Social media is rooted deeper in our collective psyches than we realize. The personal has become the public and the boundaries of sharing just keep on growing. Social media was intended to strengthen our relationships, yet seems to be driving us further apart, as superficial interactions become surrogates for genuine connection. The more we share online, the less authentic that sharing becomes.
We’ve long passed the innocent stage of sharing our lives with people we care about. The average newsfeed is a perfect storm of vanity and exhibitionism. Our online personas have become as manufactured and calculated as brand names. We curate a fantastical online self that only shows our best side. The self with the wittiest statuses, most envy-inducing lifestyle, and hottest selfies. The carefully curated stream of content we project isn’t our true identity, but who we’d like others to believe we are.
Social media etiquette hinges on an unspoken code. You can humble-brag as much as want, as long as you enable others to indulge their most egotistical selves too. Privacy and humility have left the online building, if they ever even existed at all. Self-congratulatory statuses on personal achievements, holidays, and haircuts, no longer raise an eyebrow. Social media can encourage the worst in us, inviting jealousy and an excessive desire for validation. The cycle self-perpetuates itself, as likes and comments provide an instant hit of dopamine to the brain, providing a neurochemical reward when receive social approval; locking us into social media addiction.
Presence is the biggest casualty of the social media epidemic. You only need to look around any public place to see how chained we are to notifications and updates. Public transport is full of people aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds, restaurants and cafes display estranged couples who’d rather look at their phones than each other. While it’s more understandable to use social media to fill seemingly unproductive waiting time, what’s more shocking is posting to social media when we should be savouring the moment.
Images are the most appealing form of shareable content, which explains the popularity of the image-sharing behemoth, Instagram, A.K.A. the black hole for narcissism and attention whores. Feeds everywhere are littered with photos and statuses designed to let you know that your friends are having the time of their lives. They are enjoying themselves so much that they had the time to update social media. For instance, the friend who insists on posting several times a day while on vacation, just in case you forgot their current location.
But if we’re pre-occupied with capturing the perfect shot, with just the right filter and just the right hashtag – are you really enjoying the moment? We’re anxious to maintain the online image of ourselves as successful people with awesome lives, yet it seems the person we really need to convince is ourselves. This incessant desire to record and broadcast our happiness to others points to an insecurity about the quality and worthiness of our own lives. What are we trying so desperately to prove? And to whom? The sharing and documenting of the moment has become more important to us than actually being in the moment.
We may think that we’re immune to the subconscious influence of social media, but science tells a different story. Studies on Facebook suggest that the networking site increases feelings of anxiety and inadequacy in users. Instagram users fare even worse, given that our brains respond most strongly to images. Instagram crystallises the features of Facebook which most of the negative effects on mood are attributed: photos, likes, and comments.
Yet we keep coming crawling back. We can’t bear the thought of a blank feed or the thought of what will happen if we cease to assert our existence online. Yet what do we have to lose? We need to realise that this is a game with no winners. Even if you’re in the minority of people who don’t feel slightly depressed or inadequate after browsing, you’re still wasting an obscene amount of time upholding your fake online image, robbing you of presence and time actually living your life. The saddest part of it all is that we’re all just performing to each other, seeking acceptance and connection in all the wrong places. Feeling a sense of belonging and connection is a fundamental human need, but if we’ve convinced ourselves that online likes and comments are a way to fulfil that need – we truly are lost.
How many of your followers are actually your friends? Having 1000 friends on Facebook is easy, just add that vague acquaintance, all those people from school you haven’t spoken to in years, people you may not even like. The irony of it all, is that this whole charade is to impress these people, the vast majority of whom you’re not even really friends with. Ok, so there’s the handful of real friends and followers, what about them? If we’re honest with ourselves, how much do we care to know about our friends lives when we’re not around each other? Do we need to share every good thing that happens to us, or can’t we just catch up and share our experiences when we’re actually together…you know, in person?
It all comes down to what we think is important and how we want to live our lives. We can continue to be slaves to social media, caring too much about what others think and how many followers we have; or we can wake up to the hidden psychological strain it is having on our lives and just walk away.
Imagine going on a hike and not feeling the pressure of how to get the most likes on Instagram, but instead just enjoying that breath-taking view. Imagine saving hours, days and weeks of your life; that would otherwise be frittered away checking what other people are doing. Reject the superficiality and egotistical one-up-manship of social media, and start actually living your life.
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