What if everyone stopped paying attention to others?

Published December 14, 2015   Posted in Having some fun

It’s true – Social media is an experiment in the thoughtless removal of money from our own wallets.

Admit it, you’ve seen some piece of junk that one of your friends or followers bought, promptly took a picture of and plastered up on their social media account – and you wanted it too. You freaking wanted it because, well, that jackass that you can’t believe you’re still connected to has it.

Or, everyone around you is getting promoted into higher positions within the company while you’re getting left behind. It’s a blow to your soul that those lazy, ass-kissing grunts get promoted while you’re left in the dust, so you want a promotion too. It doesn’t even matter to what. A promotion means you’re keeping up, and keeping up is good.

Those around you have designed a materialistic lifestyle – due in large part to those around them, and you need to either keep up or shove off. Keep that fine wine flowing and expensive Scotch pouring, ’cause you can’t let your group of friends outshine you in their ability to “enjoy the finer things in life”.

Thomas Corley (richhabits.net) calls this phenomenon “poverty by association”.

As an experiment, I checked my Facebook profile today randomly to see what people are doing this week with their incredibly awesome lives. The results are fascinating.

One of my Facebook friends bragged in a message (w/image) of his brand new PS4 game console with Fallout 4 Gold Edition (I guess the “gold” part makes it better?). On Amazon, the PS4 sells for around $350 (depending on the game bundle) and Fallout 4 takes an extra $60 out of your bank account.

Another posted a picture of his brand new truck – a Ford F-150 4×4. Someone else posted a selfie of him and his wife standing in front of some mountain somewhere, probably on vacation because he works hard and totally deserves to get away.

Opening day at a Breckenridge ski resort here, bought movie tickets for such and such movie there, and one friend who thinks paying $40 for 32lbs of paper is important enough to post about.

My gawd, why? Who do you think actually cares? Oh, that’s right – almost everyone?

Touch Screen Device

Are you keeping up with the Jonses with expensive devices and social media?

And it seems everybody is too big for their britches, absurdly busy every second of the day doing exciting things and posting about them online. “Wait, Jim went to the beer fest and I wasn’t there?” If you didn’t know better, people’s entire public lives consist of getting totally blitzed at smashing ragers, jet-setting across the world to tropical paradises and rolling down the street in bad-ass European imports designed only for the sophisticates of our society.

And we all seem to be paying attention to all this crap. And buying it, too.

Keeping up with society is just exhausting, isn’t it?

If you’re not busy 24/7, you’re either unproductive or unimportant. If you’re not driving a $50k auto, you aren’t successful enough. If you’re not a “Senior”, “Director”, “Manager” or “VP” of this or that, you’re underachieving. How am I going to make my Facebook friends think I’m living the life of Bono if I’m not taking selfies of myself in front of world monstrosities and basically having the best sex of my life every night?

facebookFacebook is a terribly fascinating thing. I have a friend who will post creepily detailed results of doctor visits. Others post radically insane political viewpoints or link to articles about why their Mercedes is superior to the BMW alternative. A new iPhone here. Season tickets to a college basketball team there.

And why? Why do people post about all the cool things they are doing or junk they bought? Admit it, we want other people to know about our successes. All the totally bad ass things that we are doing. How we just wrecked that new video game in two hours. How we sat two rows behind Ben Stiller at the NY Giants game. How we “had the time of our lives” sleeping outside the Apple store just to get our hands on the new iPhone. How this, how that.

Pardon my French, but this shit is absolutely fucking nuts.

And it got me wondering: What if we all just stopped paying attention to what each other are doing and instead focus totally on kicking ass in our own lives, not putting on some fake front to disguise our normal existences for something that our friends would be jealous of?

As if it matters whether or not your friends are jealous of your life.

What if we all suddenly gave ZERO shits about what our friends think of us, as well as what Johnny or Sally are doing with their lives? If they want to go into management at work, fine – let them. That doesn’t mean you need to.

If they want to blow through $40-grand on a European import, that’s wonderful. But once again, your friend’s insanity with money should have no baring over your own. You think my Facebook friends are thinking to themselves, “You know, it’s been a while since Steve posted about spending money on something. Ha, my life is so much better than his!”

Not likely. The truth is the majority of us have a dizzying array of options available to us in every facet of our lives. All we need to do is pick the one that best fits our life, not the life that we want our friends to think that we have. Worrying about your public image is downright money draining.

After all, none of us are rock stars (except when we are featured on Rockstar Finance, of course).

To forget about keeping up with others, try these three things for a month:

Don’t give a shit about your co-worker’s career choices – their career decisions are theirs, not yours. Resist falling into the “I’m being left behind” syndrome and instead remain focused on your life and your career. Repeat after me: “Their career is not mine”. “I have the power to manage my own life”. Believe me, promotions aren’t always what they are cracked up to be.

Give no shits about the cars that your friends drive – like your co-worker’s career choices, cars are every bit a personal choice as the color of your favorite jacket. It matters not whether you drive an ’89 Buick and your friend just leased a new 5-series Bimmer. In fact, those kinds of stupid purchases will probably keep that friend working long, long after you’ve reached financial independence. Pity, don’t envy, stupid buying decisions.

Try giving negative shits about your social media profile – that’s right, negative shits. Actively disengage from the insanity of social media. Social media is a time-sink for many of us and should not be accessible from the portable computers that we carry around in our pockets (oh yeah, that we can also make calls from). Kill the fake online persona because it does not matter.

And here’s a freebie: believe it or not, you don’t have to be as busy as your friends, either. In fact, there is remarkable wisdom in slowing down and taking a more mindful and conscious path through life. Instead of being on the go every minute of the day, just sit the hell down and relax. Let your mind wander as you rest comfortably in your favorite chair. In fact, try scheduling a little downtime into your day for much needed R&R.

Your cell phone might be your biggest competition. My cell phone downgrade experiment taught me that life can be more fully enjoyed when our faces aren’t buried in our digital devices. As attached to those things as we are, breaking the cell phone habit is usually all we need to re-focus on more important things in life – such as our environment.

How often do you notice the environment around you? Are you living your life to the fullest outside of your circle of Jonses?

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46 responses to “What if everyone stopped paying attention to others?”

  1. Wonderful, thoughtful post! I recently stopped giving shits to thinking about climbing the career ladder at work. In fact, I actually went to my boss and told her to start giving new projects (they’re called opportunities where I work…such bullshit) to people on the fast track. Why? Because I’m now “wise” and know that I make plenty of money and I’m doing the job I want to do. Advancing would mean moving out of my current job and spending 5-10 more hours at work each week. An extra $5-10k isn’t worth the hassle. I actually wrote a blog about this very meeting. It felt liberating. And for a moment, I felt the feeling of financial freedom that I’ve been chasing. As far as FB goes, it is wildly entertaining what people post to gain some validation. I’m mostly a FB stalker. Occasionally I post some family photos or videos, but I usually mark them as private and only post them so they don’t get lost or deleted. After becoming a FIRE participant, it’s sad seeing people spend their money unnecessarily, to impress people they barely know. I like going against the grain. Let’s hear it for the tiny house movement! Yay!

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mrs. MMM. It’s a big step to tell your boss to give “opportunities” to someone else because you don’t care about climbing the corporate ladder into higher and higher levels of B.S. Congrats on making that move and prioritizing your current position in life over one that’s more stress filled! 🙂

  2. I’m not sure why you had to bring Bono into it. 🙂 Great post Steve. Social media is a highlight reel, people only post the good stuff. It doesn’t give you the complete picture of their lives, not that you should be focusing on it anyway. You will be way more productive and successful focusing on self. Drowned out all the outside noise, what does it mean to you anyway.

  3. Jack says:

    I think it is an aspect of human nature (maybe it is embedded in our competitive genes) to compare and want to be better that others. I wish I would not be like that, but I know it is part of me.

    But you can apply jedi mind tricks to the messages your brain is sending to you. The negative shit you describe is the one that works best for me. I win the game because, ME, unlike them, I don’t give a shit.

    It still is competing (and maybe a bit condescending), but at least I feel I am really winning, because competing the usual way (the materialistic way) is a losing game as everybody else is playing it.

    • Steve says:

      I think you’re right, Jack – it is a part of our genes to compare ourselves to others and try to come across as “better”, as shallow as that sounds. And true, playing the materialistic game is one that I used to play, but certainly not any more. I will never have as much stuff as my neighbor, and that’s A-OK.

  4. Jaime says:

    A lot of people that achieve FIRE actually have to not care what others think of them. That’s just something that we have to do in order to achieve FI.

    I bought Fallout 4 with Swagbucks that I cashed out for Amazon gift cards and got the game on Amazon. I love this game but no way am I going to get the gold edition. Okay I just googled it and apparently it comes with: “the Fallout 4 game, Fallout 4 Season Pass and a pair of Vault Boy socks.” Still not interested as I got everything else but I don’t need the socks. 😉

    Anyway like Dave Ramsey says “live like no one else and later on you can live and give like no one else.”

    • Steve says:

      True, just by very nature of being in this early retirement business, there will naturally be an element of not caring what other people think…cause if we did, we probably wouldn’t be aiming to retire early! 🙂

  5. Hahahaha I had to stop giving any shits about what people thought about my social media activities when I realized that hanging out with my boyfriend and the dog in our PJs on Saturday nights was infinitely preferable to my friends’ favoured activities: loud, crowded bars and/or overpriced trendy new restaurants. If that’s what they want to do I’m all for it! But as for me, I’ll be at home with my knitting project and the original Star Wars movies, thankyouverymuch.

    I can be flippant about it now, but in all seriousness, there was a time when I was actually pretty worked up about the disconnect between what “everyone else my age was doing” and what I wanted. I always knew I wanted to steady, happy life in my hometown, but everyone else was all travel! adventure! spending! and it just wasn’t my jam. Luckily, that phase was fairly short lived – especially once I realized my ideal life was perfectly suited to a canine companion, aka the only thing I’ve wanted since I was 6 years old, haha. (That said, given his vet bills, I call him my luxury dog, and me posting photos of him on Instagram is probably no better than posting about a new car, so.)

    Awesome post, as usual, Steve!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Des – you and my wife would get along very, very well. Sitting at home on the couch in PJs while engrossed in a knitting project is right up my wife’s alley. For me, it’s something similar, but replace knitting with blogging, and I’ll be a happy camper! 🙂

  6. Thanks, Steve. I hate Facebook so much. I have said over and over that I’m frustrated all of the “social” aspects of being a mom – playdates and PTA updates, etc are all on Facebook… because if they weren’t, I would DELETE it. It’s such a voyeur’s dream that we all get sucked in to comparisons. When, as you saw, we should be doing some NEGATIVE caring about those things! Not worth it! Thanks for the reminder. I need to schedule more downtime.

    • Steve says:

      Yup, I feel your pain. Facebook’s ability to schedule events was a clever move on their part, but the reliance that some of us have over it is…interesting. 🙂

  7. Oh my god, YES. I have always found Facebook oddly creepy, and have never been an active user. Then getting connected to the much healthier, more grounded PF community on Twitter gave me the guts to take the FB app off my phone, and I glance at it on my laptop maybe once a month, and post even less, mostly just to invite people to things. My friends who post often seem so weighed down by it, not uplifted. I still love Instagram, though, since I love good photos, but I quickly unfollow people who post about stuff. I just want to see the travel and experiences pics — that’s the stuff that inspires me! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Gotta admit – the Facebook app is off of my phone as well. Now, I only really use Facebook to post the occasional photo of a sunset or something and just otherwise spew forth meaningless tidbits of information that I know nobody really cares about. 🙂

      My wife is in love with Instagram too, and she’ll definitely be the one managing that account after we start traveling full time and staying in some gorgeous places.

      In due time! 🙂

    • I love Instagram as well. I don’t follow friends… they’re all dumb. I mainly follow amazing pictures of places!

  8. Tawcan says:

    People have a tendency to show off on their Facebook. When others see it, they want to show off as well. It’s like fire feeding fire.

    I’ve long ago learned to stop caring about what others think about me and what others have. I am in control of my life and how I feel.

    People care too much about their social media numbers…. how many followers do I have? How many followers do other people have? It’s a never ending game. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses but a more extreme version. Stop doing it.

    • Steve says:

      That’s an excellent attitude, Tawcan – you are in control of your life and how you feel, not anyone else or their social status through web sites or circle of friends. I like it!

  9. Ha, if anything I have the opposite problem. I tend to cringe at people showing their big purchases. Because I know it’s almost definitely not budgeted for. I pretty much see all displayed purchases on social media (except my fellow PF bloggers) as probably a terrible way to spend their money.

    I’ll admit that sometimes there’s a small spark of jealousy, but then I realize that what I’m seeing is probably more about carelessness than careful saving/spending. That helps.

    PS. I took Spanish, but I’m like 99.9% sure that wasn’t French.

    • Steve says:

      Hehe, that’s a much better position to be in! I’m right there with you…now. Whenever I see a “purchase post”, I keep telling myself whether I’d rather have that or early retirement. So far, early retirement has never actually lost. 🙂

  10. Mrs. Groovy says:

    Great observations, Steve. We try to do one thing a day, maybe two. Our big New Year’s Eve will consist of getting Chinese food around 5pm and watching Trailer Park Boys on Netflix. I went to Times Square once when I was 16 to see the ball drop. It was freaking cold and I was squished like a sardine. Yet TV producers shows people partying in the streets and kissing after the ball drops, as if we’re all supposed to wish we were there. Yeah right. We SO do not miss cable.

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Yup, we don’t miss it either, and I have never understood why people stand for hours and hours in Times Square to watch that thing drop. I understand it’s “a thing” or something, but man, I’d rather be home, warm, sipping hot cocoa and taking in a football game on New Years Eve. 🙂

  11. I’m a huge noticer of my surroundings. Because of that I know how much time I waste on social media. I removed Facebook from my phone about two months ago and that’s been great. The people I actually want to talk to I call or text or see in person. But it is neat that Facebook bridges that gap for people or family you can’t/don’t see very often.

    • Steve says:

      It really is funny how little we tend to miss social media after we remove it from our cell phones. Like you, I’ve removed it as well and it hasn’t negatively effected my life at all. If anything, I’m using less data and battery on my phone because there’s one less bloated application (and the Facebook app IS fairly big) to drain resources.

  12. Being a new parent, I am adjusting rapidly to negative time. Since there’s never enough time any longer, finding time for the basic necessities is a challenge. Dedicating time to social media just makes me laugh. I stopped reading Facebook a few years ago now, and don’t miss it at all.

    Running Enwealthen, I continue to publish to social media, when time permits, like waiting in line at the grocery store. But I never consume it.

    I’m sure I’m at one extreme of the social media spectrum, but there’s plenty of room here for the rest of you.

    • Steve says:

      I know how time consuming it can be to run a successful blog, so I’m definitely with you there. And I’m much more up to date with the Twitter updating than Facebook because Twitter is a little more streamlined, I think. I have a ThinkSaveRetire Facebook page just cause, well, why not…it’s there. And free. 🙂

  13. Stockbeard says:

    Hey Steve, good article as always. I closed my personal facebook account 3 years ago and never looked back. Some friends keep telling me it’s the best way to get news from them, well, I’ll have to stick to good ol’ email 🙂

    One comment about the PS4: For $400 you get a gaming system that you will most likely use for the 10 years to come. That’s $40 a year. Add $50 a year for PS+ (for that price you get 2 games “free” per month) and you basically get hours of entertainment for $90 a year total. That’s less than the cost of a Netflix subscription, which is considered a frugal way to enjoy movies.

    So for people who are into video games, and assuming they don’t end up buying the latest expensive game every week, it’s a fairly frugal way of enjoying their hobby. Do you have a hobby that costs you more than $90 a year? (Photography maybe?)

    • Steve says:

      Congrats on closing your Facebook account! For some reason I haven’t done that yet, so I’ve thought about it. Regarding my hobbies, photography is definitely my main one and I spend, on average, more than $90 a year. Though, I would argue that 10 years is a bit of an overestimate regarding how long gamers keep their consoles, and $50 a year for games seems outrageously low – but I’m certainly no gamer, so I can’t say for certain. Is it like having a 10-year old computer? 🙂

  14. Marc says:

    I used to care about how my former college friends were doing in their careers after I decided to leave school to start a business and pursue playing pro soccer.

    I felt out of the loop at first but looking back, the jealously wasn’t worth it and I haven’t missed out on much.

    I’m still happy with my decision to leave and I don’t regret it one bit!

    Great post and it’s so true!

  15. Mr. Groovy says:

    Hey, Steve. Couldn’t agree more. A few years ago I joined Facebook so I could set up a college reunion. After about two weeks I couldn’t take it anymore. I ditched Facebook and the college reunion. I have a friend who spends a lot of time on Facebook and he has become noticeably bitter over the last couple of years. Is it a coincidence? Or does my friend have a severe case of Facebook-induced status envy?

    • Steve says:

      Ha! That would be mighty unfortunate if Facebook would actually be the cause of bitterness, but I guess when you’re focused so much on what other people posts, it can easily get that way. Sad!

  16. This is a stand out post. Thank you, Steve for all of this! I find it most challenging that my entire life has been centered around the Internet and social media almost. I think Banksy the artist has such vivid work in regards to the cell phone aspect (specifically, the picture of the couple embracing where they are looking beyond one another at their glowing phones). It’s just heart wrenching. I crave living & growing in environments that aren’t surrounded by technology. As much as I love unplugging, it can be such a negative that I literally need to schedule time or a trip/vacation to have an excuse to unplug. I want to move away from the idea that validation does not come from likes, or favorites. Thanks for sharing all of this, such incredible reminders to have!

    • Steve says:

      You’re most welcome, and thanks for the kind words! I think that we all could use a little “technologically-quiet” time every once in a while. 🙂

  17. Mr. SSC says:

    I would say I check facebook maybe once a week. I’ll remember to scroll through the newsfeed and think, Mmm hmmm… I rarely post much to it anymore, because the people I’m connected with IRL know what I do, lol. That’s one reason it’s been difficult to be active with twitter for the SSC’s. I try, but it just seems to be something else to keep up with. I find some of it interesting, but my god, people post lots of random stuff that can be as bad as facebook repostings. 🙂
    As far as wanting to move up, I’m good where I am at work currently. Any upward movement would entail mgmt. and I don’t want to go there. I’m stoked being a mentor and helping out new people, because it’s fulfilling, but I don’t want/need more and better and bigger titles. No, thanks, I’m good.

    • Steve says:

      I’m with you regarding your concerns about management. Some people thrive in that environment, but I sure don’t. Two words – performance reviews! 🙂

  18. Kate says:

    Totally agree! Just over a week ago I made the decision to no longer be on Facebook and I don’t miss it one bit. As other people have mentioned, I’m still a fan of Instagram so I can see and share pictures with just a few of my close friends and family members.

    Facebook only feeds into the mentality of “keeping up with the Joneses.” What a waste of time and energy.

    • Steve says:

      I agree – what a waste of time and energy, especially if you go overboard with it. I’ll maybe check it every other day when I’m bored, but even that is really too often. 🙂

  19. Elle says:

    When I took the Facebook off my phone, it did wonders for me. No more pesky notifications and not seeing the app removed temptations to check in often.

    Believe it or not my social media accounts for work (I blog under a pen name) were harder to manage, especially Facebook since I’m in a few groups. One change I’ve recently done is only allowing myself to check in once certain main tasks are done (and only for a limited time – no surfing through threads and the feed).

  20. […] Steve asked What if everyone stopped paying attention to others? […]

  21. Geblin says:


    Great read, I never understood the urge to impress other people. If I buy something or do something it is because I want to enjoy it not to impress somebody else. I couldn’t care less about the oppinion of my co-workers or friends I went to school with. If they don’t me as a person but only like the stuff I buy then those persons are not the persons I want to spend my precious time with.


  22. […] As selfish as our culture has become, strangely enough, we still tend to care way too much about what other people think of us. We like to give off the illusion of “success” with the clothes we wear, cars we drive […]

  23. Wayward Possum says:

    YOU HAVE READ MY MIND ~ – (and that in itself is a little concerning…) Seriously, my husband and I are are retired and also extremely tired of watching the “jet set” flaunt all of their valuable crap!
    We are also tired of paying for it- a lot of these people are living on welfare and are now allowed to use EBT cards to purchase whatever they want, including all of the stuff you mentioned except maybe the car!

    We saw the boat coming and watched the the players play as it went by, but didn’t see a thing that was better than what we had already purchased with the money that we actually earned.

    Keep writing! Maybe something will begin to sink in to the “Others”.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! It’s a financially mess out there, but so long as we remain focused on our goals and aspirations, I don’t see anything that can stand in our way and keep us from accomplishing our goals. 🙂

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