Gina has written articles for the Washington Post, VICE, Politico, Daily Beast, Salon, and Ladygunn. Her memoir You're Fine about her time in a psych ward was published last year. She is currently finishing up her first fiction novel.
I get really obsessed with other people’s status updates, usually people I don’t particularly know or like. Whether they are tweeting about their wife cheating on them or putting a vague check-in at Applebees, I wonder why they feel the need to tell the world such things. I check on them daily, like they are Giga pets of mine. I watch their drama and mundanity like a virtual soap opera created specifically for me.
My own posts are probably 90% jokes and 10% me sharing articles I've written, so when H&F asked me to switch up my posting style—“post every craisin you eat, every last Bill Nye the Science Guy you watch, every last doodle you do”—and turn into the very people I am fascinated with, I couldn’t say no.
Day 1 – “Are you okay?”
I started as soon as I woke up. It felt very unnatural. I had to force myself and cringed after the first posts.
I waited anxiously for people to get annoyed.
I posted about the fact that I was awake, that I was walking to the shower, that I was blow drying my hair while thinking about various “things,” about what I had for breakfast, and so on. Within a few hours I had racked up over a few dozen posts. Before noon, I received texts from four different friends. Soon, a few people were becoming concerned about my mental health with messages and comments like, “Are you okay?” and “What is going on?”
Emotional Contagion Study
— In 2014, Facebook's Emotional Contagion Study manipulated the newsfeeds displayed to 689,003 Facebook users without their knowledge. The study proved that viewing negative News Feeds led to negative status messages and so on. The backlash was substantial enough to change Facebook's study policy, allegedly.
That made the whole ordeal more fun. Mostly, I didn’t expect anyone to actually care about what I was sharing.
A coworker was concerned. He said he thought I may be having trouble adjusting back to Vermont. He suggested that perhaps I was bored. I told him I was very entertained. He seemed earnestly concerned about my emotional health so I told him that I was okay and that it was an experiment. I told my father and step mom as well. I didn’t want them to worry. I did write a memoir about being in a psych ward, so it would probably be cruel to not explain it to people who were potentially legitimately worried.
If I lost my mind though, I surely hope I won’t be posting about eating donuts and brushing my hair on Facebook. I give myself more credit than that. Or this:
“Just to let you all know I have retrieved my charger from my car and I am back in the office safe and sound. There were no issues that occurred when getting it.”
In another post, I tagged myself at Price Chopper.
“There were difficulties in completing what I needed to do. I asked the cashier for cash back and she pressed the wrong button. She apologized but I had to go to customer service to get my cash back. I was a bit frustrated, mostly because I am hungry.
Four people wrote on my wall, some texted me things hoping I would post what they were texting and others I haven’t heard from reached out to me with no explanation.
It could be that I was flooding their news feeds, so I was more in their face. I appreciated the concern and was amused that posting such normal things caused it.
I started posting about eating the reduced fat Wheat Thins in my desk at work. I posted a picture of them too, explaining that they “weren’t very good.” My Wheat Thin posts got a mixed reaction of amusement and “why the fuck are you posting about this?”
By the evening, some of that concern turned into slight irritability.
“I am now home and have put my clothes in the dryer. Once they are dry I want to take a nap.”
“If you’re trying to annoy everybody you are succeeding,” someone replied. Someone else said his wife saw my posts and said I was incredibly boring. I lost one Facebook friend, but it is undetermined if my experiment had anything to do with it, or if it was just coincidental.
By the end of the day, I was kind of dreading the fact that I agreed to do this for another six days. It was distracting to constantly post. It required going on Facebook even more than I usually do, which is a lot. It made it difficult for me to concentrate on my real work and things I had to do. I was also feeling a bit off, stressed. I realized that in a way, I rely on Facebook for a sense of who I am. That has been altered and now I felt strange. Despite that, I was laughing pretty hard imagining what people were thinking about me while trying to fall asleep.
Day 2 – I am a robot
I started with this.
“Start of day: I am finding the strength to walk down stairs and get into my vehicle where I will then drive to my friend’s house. She will get into my black Toyota and we will drive to a parade.”
A friend messaged me to tell me how much they love how robotic I “sound.”
For a few hours I was in a town that didn't have any phone reception, so I couldn't post on Facebook what I was doing, which was sad. I was thinking about random boring but funny things to post the whole time. I quickly got used to the relentless.
I still managed to get plenty of oversharing done. People were started to pay slightly less attention to what I was posting. There was less posting on my wall. There were a few tags and texts though, in which I was accused of doing an experiment (which was true) and spamming (which was also true). One person asked me if I was okay that morning.
I worked for a bit this day, and during my work time I posted about the Wheat Thins again. People pretty much ignored that.
I later had dinner with a friend and she told me that she wasn't concerned about me because she is aware of my dry humor and tendency to do random things and drag out jokes. She did say, however, that my updates were taking up most of her news feed. She said she figured I was just bored.
By nighttime nobody was expressing concern. More people were beginning to play along with it. I would post a dry matter-of-fact status about what I was doing, and a few people would comment in a similar voice underneath. Friends seemed to catch on that I wasn’t having a nervous breakdown and some thought I was just imitating people who actually post in that matter daily. That, or again that I was bored.
Active monthly users on Facebook worldwide
2012: 1 billion
2015: 1.44 billion
Day 3 – A brave effort
I lost one more Facebook friend.
Nobody expressed concern anymore. Some people played along, and some friends messaged me to say how much they were enjoying my posts the last few days.
“Important update: makeup successfully applied. While driving cheeseburger in paradise was playing on the radio and I laughed.”
I worked at my office for a few hours this day and I posted about the wheat thins again.
Here is one of my wheat thin related posts:
“I am putting in another brave effort to eat the reduced fat wheat thins I have in my desk. They have not changed in taste since Friday. I will try again another day.”
At least some of the things I “reported” on this day were kind of interesting.
“‘Changing yourself for someone who don’t love you will end in double suicide’ this is me singing an alternate ending to Grease to people now. That is because a Grease song came on the radio and I hate that movie.”
“‘I will go straight Mendendez Brothers on you guys if you do that,’ – friend to her mom”
I lost one more Facebook friend.
My post about losing the friend, and about the fact that it was undetermined whether or not I lost them because of how I was Facebooking, was my most popular Facebook post of the day with 32 likes.
Facebook users strongly dislike:
People sharing too much information about themselves
Others posting things about you or pictures of you without permission
Other people seeing posts or comments you didn't mean them to see
Temptation or pressure to share too much info about yourself
Pressure to post content that will be popular and get lots of comments/like
Pressure to comment on content posted by others in your netowrk
Seeing posts about social ativities you were not included in
Day 4 – Is anyone listening?
I started the day off like this.
“Attention: I am awake. My grogginess level is at 60% today.”
The ignoring of my relentless unimportant posts began.
Some of my posts didn’t get any likes at all, for the first time. I felt okay about this, but a part of me worried that people would think I just became boring, one of those people who posts about being at the gas station with no further context.
At the end of the night I did get one text from a friend saying, “So I totally understand what you are doing, but just in case I’m wrong, just wanted to check on you and make sure you are doing ok xoxo.”
A guy I recently dated (but we are friends now because I moved states away), messaged me and asked how I was doing. I told him I have been enjoying spamming people and I have reasons for this, which would be revealed in time. He said that it made sense to him.
Day 5 – Hygiene
After posting this...
“I am emailing and messaging various people: mostly work related but some personal.”
...one friend asked how long this would go on for and that he didn’t like it anymore. I continued onward with my “brave” posts, like this one:
“I am thinking about various things while drying my hair.”
I also began posting more about my hygiene:
“I am applying deodarant and other chemicals to my hair and body to prepare to be in public.”
I posted that I am happy that I have not lost more Facebook during this time, and that was my most liked post of the day.
The same coworker who I told what I was doing said that he had become critical of my posts. He said they were too robotic and lacked substance. He began giving suggestions of what and how I should post (and I posted on Facebook that he was giving me suggestions.) I took the advice and started incorporating some emotional content into my posts. That was actually difficult because most of my-day-to-day activities don’t invoke any emotion. After hitting 30, I just don’t get worked up or annoyed about the small things and even feel indifferent about most of the pleasant social interactions. I documented my aloofness and disconnection on Facebook.
I got myself in a bit of an awkward situation when I posted about an interaction I had with someone in town. It was a very pleasant exchange with someone I knew by association but had never met in person. I posted on Facebook that I talked with someone who knew me but I was not sure where I knew her from. She is actually a friend of mine of Facebook, and I think she thought I was unhappy with her recognizing me. I messaged her to apologize, and she apologized back at me saying that she’ll be more careful about what she says. I actually deleted this post, because I felt really shitty about making her feel bad.
I saw someone else from Facebook and she told me that she was starting to get sick of my posts.
“I have received two new emails. Both have no relevance to me and I’m not going to open them.”
The honesty was becoming very fun, even though I knew I was barraging people’s feeds. I guess that was part of the fun. I expressed that I felt mild worry that I was annoying everyone as one of my many posts for the day. Some friends still said that it was funny. I was happy some people were entertained, as opposed to being disgusted with my relentless babbling about applying deodorant, eating wheat thins and feeling indifferent.
Day 6 – Prolific indifference
My friend texted me that she is also recording every thing she does: for fun. She said she found what I was doing interesting.
My coworker told me he thought that my posts were getting better. I think that when you put your work out there, when it is constant and in people’s face, people feel can criticize it: because you are invading their personal space and I totally get that.
“Update: a school bus drove by. There was a driver in it but no passengers. I feel indifferent about this.”
My friend posted: “Update: a school bus drove by. There was a driver in it but no passengers. I feel compassionate about this.”
This really made it interactive. At this point, nobody was expressing concern. Friends commented that they are getting used to this. A friend who knew what I was doing said she would miss it.
Facebook users who visit the site on a daily basis:
Day 7 - Is it over yet?
On my last day, I actually found myself dreading the end. Technically I could just continue if I wanted to, but I have other things to do in life than post things on Facebook.
Here is one of my proudest posts on the 7th day:
“I am preparing to take off the chemicals (commonly known as makeup) I applied on my face this morning. I will be taking them off with other chemicals and then applying additional chemicals for my sleeping process.”
Here’s another two honest posts from the day:
“I am sitting on a porch. There is a light breeze. A bug bit me and I’m okay with that.”
I struggled about posting one personal thing. I actually regret censoring it.
I went to the drug store to pick up my birth control prescription. A few years back, my skin got really bad and the only thing that helped was birth control. On June 1st, I received health insurance for the first time in over a year. I was so happy to find out that my birth control was completely free. I had been paying over $70 a month for a while now. I was going to post something funny after explaining my joy at the free part. “It’s for my skin but from time to time it has been helpful for other things.” But it just isn’t in my nature to get that personal through Facebook posts. I guess in articles I don’t really care.
That night, I dreamt about posting status updates.
It took a few days to retrain my mind to post again like I used to.
I asked friends to give feedback on the experiment. “I have absolutely hated your over sharing for the last week and glad to see it is over.” “I'm used to odd infrequent posts to you, but this was too normal.”
The week long process put me off kilter, because my persona was purposely put off kilter, which I didn't expect. I also didn't expect so many people to notice let alone worry about my mental health. When you change your internet persona a bit, people may get concerned.
I realized that I’m pretty much an open book. I just don’t want to burden people with bullshit.