This column in the Wall Street Journal last month by Elizabeth Bernstein, “Are We All Braggarts Now?”, has generated a lot of discussion. Bernstein posits that Facebook is like holiday newsletters on steroids. Whereas in the recent past, people boasted about their wonderful vacations, magnificent home renovations, and remarkably talented children just once a year by sending out holiday updates, now they do it every day via Facebook updates.I disagree with her premise, though. The updates my Facebook friends post don’t sound to me like bragging at all. They sound like… well, gratitude. When a high school friend posts a photo of a beautiful fruit pie she made, I don’t take it as boasting about her culinary talents – I see it as celebrating the simple pleasures of a delicious dessert. When mothers repeat their young children’s clever comments, I don’t find it irritating; I see it as trying to capture the funny moments of childhood that otherwise are all too easy to forget. Relaxing on a gorgeous beach? Training for a triathlon? Having a cozy afternoon by the fire? I think it’s all wonderful, and I’m happy to witness people’s celebrations of these small moments.
Recently there’s been what feels like a spate of personal tragedy in our community, but none of it has come through on Facebook. As hard as it is to hear bad news by phone call, email or face-to-face encounter, it conversely reminds me that the admittedly frivolous pleasure of checking in on Facebook come from the very fact that, most of the time, it is an arena for good cheer. Other people’s experiences no doubt differ, but the vast majority of the time, my friends don’t post bad news or worries on Facebook. They use it mainly to express happiness. It’s not bragging so much as an overt display of gratitude and appreciation for anything pleasurable in life: a child’s drawing, a great concert, a memorable meal, a satisfying run.
Contrary to Elizabeth Bernstein’s implications in the Wall Street Journal essay, my friends’ upbeat posts make me neither envious nor resentful. I’m happy for their happiness. Expressing gratitude is not the same as bragging. Not at all. Expressing happiness for good things is a wonderful habit, and if Facebook is inspiring more people to do that, I don’t find it troublesome in the least.