modern fears

The Six Major Anxieties of Social Media

Photo: Photo: Mango Productions/Corbis

Since humans are both social animals and neurotic ones, we bring to each social setting a corresponding set of social anxieties. The Today show recently surveyed 7,000 American mothers and found that 42 percent “suffer from Pinterest stress — the worry that they’re not crafty or creative enough.” Though Today’s subjects were likely a self-selecting bunch, their tales nevertheless reveal the unique and insidious pressures of Pinterest:

Symptoms include staying up until 3 a.m. clicking through photos of exquisite hand-made birthday party favors even though you’ll end up buying yours at the dollar store, or sobbing quietly into a burnt mess of expensive ingredients that were supposed to be adorable bunny cookies for the school bake sale.

Because each social media network rewards different elements of human behavior, each gives rise to a different inferiority complex. Let us explore the unique forms of oppression we willingly subject ourselves to when we join and engage the following social networks. Some of the fears are wholly new. Others have IRL precedents from decades — even centuries — past.

Photo: Richard Powers/Corbis


The official social network of domestic tranquility, Pinterest peddles “Pinspiration” — a D.I.Y. version of “aspiration,” which is itself a code for “pining for that which is unattainable, unaffordable, or physically impossible on your lumpy potato body.” Pinspirational inferiority complexes are deeply felt. Sure, place settings in Real Simple are more elegant than yours, but what about the handcrafted wildflower centerpieces at your roommate’s cousin’s wedding? If your roommate’s cousin can do it, why can’t you? By encouraging users to keep running tabs on the material goods they desire but cannot own — the stuff of “dream bedrooms,” “dream kitchens,” and “inspirational closets” — Pinterest inflicts users with bipolar lifestyle syndrome. Their intricately imagined pinned lives bear little resemblance to their real lives. The rift may depress them.

Things You Never Stressed About Until You Joined Pinterest: Color-coding closets; “plating” your meals; befriending a photographer to document your outfits.

IRL Stress Equivalent: Martha Stewart Living; attending the wedding of your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend whose hair is so shiny, it’s not even fair.

Photo: Photo: Corbis


By encouraging users to document the places they go, people they hug, and sights they see, Instagram has become the official social network of FOMO. Lounging in bed the morning after sleeping with a beau, a female friend watched him pick up his phone and scroll through Instagram. “Oh my God, this party looks so good,” he exclaimed. “I should have gone there.” Seeing the fabulous, color-saturated lives of others — their parties, their Champagne, their cliques so much cooler than ours, their cats so much cuter — makes our own lives feel drab. Wherever we are on a Saturday night, we have on the phones in our pockets a live-updating catalogue of every better place we could be.

Things You Never Stressed About Until You Joined Instagram: The appropriate level of nonchalance to feign in selfies; strategic lighting for downplaying acne.

IRL Stress Equivalent: Going to brunch with your hung-over friends and explaining that you didn’t even want to go to that party with them, anyway. The invitation probably went to your spam folder. You just get so many invitations these days, you’re always like, quit spamming me.

Photo: Corbis


The fastest-paced social network, Twitter FOMO is not the fear of missing out of parties, but the fear of missing out on inside jokes and news events. In other words, fear of looking dumb. What’s that new hashtag everyone is LOL-ing about? Did everyone already tweet this cool link I just found? These jokes I’m live-tweeting while watching Mad Men are original, right? On Twitter we fear looking stupid, ignorant, and behind the times.

Things You Never Stressed About Until You Joined Twitter: Subtweeting; memes; the subtle difference between quote-tweeting and RT-ing; character counts; if you made a joke “too soon”; if saying someone else made a joke “too soon” means you are a pill; if @Horse_ebooks is still cool.

IRL Stress Equivalent: 24-hour news networks; missing an episode of SNL and not understanding any of the jokes the cute boys in homeroom class make on Monday.



The all-encompassing catalogue of life events and relationships, Facebook encourages anxiety about benchmarks like graduations, engagements, job-title updates, pictures of your beautiful new baby, pictures of your beautiful new home. But the success of others can inspire jealousy, like discovering that the girl who bullied you in the seventh-grade locker room is now a successful executive who lives in a McMansion. With each passing birthday notification, we watch as our friends and selves age, wondering if we have done enough — have our job statuses changed enough? Are our couple portraits as doting as those of our exes? When something wonderful happens, we worry about sounding like braggarts.

Things You Never Stressed About Until You Joined Facebook: Aunt Judy judging your useless liberal arts major; frenemies judging the size of your engagement ring; ex-boyfriends judging your recent weight gain; “relationship status.”

IRL Stress Equivalent: High school reunion; Thanksgiving dinner.

Photo: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images


LinkedIn assists “professional” connections, which really only comes up when you are professionally unsatisfied. Just as there is no reason to be on OkCupid when you are happily married, there is no reason to browse LinkedIn if you aren’t looking to get a job. Thus, the anxieties of LinkedIn are all the horrible anxieties associated with professional insecurity and placing your résumé in a public setting — complete with your embarrassing college major and how many times you’ve been fired.

Things You Never Stressed About Until You Joined LinkedIn: Expanding your network; flirting with headhunters; “does this selfie make me look ‘professional’ or ‘slutty’?”

IRL Stress Equivalent: Job interviews; “networking” events; office Christmas party at an office where you hate everyone.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage


Among the most anxiety-inducing cultural questions in the world is, “What bands do you like?” Fear of music snobbery is deeply ingrained; our admissions deeply embarrassing. We fear people will judge us for having bad taste, or for failing to update our taste since 1998. Spotify notifies users when their friends download their playlists, giving rise both to fears of unpopularity (Do enough people like my lists?) and of appearing to be a hanger-on (Does the cool teen intern whose lists I download think I’m a creepy loser?). When we find something unforgivable in a friend’s playlist, we cannot help but judge — and then feel like hypocrites. In the process of writing this article, I found the Twilight: Breaking Dawn soundtrack in a dear friend’s Spotify. How will I resist the urge to ridicule her? Worse: How will I resist the urge to download it myself?

Things You Never Stressed About Until You Joined Spotify: How many times you replay the same song without seeming insane; how to deal with people ironically “liking” your Selena Gomez Facebook notifications.

IRL Stress Equivalent: Answering the question, “What bands do you like?”

The Six Major Anxieties of Social Media