At a recent happy hour, a coworker told me he had preened his Facebook feed so that it only included the stuff he wanted to see. This included unfollowing multiple friends, even close ones, because, he complained, their shared life successes did not always align with the life he knew his friends lived.
Similarly, I have friends who share public victories that I know contrast with inward frustrations and insecurities. One friend never fails to remind us when he’s jetting off to a new city for work. He then texts me on his layovers to complain about the toll on his health and relationships. I understand that the public accolades may temporarily boost his spirits, but they also paint a false landscape of bliss for audiences. I always laugh when mutual friends remark to me that “Russ seems to be doing great; he’s always traveling and climbing the career ladder.”
Yes, isn’t he?
For the past year, I have challenged and questioned my own social media use multiple times. For those who follow me on Instagram, I am an aggressive story poster. I know this and laugh when it’s brought up, but my hair also stands on end when people say I live my life on social media or that they know everything about my life (the reality is, I live my life on this blog, ha ha). A few persons have implied that I must have no secrets because they always know where and what I’m doing. While I recognize where they’re coming from, I only share what I want to share, and it is only a fool who does not recognize social media existences are curated shenanigans. Even the most authentic person has to choose what they share, and that is an unavoidable bias.
I have occasionally cut back on posting. However, I enjoy entertaining people and am both flattered and encouraged when people tell me they’re amused by my stories. Of course, no one is harmed when I am not posting, but I still have the same thoughts and want to make people laugh. But I wonder, am I pursuing fleeting external validation? Am I breeding narcissism? Why do I bristle when people accuse me of being obsessed? Perhaps, even if not seeking validation or growing my ego, I should limit my use if I feel so threatened by people’s perceptions.
Last year, for a short period, I recognize I “lost control.” I wielded Instagram to get under someone’s skin (and was successful if I’m allowed to tout my victories) and also to demonstrate that I was happy without her (which was questionably inaccurate). I have since spotted these symptoms in others. While I hesitate to call social media harmful overall (as many blog and essay titles spout), I accept that social media in relationships and breakups tends toward the toxic (and advise that you just block the person from the beginning).
Once I recognized and began to recover from my temporary mania, I struggled to not go cold turkey (and basically admit I went crazy; I would never!) and to maintain a reasonable, healthy presence. That is the global struggle. Life exists outside social media, but this is 2019: Technology is part of life. While one does not need constant engagement with social media to exist or be happy, an appropriate use of these technologies is the standard whether we like it or not. I get my news off Twitter. I find artistic inspiration on Instagram. I find out what my friends are doing on Facebook without having to call them every month. Decades ago, I assume there were similar societal concerns about the introduction of telephones and televisions into everyday life.
But what is real and what is projected? This seems to be the biggest concern. People frequently cite social media as the cause of or a symptom of growing unhappiness. We can’t keep up with the Joneses, or at least the Joneses on Instagram—and that depresses us.
I advocate that we accept social media for what it is and remind ourselves that it is curated shenanigans. People choose what they post. We do the same thing when we choose clothes that flatter our bodies.
We also should remember that each platform asks for different interactions and biases. Twitter is appropriate for sharing (almost) every passing thought while keeping employers in mind—or create a personal and professional Twitter like me!
Instagram asks that you share the beauty of the world, your beaming selfies, and any other visual you want—but frequency is something to keep in mind. One post a day? A week? I personally choose once an hour! But I opt for content that is not so self-involved to include my face or my doings.
Instagram stories are a different story (ha!). Still, one should keep in mind if they are sharing to inform, to entertain, or to just be obnoxious. Remember, one can always unfollow or mute. No one is bound and gagged to your feed except a hung-up ex.
And Facebook, the grandfather of social media now that MySpace has passed on, is meant to share periodic life updates and successes. Why else would people “connect” if they did not want to hear from you occasionally? We have text messages for chatting and Instagram for the pretty photos of your flowerbed. I want to know you got a new job, your kids went to prom, or you had some passing funny thought while grocery shopping. I also want you to share some memes that I haven’t found on Instagram yet.
But also share your sad moments: your dead succulents, your dog that passed away after 20 years of walks around the block and stealing food off your counter, and maybe even some breakup quotes that make me stalk and figure out who you dated last. We all could relate to each other a bit more.
Perhaps my coworker does not wish to avoid the disingenuous as much as he wants to find the authentic. And everything, when the biases are kept in mind, is authentic on social media. Someone chose to post that. It tells you a bit about them. But it does not, and should not, tell you how your happiness compares. Jack and Sue didn’t get back from the Bahamas yesterday; they went three months ago and just threw a photo up. Jill looks hot in that photo, but she actually feels bloated if she turns to the other side. Rick only has good hair with that filter. And your hair and your body and your hobbies are all just as great as Jack, Sue, Jill, and Rick’s even if you don’t post about them—or if you do.