“Keeping up with the Joneses” was a phrase that gained a foothold in American culture during the 1950’s, when we were enjoying the post World War II boom. It describes the desire on the part of the average family to have the latest and greatest of everything, coupled with the sensation that everyone else has one that is just a little bit later and greater. The “Joneses” represent our fictional neighbors who seem to be doing better and having more fun than we are and stand for that brass ring that we will continually reach for and sadly never grasp. We are the horses in the park who spend the whole day following the carrot at the end of the stick.
I experience that sensation despite the fact that I know that I should be above it. I live in a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood. I have a pool and live close to the ocean. I drive a nice car and collect guitars and surfboards. I have friends and family that I love and who love me. I am blessed. Yet, every time the neighbor from the end of the block drives past my house in his brand new truck with his brand new boat, I am filled with the sense that he and his family are off on yet another adventure that is going to be so much more awesome than whatever me and my family are doing, and I am filled with the green bile of jealousy. I can’t help it.
William Deresiewicz’s article, “The End of Solitude” made me realize that I get the exact same sensation from social media; only the feeling is so much more intense. The realization that I came to is that with hundreds of my “friends” parading their toys, anniversaries, accolades, parties, vacations, homes, kids and witticisms past me at the same time, it’s like the neighbor’s boat going by every thirty seconds, all day and night. Of course I realize that everyone is putting only their best on display; they don’t publicize their layoffs, divorces, DUI’s, and gray hairs, and that the whole thing is a sham, but the effect is the same. After ten minutes on Facebook I feel somehow inferior; like everyone else is having an absolute blast and I’m stuck here loading the dishwasher.
If anything, it’s taught me to be more guarded about what I share online. I no longer feel the need to brag or boast and am wary of those who do. I post esoteric things now; the rainbow I saw tonight at sunset, the remains of the mauled chocolate bunny on the kitchen counter, the joke my aunt forwarded me. My one exception is bragging about my kids, because well, they’re freaking awesome and way better than your kids! (I’m kidding, but I am very proud of them and cannot resist the urge to live vicariously through them from time to time with the hope that their awesomeness is somehow genetic)
Deresiewicz laments the “end of solitude” in his article, but after reading it I somehow crave more – at least online I do.