August 1, 2019

The Peephole Distress Theory

A new angle to look at social media

Yet another research has shown the connection between time using mobile apps and depression. Our instinct saw it comming, as you can’t visit Instagram from your desk during the summer without assuming you are the only one not on the beach.

I see friends on holidays trying to do activities away from screens, or trying to fight the attention span issues that leave them unable to read anything longer than a headline.

Maybe because of my degree in Communication Science, maybe because I’ve helped build digital products for over a decade, I like to see myself as an observer of these kind of behaviors. This time, I want to share with you the observations I’ve made on myself and my surroundings.

The Peephole Distress Theory

When I use social media I get a mix of happiness for other people’s achievements, entertainment, food for thought and a pinch of imposter syndrome. I attribute the last part to what I’ve called the Peephole distress.

Imagine you live in a crowded building and you look through your apartment door peephole during the day. You’ll get to see a lot of your neighbours going in and out. Maybe some of them go in and out multiple times. If you think about it you know you are not seeing everyone that lives in the building, you are only seeing the ones outside their houses. But your brain gets a conglomerate of all of the people out there and produce a message like: People are coming in and out all the time and I’m not”.

When reading tweets I regularly get peehole distress with people’s accomplishments. I know I’m only seeing a percentage of people telling about their successes. I consciously bring myself to think about this distorted reality feeling being not real, but there are times when my brain still produces a statement: Everyone is achieving things while I don’t”.

My inner saboteur surely doesn’t help

It’s not exactly an imposter syndrome, it’s something else, and it’s amplified on social media.

For example, if I follow 100 people and each one of them publishes a highlight on a different day, at the end of 100 days I’d have seen 100 highlights. That highlight could be one work achievement, or a personal success story. My brain would translate that into Everyone is achieving something everyday”, with the additional you need to stop being so lazy” on bad days. Even though each one of them has had only one highlight during the last three months.

What about the silent ones

After considering the Peehole Distress Theory I couldn’t stop thinking about the silent ones. What if I could visualize all the people in the building, the ones that are going out, AND the ones that are staying at home like me? Wouldn’t I have a more realistic view of what people is actually doing? Wouldn’t I see a more realistic Twitter feed if I displayed the published and the unpublished tweets?

What if I could see how many people on my Twitter feed are silent? I’ve made the numbers.

I’ve looked for information about tweeting patterns of 100 people I follow. I’ve discarded bots, organizations, and looked for the number of tweets that aren’t retweets or replies, so I could get the real average number of tweets per day with original content. The formula is:

tTpd:Total number of Tweets per day

tTpd - (tTpd x (RT percentage / 100)) - (tTpd x (Replies percentage / 100)) = Real tweets per day

My numbers are these:

These are the aggregated numbers from the 100 people analyzed:

I’ve analyzed users I follow that were active during last year. 62.5% of them tweet less than once a day. This is the image of all the people talking (blue) and the ones that are silent (white) during one day:

The 1%

Most users don’t participate. It’s the 90-9-1 rule, 90% users of a community are lurkers, 9% are intermittent contributors, and 1% of them are heavy contributors. Reddit CEO said recently in an interview that A small percentage of our users are very loud”. That is true for almost all communities online.

We already knew it. Most people are silent and just a few make a lot of noise. But we still get the feeling that everybody is doing something all the time and the only silent ones are us.

In a way, it can feel like everyone has always wins to share and we are the only ones trying to hide our failures.

A little trick

If you work remotely, this effect affects regular communications too. When everything is alright you don’t get a long message full of explanations on why is it alright. When there’s a problem, you do. It’s part of life but we better be aware of it.

One of the things I do to counteract it is document those wins one after the other on a text file. So, when things aren’t going well or I doubt myself, I read my own wins, written by me, and the excitement is contagious. On the same note, I recently went to a friend’s talk that was reaaaaally good. She was nervous about it at first but she crushed it. I recorded her stress-free wide smile at the end and a bit of the loud applause she got, so she has it on hand any time she needs a reminder of how awesome she is.