Facebook's 'On This Day' Feature Is Actually Making You Sad
The Debrief: Why it might be a good idea to turn off those notifications
You log onto Facebook and get a cute notification telling you you have memories to look at. 'Oh, memories!' you think, scrolling through silly statuses ('thinking that Facebook isn't as good as Myspace' – remember when it said 'is' after your name so you'd have to conjugate the verbs to third person? Lolapalooza) and looking at friends you haven't spoken to in nine years leaving stupid messages on your wall nine years ago.
Thing is, when I do it, I'm not left with a warm fuzzy glow of memory lane. I'm left with feeling a bit empty. Like a deflated balloon that just went on Facebook and saw what it used to look like three years ago. And I can't be the only one.
'Sometimes it has nice things,' says Cara, who works in fashion. 'But basically it's a huge reminder of lost youth. It's the standard things of reminding you how, eight years ago you were a toned, carefree cheerleader – but now you have an ass, and a mortgage.' So many of my friends, including me, have turned off the notifications for 'On This Day' because, while the nostalgia can feel warm and fuzzy, it's often tinged with sadness. It's also not as controlled as Facebook would have you believe; yes, you can block your ex boyfriend or various days that you'd prefer not to see, but you can't block everything. Talia, a freelance writer, went off the rails when her dad died, and found that 'On This Day' was a constant reminder of a really shitty time in her life.
'When my dad died, I didn't handle it the best way, so for the couple of weeks that followed all the photos were of me in some kind of drunk or other state,' she says. 'It only happened a couple of years ago so to have it be put in a 'memories' thing like it was something positive kind of blew. I ended up turning it off because I didn't need reminding I spent a good portion of six months of my life high or sleeping around. It wasn't really even the photos, just the story behind it.'
According to chartered psychologist Anita Abrams, the way in which you respond to this sort of nostalgia depends on your current situation. 'How nostalgia affects you depends where you are in your life right now,' she tells me. 'I don’t think you can underestimate the amount of emotions that are triggered by looking into the past. Trips to memory lane can provoke a lot, even if you’re a very level headed un-sentimental type of person.'
We seek out nostalgia, something that Facebook has capitalised on, because (and research backs this up) it seems to help alleviate loneliness while also increasing our perceived connectedness with others. Perceived being the operative word. But while these emotions can be sometimes immediately positive, other studies have found nostalgia can make you sad depending on the sort of personality you are. A recent study by Bas Verplanken found that worriers are most at risk of nostalgia-related negativity: 'For individuals who habitually worry, nostalgia may not be such a nourishing experience,' reads the study summary. 'Habitual worriers’ actual chronic state of anxiety contrasts with nostalgic memories of a carefree past, this may instigate further rumination leading to distress. A more present-oriented time perspective, such as mindfulness, is discussed as being beneﬁcial for habitual worriers.'
When we're shown the past, we can get that deflated balloon feeling because, obviously, it highlights the fact that life is barrelling onwards at a pretty alarming rate. Cara has struggled with anxiety her whole life, and agrees that the 'On This Day' feature doesn't particularly help: 'I think it discouraged me from being happy now, because it made me hark back to lost things,' she explains. 'It also compounds the need for photos of everything, instead of living in the moment – and creates anxieties where their weren't any. I looked back and saw conversations between me and an old friend that I really didn't want to look at, because she turned into a bit of a tool.'
It's this creation of anxiety, and indeed memories, where there arent any that encapsulates 'On This Day', this overwhelming onslaught of things you don't need to remember. You don't need to remember that one friend you don't talk to anymore. You don't need to remember the time you were hammered because someone you loved had died. 'People have always needed good friendship, connections and memories,' says Anita. 'But there's a real need for selectivity. Receiving unnecessary memories is emotionally overwhelming – so you need to exercise self control. If you can’t turn the clock back, you have to say no! What do you want to remember? You have the power to exclude the potentially negative voices coming in.'
She's right – you do have the power. And it involves going into the top right hand corner of the 'On This Day' page and unchecking the 'notifications' button. When you fancy a look at the past, you can check it out in a controlled way. But if you don't, then you don't need to start your day feeling older, more anxious, and nostalgia-sad.
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Picture: Eugenia Loli
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