I have a love-hate relationship with social media, and I’m willing to bet that most of us do. I don’t need to list of the benefits of being able to network and keep in touch with loved ones, as these are already constantly referenced and reinforced within our culture. But we all know the ugly underbelly that comes with these connections. To name a few – we are forced to acknowledge the ignorance and hate that is present in the general population every time we bring Michael Jackson popcorn to a comment thread. We are bombarded with images of subtle narcissism and ask ourselves: who are these people? Why are they my pretend friends? And why do I talk myself out of deleting them?
The answer is simple: In an attempt to feel connected to the world, we can mistake these platforms as a means to validate our existence. Sure, I use social media for all of the good reasons – keeping in touch with family, sharing my work, interacting with members of the communities that are passionate about similar interests, avoiding the need to attend my high school reunions, etc. I use the bright screen to help open both of my eyes in the morning when I’m still in bed and unable to move, aimlessly scrolling. And then sometimes I use it for the bad reasons – comparison, self-validation, and narcissism. Social media is not inherently bad, just like the world isn’t inherently bad and people aren’t bad. But some of our behaviors and thought-processes about these platforms can be incredibly toxic.
One example of this toxicity is the unsolicited envy that results from a casual newsfeed scroll. It seems that everywhere out there, people are making a point to project the most beautiful life possible. And really, it makes sense: we want to highlight the good, not advertise our dissatisfaction or confusion about our lives. We’re competitive by nature, and this is just the newest way to prove to strangers, acquaintances, and loved ones that we’re doing great, thanks. We’re super fucking happy. And we feel fulfilled. Like, just in case you were wondering.
This beast has about ten different heads: your friends’ displays of self-identified goodwill, your neighbor’s shameless boasting of how attractive and intelligent their offspring turned out, your aunt’s unwavering pride in her flavor of politics. It’s your sister’s ex best friend’s old roommate documenting her ability to relax and drink wine on her rooftop balcony while wearing pastels, or the amazing vacations that guy you dated five years ago took with his girlfriend he met on Tinder. It doesn’t matter if these displays are completely obvious or passive-aggressively smug. Sometimes we still let it sink in, and start looking for fault in our own lives.
If we are not careful, it can be a delicately crafted web of comparison. What I’ve found to be helpful is this relatively generic advice that I’ve compiled for your benefit:
- Practice self-control
Guess what – that means not creeping on your exes, or the people that you hated in middle school. That is actually a waste of time. Self-control also means not reaching for your phone and aimlessly scrolling/swiping/liking while you are spending time with people IRL.
- Do other stuff
And stuff and things. Now that you have established some self-control, you will notice sudden bouts of free time in your daily routine. You should probably fill that time with things that actually make you happy – and resist the impulse to bring your phone to take photos to prove how happy you are. This prevents us from living in the present. We begin to commodify our experiences instead of genuinely enjoying them. Next time, challenge yourself by leaving your phone at home. I promise that it happened even if you didn’t post it.
- Go on a social media cleanse when needed
My advice to my friends that are sick of the garbage their extended family posts or sick of online dating or sick of the world in general is just to remove its cyber-presence from your life. You won’t miss anything. And I know because I’ve deactivated so many times I can guarantee that all of those wonderful photos and comments will be waiting for you if you choose to come back. Go gain some perspective.
- Remember that it’s not real
You are viewing the world of others through Gingham-filtered glasses. I’m sorry, but those photos of 18 year-old models that are boyfriend and girlfriend with cute “candid photos”? Do they have a photographer that they pay to take photos of them giggling as they make Saturday morning coffee? When they’re knocking hip bones at the beach? Because that probably costs a shitload of money. They are paying for that envy to fly right off your face. Your envy is sustaining this mirage-dream life. OR they use something called a SELF-TIMER. Which means that is NOT CANDID THAT IS STAGED AND THEY HAD TO STOP THEIR REAL LIFE TO FIND A PLACE TO PUT THE PHONE/CAMERA AND SET IT ON TIMER AND RECREATE THOSE MOMENTS LIKE FOUR TIMES TO GET ONE GOOD SHOT. Like they had to actually acknowledge that that moment was cute, stage it, one of them had to run and press the timer, and then run back, and pose their cuteness, and then wait, and then go check and then repeat until satisfied. And that’s kind of disappointing when you think about it.
** Disclaimer: I have nothing against self-timers. I have been utilizing the beauty of this technology since 2004 and fully acknowledge its convenience, particularly during a stage where I pretended that I could model turtlenecks.
- Stop comparing yourself to others
You already know this. There is no easier way to dismiss your blessings and your accomplishments than to compare yourself to someone that seems to have their shit more together than you. Think about where you were a few years ago and how much you’ve learned and managed to accomplish. Everybody struggles. People just rarely post it on the Internet (except for those weird people that overshare and make everyone uncomfortable). There will always be someone that makes more money than you, that has better abs, that has a more symmetrical face, has more people at their 4th of July barbecue, and more likes on their photos. Nobody cares. Well, some do. But the good news is that you don’t have to care if you don’t want to.
So, if it makes you feel bad:
Stop following people that leave nothing but a bad taste in your mouth. If you only feel anger/disgust/envy/any other negative feeling when you look at them – stop following them or delete them altogether. If social conventions prevent you from doing this without causing drama, at least hide them from your feed. Or consider deleting your account and focusing some time on yourself instead.
We need to be mindful of what we’re consuming, even when it comes to digital media consumption. We need to stop thoughtlessly consuming those cheekbones or variations of green smoothies in mason jars being held up by skinny arms in front of a white background. We need to stop thoughtlessly consuming tips on how to bust that belly flat or squat ourselves a bubble butt until we’ve accepted ourselves. We need to stop thoughtlessly consuming hundreds of images of tan blonde girls wearing bikinis and jumping off cliffs and posting about all of their adventures (translation: hikes. You’re going on hikes). All of these fashionable people look lovely, but they probably aren’t going to survive in the wilderness. Their Walt Whitman quotes aren’t going to save them, and we all know they’re not hiking six miles in those $200 combat boots. It just looks good.
I am just as guilty of this as the next person. We are human beings; we are flawed, and sometimes amusingly hypocritical. But if it’s making you feel negative about your own beautiful life, it helps to remember: You don’t need to absorb people you will probably never even see again, or eat up the staged photos of their little lives on your little screens. Take only what you find beneficial, inspirational, and motivational, and leave the rest.
If all else fails, just know: You’re not the only one, and all you’ve got to do is hit the power button.