Why do we post on Facebook?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Earlier this evening I had the opportunity to lie back, close my eyes, and listen to some music. No videos, no distractions, just the music. As I lay there, it occurred to me that simply enjoying music (or art, for that matter) is not something that we do often.

The very next thought that popped into my head was “That almost sounds profound! I should post it on Facebook!” Then I realized that this was a rather odd compulsion- why did I feel the need to blast out every event in my life to my friends? I’m not yet that old, but I’m old enough to remember a time before Facebook, and I don’t recall life working quite this way.

The third thought was that my second thought had proven more profound than the first, so I decided I should write a blog post. This behavior is insidious.

Regardless, now that I’m here, I want to think a little about why we do what we do on Facebook. A while back, a friend posted a link to a very interesting article in Business Insider on keys to lasting relationships. One of those keys is the idea of “bidding” for your spouse’s attention, as described below:

For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

This article is very interesting to me because I see a form of this occurring outside of marital relationships.

I used to see this all the time when hanging out with my friends. We’d talk, play games, and have a good time. One thing however that I noticed is that we’d play this weird little social game of “one-upsmanship” in our conversation. For example, I would mention something new that I was excited about. My friend would acknowledge what I had said, but then change the subject to something new that he was excited about.

In Gottman’s terms, I had made a “bid” for attention- I had brought up something that I was excited about, and given my friend an opportunity to join in that excitement. Instead, they chose to offer their own “bid” and invite me to join in what excited them. Don’t get me wrong, I did this too, and I doubt there was anything malicious or intentional about it (we weren’t the most thoughtful bunch)- it was just a pattern I observed, and it was uncomfortable.

Perhaps if we both had been less selfish the relationship would have been deepened. C’est la vie. It now serves as a reminder for me to keep an eye on my own selfishness as well as an illustration of how these “bids” can be made amongst friends.

Now armed with this understanding of social “bidding”, or “bids for attention”, I think we can apply the same concept to Facebook. People such as you or I who post status updates are making bids for our friends’ attention in the form of comments or “likes.” I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Requesting (and reciprocating) attention is an important part of relationships.

But why seek attention on Facebook instead of in person? Surely the attention from someone you’re with is worth more than a count of how many people “liked” your bid- unless that’s the only way.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on this tonight, but recently I’ve woken up to the fact that much of my life has been and is still spent alone. I live alone, I work alone, many nights I relax alone. Back in college, aside from hanging out on Saturdays, most of my time was spent working or studying- alone. When I feel the need to cry out into the void of aloneness, Facebook offers the hope that someone might hear that cry.

I wonder if we Facebook so much because we’re lonely?

I wonder if that’s why some people write blogs?