Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Facebook is giving us a new way to keep up with the Joneses, and a new way to worry that we may not be keeping up, the fear of missing out:

Today, where you are, how you are feeling, what you are doing, and what you have done have suddenly become valuable social currency — just as they were before the 20th century.

Then, most people lived in small communities. Everyone knew everybody else in the village. That meant everyone would just as likely know what you did with your time as how many possessions you owned, and how expensive and how good those possessions were. That meant, for signaling your status to others and establishing your place in the village’s social hierarchy, what you did was as important as what you owned. To signal status, the conspicuous consumption of leisure — that is, experiences — was equal to the conspicuous consumption of goods.

It was the arrival of cities that changed all that. The mass migrations of the 20th century, from small communities where everyone knew everyone else to large metropolises where you barely knew your neighbor, meant that what you did with your time became virtually useless as a way to signify status. In the relative anonymity of urban and, to a lesser extent, suburban life, your neighbors, friends, colleagues at work, and the people you passed on the street were much more likely to see what you owned than know what you did.

A material possession could deliver far more status than an experiential purchase. And so, in the 20th century, the conspicuous consumption of leisure was not nearly so effective as the conspicuous consumption of goods at telling others who you were.

Social media has turned this on its head. Now only a few people, relatively, might see your new sofa, or the car parked in your driveway. But with all your friends and followers on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, many more will now know you are partying in Ibiza, are in the front row of a Jay-Z concert, or that you have just completed a Tough Mudder assault course. And these people are more likely to be in your peer group, the people, in other words, whose opinion you are most interested in.


  1. ETat says:

    Yet one more reason not to get a Facebook account.

  2. NZT says:

    Funny that the headline is about how social media “makes us happier” when the point of the article is the opposite: that it just causes a new form of competitive (and stressful) status-striving as everyone battles to curate the most trendy and exciting lifestyle on Facebook. These people have turned making their lives look more glamorous than they are into a fine art form, and it’s pathetic to see it in action. Nowadays anytime anything cool or interesting happens, 80% of the people nearby immediately try to take a selfie in front of it.

    Seriously, delete your Facebook accounts everybody.

Leave a Reply