Trying to exit the invidious world of cyber comparison
Column: the act of comparing has got so big it is now threatening to swamp the act of creating
“Last month scientists confirmed what surely every parent worked out long ago: Facebook makes you unhappy.” Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Last week I was visited at work by a reader from Malaysia who was passing through London. I am not always nice to strangers but I was curious about this one. For three years she has been emailing me about my columns – and yet she is not quite 12 years old.
When this child – who turned out to be charming and poised – had left, I started thinking about my own (much older) children. Their manners and curiosity about the world suddenly seemed wanting – as did their appetite for reading the Financial Times (written not only in their mother tongue but partly by their mother).
To prevent a pointless where-did-I-go-wrong wallow, I turned for distraction to Twitter, where someone I follow but don’t much like was triumphantly tweeting the publication of a new book. I expanded the tweet and saw a dozen replies saying “Can’t wait to read this” and “if it’s even half as good as the last one . . . !” after which I grimly clicked through to Amazon to see the book’s sale’s rank. The knot in my belly loosened: it was 24,358.
I then scanned the FT website to see how well my article was doing. Its position on the “most read” list was slipping, so I checked to see how many comments it had attracted. That was better, but only slightly. Without noticing, I had escaped from invidious comparisons in the real world to the even more invidious world of cyber comparison.
To compare is human nature, but – as we all know – it always ends badly because there is always some maddening person doing considerably better than you are.
Compare and despair
Yet there is a difference between old-style comparing and cyber comparison. The first is relatively easy to recover from as it comes in infrequent hits. Exposure to a delightful girl from Malaysia doesn’t happen every day and made me anxious only fleetingly: after a couple of minutes I had made a full recovery. Cyber comparisons are a nasty drip-drip of poison into the bloodstream. It goes on forever and so you never get time to recover at all.
Last month scientists confirmed what surely every parent worked out long ago: Facebook makes you unhappy. Looking at other people’s apparently cool and glossy lives brings only misery. Even without a scientist to hand, I can tell you the same is true for Twitter, LinkedIn, Klout and all online rankings. Compare and despair.