…and blogs, and twitter, and instagram.
There could be an entire degree dedicated to the study of social media – what it means for society and how it affects us. But rather than attempt to get into that here, I’ll try and keep this focused on the debate about what people share on social and why.
After spending the last few years overseeing Social Media for one of the world’s coolest tech companies (IMO), what I do believe is that social media plays to attributes that were already in us: the need to be creative, the desires for affection and recognition, and to share and be social. And with all of these exciting new ways to express ourselves, we’ve become infinite storytellers of our own lives.
But what happens when your social circle or people connected to you in various channels pick up only pieces of the story you’re telling? Or worse, when they compare the bits and pieces they know about your life to their own whole reality? Is there really a thing called Facebook depression?!
As a frequent recipient of the “I want your life!” email, tumblr, facebook, twitter or instagram message, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this. Especially as I feel like I’ve faced a wrath of personal challenges and depression over last 6 months and no one seemed to notice. Turning inward (where us closet introverts often turn for answers), I started looking at what I shared and why I shared certain things. Sure, go ahead and call this narcissism if you want. I prefer to call it self-reflection. Either way, I think the answer I came up with can apply to a vast number of people.
First let me clarify that anyone who knows me well knows that my life is far from perfect. But the thing about all these social networks is that in our effort to be expressive, share the beautiful things, the extraordinary, and the irreverent, sometimes we end up painting a picture of a life far more perfect than reality. Perhaps it’s intentional for some, but perhaps for others it’s just a coping mechanism: a way for us to focus on the good moments so that all of the other stuff feels less real – less permanent.
There’s an age old belief that “history is written by the winner.” Now it seems it’s written by the creator.
I’ll leave it to the psychologists to figure out if this coping mechanism actually helps or hinders our quest for happiness. Could it be that we’re so busy sharing that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important? Or that our sharing is making people feel worse about themselves? I’ll have to see a bit more evidence before I fully subscribe to either. One thing I do know for sure is that we all know a few Debbie Downers who are always complaining, arguing, debating, ranting, etc., and what’s true in real life is true in social media: no one wants to be friends with them. So perhaps a secondary reason for sharing is to gain social affection while coping with very personal challenges.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to play a ‘poor me’ card. I do recognize that I am extremely fortunate. Even having access to social media is a measure of great wealth compared to much of the world. But at the ripe old age of thirty, with all that I do have, I’ve come to realize that happiness is the one great equalizer. Trips, wine, roses, fancy shoes, etc., will never resolve inner turmoil regardless of how many “friends” or “likes” it gets you. And while I chose not to show the day a year and a half ago that my mother received two emergency blood transfusions to keep her alive, or the times I’ve cried my eyes out over a painful breakup, it doesn’t mean those moments didn’t exist.
So maybe a better question to ask is why do we insist on coming to conclusions (or building stories, as my mother says) about people’s lives based on social media? Are we mistakenly looking to these channels to help us fulfill something far deeper within us? It’s almost as if we want to idealize the lives of others, as a way to benchmark against our own.
What do you think? Is all of this over sharing making us miserable? Are we painting far too perfect a picture of our lives that it’s actually making us feel worse? Or is it simply mindless entertainment? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.