Thursday, July 17, 2014

Understanding our love/hate relationship with social networks

Have you ever hesitated before posting your good news on Facebook? Are you worried it would feel like bragging? And the other way around—why do some updates make us frown with jealousy, while some posts make us feel genuinely happy and truly 'like' it?

The thing is, every single day we share our emotions—those smiles, happy voices and hugs which spread our joy with others.

This is called emotional contagion, and it's why people say "I'm so happy for you!" They literally have become happy, because you're happy! How kind of you to share! :D

The problem is, communication through simple text is the worst way to share our happiness (although it works to some extent.)

All the people get from a typical post is the information, like "I got a new job as lead Awesome Person at Disneyland." You get all the cognitive information, but none of the emotional information. And that's a cause for jealousy—they're happy, I'm not, and that's lame :(

How can we share our happiness with our friends online, so they get to be happy with us?

Here are some examples and tips (illustrations made with private posts for obvious reasons).


Well, I got the information across. But this makes me want to hit myself in the face.


Add punctuation or smileys to add back in the tone of your voice. We pretty much all do this.

Use the "I'm feeling" feature of Facebook to share your emotion. You activate the concept of feeling in the reader, and they try to understand what that means by simulating it in their brains. It's a kind of empathy.


Add a photo, or an animated gif [Facebook, please implement this!]. This is the most direct way to literally share happiness (through mirror neurons) with your friends.

In general, you want to add back in all the information you would convey if you met your friends in person: tone of voice (use punctuation), face (use smileys or the "I'm feeling" feature), body (add a photo or Japanese style emoticon \o/), movement (add an animated gif).

This is why the Japanese animated emoji stickers in Line, and recently in Facebook messages, are so popular. In my ideal world, you could share your happiness with sound too, just like music helps us feel.

So share your joy! Do some virtual jumping up and down! And share your news with your friends, like sharing a hot cup of tea or yummy slice of cake.

It's not you, it's the technology. So let's make the best of it :) Hope this post was helpful for you.

P.S. I'm also writing this as a poke to us designers of technology. Let's make it easier to share information as well as feelings! It's awkward to have to think about sharing our feelings, let's just make it natural :D

A final note, A.K.A. the Dark Side

If you ever need to reach out because you're in a low place, and Facebook is your only option, then try using the "I'm feeling" feature, or a photo that shows how you feel.

Sadness is an evolved emotion that all humans have. Its function is to recruit support from our loved ones and friends. Sadness shows true distress.

People want to help others who need it, but this empathy is activated by low-level emotional cues (face, body, vocal tones). It's important that our technology show how we feel through more than words, or, unfortunately, a call for help may be lost in the stream...

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