of a couple of things as you read it:
1. The poster’s real friends already know the big news.
2. Therefore, the point of the announcement is to solicit compliments, shock, or other strong reactions from the poster’s second- or third-level “friends.” That means you: you who don’t occupy a high enough rung on the ladder of intimacy to merit a call or in-person conversation about whatever the big news is.
Face it: When you get pregnant, you’re not going to tell your best friend over Facebook. No, the ‘Big News Break’ update is specifically targets people who aren’t among the inner circle of friends. But we’re not knocking it. Facebook is all about lesser friends, and there’s nothing wrong with second-tier.
The ‘Too Much Information (TMI)’ Update
“Bob Levin is still gassed from his long-delayed sigmoidoscopy.”
“Joe Kass can’t stop picking his nose.”
“Jodi Portia is having the heaviest period ever!”
Who needs juicy third-person gossip when Facebookers seem more than willing to reveal intimate details of their own private lives to a horrified yet fascinated public? Nothing is off limits when it comes to the ‘Too Much Information (TMI)’ update. From behind the veil of Facebook faux-anonymity, people will talk openly about their sex lives, body issues, bad habits, secret thoughts, perverted minds, and weird quirks.
Sure, a TMI update might make your readers cringe, but there’s something liberating about exposing your inner demons to a generally supportive community of online friends. And who knows–maybe someone will comment in agreement, making you feel less alone.
The ‘Passive Aggressive’ Update
“Gabe Samson would rather not, thank you very much.”
“Mary Hales told you so.”
“Brenna Vogel could do without THAT in her life.”
Though Facebook invites a wide range of uncomfortable dialogue and public displays of TMI (see the previous slide), a line remains in place that many social networkers won’t cross. They’ll suggest that they’re angry, but they won’t say why; or they’ll express frustration about something or someone in their life, but they won’t provide any specifics about who or what is getting on their nerves.
Like passive-aggressive behavior in real life, the ‘Passive Aggressive’ update lets you grumble without truly confronting your problem. It means omitting details but adopting a tone that’s just bitter enough to let everyone to know you’re disappointed, and it might also send a message to the particular person who is getting under your skin.
The ‘Song Quote’ Update
“Liza Kitter kissed a girl, and she liked it!”
“Robin Lamb forget her umbrella, ella, ella, ella.”
“Isaac Clapp won’t hesitate no more no more.”
If you’re a frequent Facebooker, you’ve undoubtedly suffered at one point or another from status update block–and that’s when the ‘Song Quote’ update can come in handy. It’s pretty self-explanatory: When you can’t think of anything good to say, summon a good poet or lyricist, and just like that you’ll have have one of the most compelling status updates around. Plus, song writers are adept at zeroing in on universal themes like love, loneliness, hope, despair, and forgotten umbrellas, so why not just channel the pros when you can’t think of the exact right words to sum up your mood?
The ‘I’m Tired, and Here’s How Many Hours of Sleep I Got Last Night’ Update
“Dan Wright was up till 3 and up again at 6 for work.”
“Chris Keel is functioning (barely) on 2 hours of sleep.”
“Inge Neal did not get her required 8 hours and wishes she could take a nap.”
Is this really an update? We’re all tired, always. Isn’t that a given? We all work too hard and stay up too late watching TV and surfing the Internet and Facebooking ourselves into bleary-eyed oblivion. A real update would be the refreshing exclamation, “I feel so AWAKE today!”
And yet the ‘I’m Tired, and Here’s How Many Hours of Sleep I Got Last Night’ updates persist. People tend to aim for scientific precision when it comes to hours spent in Zone Z, so as to prove that while everyone else may be in a sort of mild daze, they are genuinely sleep-deprived. But it probably means nothing more than that they’re too tired to think of something more interesting to say.