Facebook Face-Off …  Why Social Media Shouldn't Be About Showing Off

There's something compelling about using social media. It's great fun to reconnect with old friends. To keep in touch with the lives of loved ones we might otherwise only hear from come Christmastime. And it's a great way to chat with likeminded members of a group to which we belong. But some people, and I'm sure we've all encountered them, use Facebook, and other social media sites for another reason entirely. Because they want to show off. 

I know it's irritating when someone you've 'friended' continually fills you in on every single detail of their life. You know the ones: 'Clarice Cowbridge is making a cup of tea' then, ten minutes later, 'Clarice Cowbridge is eating toast' and then a few minutes after that 'Clarice Cowbridge is putting her pots in the dishwasher'. Drives you mad, doesn't it? It's always stuck me that either these people don't have a life (or any work, chores, or even fun to get busy with), or they're so convinced that their life is wonderful that they just know everyone wants to follow along. And, to be honest, it's probably a combination of the two.

But, of course, even if you don't want to go as far as 'de-friending' them … never a nice thing to suspect someone of doing to you … you can always just scan over their all-too regular updates. As irritating as they are, they're nothing compared with the people who really use social networks only to show off. They're rarely regular posters. But, oh boy do they know how to make the most of their status updates to update us on their 'status'. Because some people treat Facebook as though it's one of those round-robin Christmas letters you get from Aunt Agatha. You know the sort '3-year-old Heliotrope has been voted class councillor at her nursery' or 'Persephone chose the water birth option … overlooking the Med, of course!'. Of course …

And because they post so infrequently it's very difficult to ignore. After all, it might just be something you need, or even want, to read.  Most of the time, of course, it's not. It's far more likely to be something about some exam their offspring has excelled in than anything you truly care about one way or the other. It's lovely to get the occasional Facebook 'poke' from someone wanting to swap news or check in on you, but it's another if all they really want to do is tell you how very fabulous their life is (at least when compared to your own).

These Facebook show-offs come in all manner of guises. Firstly there are the ones who are fond of the coded entry. They'll say something like 'Had glorious lunch at Beau Rivage with GDL. Fab times.' And you're left with several thoughts. Ooh, french name, must be expensive. And with a mystery person too. Who is this 'GDL'? A VIP? A celeb? A secret lover? But while, this type of status update, which reads like a diary entry, is clearly designed to leave us thinking, it's also about reminding everyone that there are parts of this person's life about which we know nothing. And, by implication, it lets us know that we are not a significant part of that life, otherwise we'd know instantly who this mysterious 'GDL' is. Now none of this might be deliberate. But, tell me this, did you ever write anything on Facebook without carefully considering how it might read to other people? Of course not. And neither do the show-offs.

But some status updates are so obviously designed purely to make anyone who reads it envious. There's the friend who only posts to complain about how hectic their life is. Not, you understand, their housework, shopping or transporting the kids around. No, here we're talking: 'At last my own bed. Even 5 stars gets tired when you're in 8 hotel rooms in 6 countries in 10 days!  I'm just about to drop. Who knew this new job would be so gruelling?'.  So he/she's a world traveller, has a fab new job that requires them to jet all over the place and they get put up in great hotels. And they are complaining … why? So they can tell you about their fab new life, that's why!

Then we have the types who post a 'few' (actually 48) new photos of the 'family' all of which appear either to have been taken in front of a fabulous white beach dotted with palm trees and a clear blue ocean beyond and are always labelled 'the kids in the front garden'. Or to feature the kids standing alongside their very close friend who happens to be a rock star, or an important politician with the label 'Jake, Emma & Uncle Mark'. 

While we're on the subject of family photos, I've encountered quite a few trophy wives along the way. You've seen them. Again, the photos seem innocent enough until you open the album and find shot after shot of your Facebook contact's wife, girlfriend or partner. (Strangely this type of update never ever seem to have been added by women). But these are no ordinary photos. No, these have been taken by a professional photographer and show the said wife-girlfriend-partner lying coyly on a luxurious sofa. They scream 'look at what I scored! Look how young and fabulous, and glamorous my wife-girlfriend-partner is! And, just for good measure there's always a couple of snaps with said glamorous wife-girlfriend-partner and their gloriously perfect children. And you can bet that, unlike the rest of the planet, giving birth to these darlings has left no trace on the woman's figure. No, for her, everything has snapped perfectly back into place. I usually assume that these types of status update are intended to impress a chap's male FB contacts. Because no-one would actually want to make their female friends feel decidedly inferior.

My favourite (or should that be unfavourite?) type of show-off status update is the one designed to make your friend look both philanthropic and decadent at the same time. Now for most of us this would be a delicate balancing act. But not for the seasoned Facebook show-off. No, they have it entirely perfected. After all, they've been honing it for years. On the face of it, it all seems so altruistic of them to offer up their empty home. It reads 'Spending the summer in Oz at the beach house with the kids so won't be using the Nice apartment or the cabin for three months. Anyone need a bolt hole? Email me!'

So they travel. A lot. They have three homes. Each one is in an uber-desirable location. They are able to take the entire summer off work to live at the beach. Oh, and they are kind-hearted too. 

And I do get why people are tempted to have the odd show-off moment. In truth we've probably all had them. And I have to confess that, on one occasion at least, I have indulged in a bit of 'ooh get me!' behaviour. Yes folks, I once knowingly may have bigged-up my life just a tiny bit. Don't shout, it was really just a one line status update, and several years ago now. I'm a fully reformed character. Really. 

What I wrote was something along the lines of 'Lovely day in Stratford. Fish and chips at the Mucky Duck terrific as always.' To be truthful, I'd posted it before realising that by using the very arty-farty thespian-ish nickname for the famous White Swan pub might imply that I was in the 'in-crowd' and that by adding 'as always' I had rather given the impression that I was in and out of the place all the time. I thought, briefly, about deleting it. But I didn't. Everyone else seemed to be doing it. It wasn't like I was claiming to have dined at Buckingham Palace, for heavens' sake. And it was true. I did eat fish and chips there. And I had eaten them there before. And both times they were terrific.  

But, I know I shouldn't really mock. After all, we're none of us innocent of showing-off just a little bit. We all do it. It's part of human nature. But isn't there's a big difference between the odd bit of occasional light trumpet-blowing and all-out banner waving?

That's why, day-to-day, I prefer Twitter. After all. When you're limited to 140 characters, there's scarcely room to brag …