To the untrained eye nothing is going on. A person on a laptop tapping away or lost on their phone while sitting on the couch. And yet in that seemingly static position, the world is unfolding. Friendships formed. Extinguished. Connections made. Lost. Drama. Intrigue. Grief. Joy. Feeling heard. Feeling ignored. Everything within the parameters of a tiny little screen.
With all the promise contained in a screen, why is the rise of social media, and our increasing presence on it also leading to so much unease and loneliness? I read this article about how many liken social media to mental hell. And how those likes we like don't feel nearly as good as how bad it feels to not get liked, retweeted, or shared.
The word "mental hell" made me pause. How can we voluntarily choose to become part of a social media circuit that makes so many of us so unhappy despite the cheerful selfies we post? We have such a basic need and desire to belong. To love and be loved. We hate loneliness. Social media can feel like the antidote to feeling alone. And yet, the research shows this isn't the reality. Social media makes most of us lonelier. Sadder. More insecure.
I guess it makes sense. Social media is about being social and sharing your photos or witty insights-- it's about sharing yourself. And when what you shared doesn't get the response you wanted and you see your counterparts on fabulous vacations with fabulous smiling babies and husbands who post odes to them on every social media platform with likes tripling your own- you personally feel rejected. You personally feel less.
How can you change that? How can you fight the feeling of being a middle schooler complete with purple braces and a koala bear book bag when venturing online?
It's the age-old solution and existed well before the internet was even a word: Accept the things you cannot change. Change the things you can.
You can do everything in your power. You can study every website on social media savvy but:
You can't make people like your pictures.
You can't control how many shares or retweets your funny insight gets.
You can't control how many followers you get.
[Okay. Yes. You can buy programs that will do all the above for you but that's not really going to help the underlying feeling that triggered the credit card to come out to do such a thing]
Though you can't control any of these things, you can control some things:
You can control you.
You can control your intent.
You can take steps to reign in the id that hurts when it's not satisfied.
I don't think social media is bad. On the contrary, I find it amazing. I have met so many lovely, smart, insightful people I never would have otherwise and formed connections I value greatly. And yet, social media remains a nebulous place where I must constantly reassess and reevaulate a basic question:
Am I using social media? Or is social media using me?
Am I logging in for the sole reason to see if anyone liked/shared/engaged with my post?
Am I sharing something for the sole reason of getting positive feedback and oohs and ahs?
How do I feel when I'm using it?
Is it adding to my life which is so very finite, or depleting even a small part of who I am?
With these questions and continual intent-gauging I change how I interact with social media. I deleted my instagram app and check facebook sparingly.
I still like twitter. Twitter has quite literally changed my world in real and tangible ways. And yet still, it's possible that one day it will no longer work for me. It's still necessary to check my intent. To realize how I feel, to reassess and choose to keep on using it. I understand zero retweets, favorites or anything else is absolutely not personal. I also understand that 100 such interactions are not truly personal either. I focus instead on the interactions, the communication and what I gain and learn and grow from.
When that threatens to take a back seat on social media. I take a backseat from social media.
We check in so much to our social media apps that we can forget that they are just that apps. That we can be in control not the other way around. We can simply delete. We can simply walk away. We can take a day-long break, a month long break, we can quit- full stop. It's okay. The friends who matter in the concrete way will remain. And maybe you'll miss out on some social connections. Maybe you'll miss out on a great movie or book recommendation.
But this is life.
It's short. And to spend it on something that hurts, even a little bit? That may feel like mental hell-- no. I can't say it enough times: life is way too short for that.
Instead, call a friend up for coffee, eat chocolate and read a good book, plant a garden, press your feet into a sandy ocean but remember that everything in life is a choice, and while we are growing increasingly interconnected every single day, we still retain the basic human differentiator: choice. Whatever you choose, know time is finite. Choose wisely.