I signed up for Facebook at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. The autumn of 2004. I was 19. This year marks my 13th anniversary. For the latter half of these years, I have contemplated how social media affects us and I have wanted to write about it. While I have hesitated, I have only seen its power grow. It’s becoming unavoidable. We can’t pretend it’s not happening.
I receive a significant portion of in-person social invitations and most of my news through Facebook. I check it everyday. Sometimes, multiple times in a day. At this point in my life, it’s an ingrained habit. And as a millennial, I am not alone. People are reading or watching other websites’ content while never leaving Facebook.
Social media is a collection of shiny highlight reels and advertisements, with just enough messy personal anecdotes to make it feel human. Though I enjoy social media and dislike reality television, I can see how they are the same: Both forms of media use real lives to create something that is mostly unreal.
Facebook creates communities but it also creates illusions in our communities. Facebook controls what we see and we control what is on Facebook. We are in a symbiosis with social media and I don’t think it’s necessary we quit, so long as we are aware of the costs vs. the benefits, the risks vs. the rewards. What’s really happening to us when we spend time on these platforms? (I will go deeper into this question in my next post.) How can we tell what’s real vs. fake? What’s sponsored vs. not sponsored? What causes envy vs. inspiration?
Envy and inspiration are closely related emotions. We seek inspiration, and sometimes we find envy in its place. Though it feels uncomfortable, sitting with envy can serve as guide posts. Instead of ignoring or drinking or eating or flirting or (insert behavior that becomes destructive when done in excess here) these feelings away, we can learn from our envy. If we don’t, it will continue to come up for us, whether or not we are following the glamorous globe trotters or abstaining from social media all together.
Perhaps the social feeds that bother you have something to teach you. What about them do you dislike? What about them reminds you of yourself? Is there any overlap between these things? Can you learn to accept these qualities, can you embody them and make them work for you? If not, are you willing to change?
By paying close attention to the feeds that affect us, we know more about what we want (and don’t want) out of life. Armed with this information, we get to choose: Do we want to make peace with this longing, or do we want to go for it?
You also get to choose what becomes of your social-media self (if you have one). Is she going to be opaque and elusive, or expressive and vulnerable? Is she going to post whatever is on her mind, or for social change, or for a political agenda, or for her career, or only when big things happen? Is she going to support or oppose? Is she going to listen or ignore? Is she going to tag or untag photos? Is she going to create more or consume more, or find a balance?