I am about a month into this Facebook experiment and I’m finding it alternately interesting and a chore.
The interesting parts come from the content that my friends and family post; it’s a real variety, as I’m sure it is for everyone on Facebook. There’s pictures of the kids’ latest games or school accomplishments, laughable moments when someone paints the family dog or puts make-up on a parent; there’s work rants and engagement notices and of course the ubiquitous happy birthday notices that scroll. There’s tirades against the tyranny, protest against the patriarchy, support for soldiers and friendly philanthropy. I see windows into hobbies (miniatures, comic books, quilts, photography), windows into travel (Spain, Japan, England, Australia), windows into houses (parties, selling-of-the-house, buying-of-the-house, the ever-popular remodeling-of-the-house — oh, and the building-of-the-house).
I de-muted a lot of folks shortly after the election because, like everyone else, I was in a bubble; however I note that I wasn’t missing the political posts so much as the non-political ones. I can get my politics from the Economist and NPR, but the Economist and NPR can’t show me the progress my friend has made on her garden.
Which brings me to the chore: curation. What should *I* post on Facebook, to show that I’m engaged? Am I doing it right?
The concept of Facebook curation is not new and it’s been studied (particularly as to its impacts on mental health). The idea that I should/will consider what I post, the varied audience, etc. before I post means I am not being my “authentic” self and thusly am showing only the “best” side I have, therefore setting a higher standard for others.
This sounds so impressive, except that I’m pretty sure that my quest to find the very best protein powder, or inability to fire the correct muscle groups in my left butt cheek, or continual surprise at insomnia when it decides to rear its ugly head, all of which are authentic, are not my best side. Perhaps I’m not curating correctly.
I therefore started to look through my feed to see if I could find an example of curation. I believe the point of curation is to show your very best self, so the criteria I used to identify curation was that the post itself had to be positive or show the post-er in a positive light (not neutral or negative). The post couldn’t be commentary on a news item *unless* the poster had an accompanying lengthy position statement to demonstrate knowledge of the space. The pictures must be flattering, if there are/were pictures.
I found three genre of possible curation: My Life is Instagram Fabulous, I Have a Lot of Friends, and I am a Positive Person.
My Life is Instagram Fabulous is the person who takes great pictures. Either a set of three or four, or a polite collage, all framed properly and tastefully filtered or cropped. Some of them are actual photographers so this makes sense, and generally speaking their content is mostly photo and a little text. Often this links to their Instagram account (I don’t yet play there but maybe I should). These are some of my more artistic friends.
The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. they are expressing themselves in the medium to which they already have an affinity (these are the folks who were running around with actual film cameras back in the day and were probably the school photographer) and 2. I know them and have seen how/when the pictures get produced; yes there is forethought and planning but it’s mostly to capture the *feeling* of the moment and not to convey something artificial.
I Have a Lot of Friends is the person who seems to be permanently at parties and gatherings. As an extroverted introvert this exhausts me but I can see they are having fun. Usually there are large group photos, group selfies and photos of tasty-looking food and/or the theme of said party. I have more than a few green pictures right now thanks to St. Paddy’s. The pics seem to be taken early in the party (everyone fresh!) and midway (everyone having fun!) but not towards the end, which we all know is when your mascara is running a bit and your lipstick has worn off and everyone is exclaiming that they don’t usually yawn at 9:30/11/1am but they got up early that morning. (A note about the photos: one of my friends is a beauty queen — honest to goodness, complete with the sash — and never, ever takes a bad photo. Ever.)
The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. when was the last time you went to a party and took pics at the end? You didn’t. You were having too good a time, or you rationalized that you already took all of the pics and there wasn’t a point in doing more. Secondly, the whole point of Facebook is to network among friends, so naturally events that tie two or more people together within the platform would be appropriate to post.
I am a Positive Person is the person who posts a lot of life-affirming, positive statements. They can either be the someecard style, or the motivational-poster style. They tend to be posted in fits and spurts, leading me to believe that there is some aggregator of these things that people can pick one or more at a given time and simply share to their wall.
The problem with pointing a finger and saying they are curating is that 1. these tend to be something that everyone could benefit from (or get a laugh from), so from the “my life is more wonderful than yours” aspect — which honestly seems to be the sort of curation that is criticized — it doesn’t add up. If you want your life to be more wonderful than mine by comparison then don’t share a great lifehack about gym prep or affixing importance to given events (don’t sweat the small stuff). Secondly, I get the impression that the Positive Person is trying to boost themselves and others as an aspect of this, and that isn’t curation so much as it is, I think, affirmation.
As I review this list and attempt to see if I am Doing It Right it occurs to me that I’ve fallen prey to survivorship bias. If we posit that “bad” curation (the kind mental health researchers are rightfully worried about) is the act of displaying only a competitive, positive slice of your life at the expense of other parts of your life — I’m thinking teen girls mostly thanks to the literature around this — I don’t have many friends (even Facebook friends) that fall prey to this. (You could argue I don’t have many friends. That may be true.) The sample set weeded itself out before I sent (or accepted) the invite. You could make the argument that you pick friends and don’t pick your family — but my family is the one that helped create my mindset (think lots of Nova/Nature shows, learning to balance a checkbook at 10 and do my own taxes at 14, and a severe distaste for bullshit) and so they don’t tend to share this predilection.
So I think I’ll just keep posting whatever I think is appropriate to share on Facebook — with “appropriate” defined as probably not the contents of the morning’s bowel movement or things of a similarly super-private nature — and we’ll see if someone gets jealous of my insomnia or failing gluteus minimus sinister.