XVI: Living Life Through Our Screens — Is Social Media Harmful or Helpful?

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with social media, and I’m often left wondering why I allow a little icon on my phone to be the bearer of so much anxiety, self-doubt, and information overload. How does one maintain sanity in the digital space?

Sometimes I’m glad to be on social media, but other times I just want to delete every form of it and live my life without the constant need for validation from followers on a phone screen. My emotions always teeter between these two extremes, and here’s why:

The Cons of Social Media:

1) Social Media is an Illusion

These days it’s all about ‘living your best life.’ The thing is, by doing so, our social media accounts become less about ‘living’ that life and more about ‘showing’ people that we’re doing it. We go to restaurants to eat and enjoy great company, but we can’t do it without posting a photo of our delicious dish. We go on vacation, but every time we see a fascinating new location we have to Instagram it. If we explore the newest bar in town, we have to update our story because everyone else just has to know we were there. If you went and no one saw it on Snapchat, did you even really go? It starts to feel like life is more about capturing moments than actually living them.

Also, by portraying only the good things, we fail to be authentic. We forget to be exactly what it means to be human. 

I’m guilty of this too, and that’s why I hate it. For example, last summer I went to Italy and took numerous beautiful photos, posting about each location and its wonderful history as the journey progressed. But what I didn’t mention on social media is the varying degree of health issues, hospital visits, and horrible jet lag that accompanied the trip. In one of my favorite profile photos, no one would have guessed that I was wearing a heart monitor with electrodes strapped to my chest under my scarf, because I had been experiencing crazy panic attacks to the point where I couldn’t breathe. Judging by all my photos, you could never tell that the trip was anything but butterflies and roses.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REALITY. Remember this the next time you feel down because you’re not living life like the rest of those online celebrities do.

2) It’s the New Way to Be Passive Aggressive

Want to give your friend the cold shoulder? Easy. Stop liking their photos. They’ll notice your passive aggressive stance and then you’ll feel satisfied, because boy did you show them! Seriously, when did we start resorting to memes and vague “It’s not about you” messages in order to solve our conflicts? Why do we avoid real conversations? If you and your friend had a fight and he or she starts posting ambiguous quotes, or if the person you’re interested in ignores you but suddenly starts liking all your best friend’s photos, is this the way to be a mature adult and approach personal conflicts? I don’t think so. We’ve apparently lost the ability to be grownups and solve our problems directly.

3) Opinions Are Like Assholes . . . and You Know the Rest

Social media has become an echo chamber. Everyone is an armchair warrior. Everyone becomes an expert in everything, and if you offer a contrary opinion you suddenly become the enemy. People start deleting or blocking anyone who provides an opposing viewpoint, and before you know it the newsfeed has become a happy place where the only opinions you see are the ones you agree with. By constantly reinforcing only one perspective, while blissfully ignoring all the other ways to look at the world, we confine ourselves to a state of willful ignorance—the very opposite of being informed.

4) There is a Fine Line Between Vanity and Narcissism

There is a time and place for a great selfie, but if the only things you post are photos of your nearly naked body in all its perfectly toned (sometimes surgically altered) glory, while including an inspiring caption to make it seem like it’s not all about your body, then I have no desire to keep that content on my feed. I just don’t see the point. Fake 'Instagram model' personalities and brand worshipping add absolutely no value to my life. I enjoy seeing photos of friends going fun places, I enjoy photos of their pets or their children, and I will totally support my friends if they post a great swimsuit shot or a picture where they’re rocking an amazing outfit. But if someone’s account is comprised of nothing but narcissistic self-importance, then . . . meh. I can do without it in my life. The hard part is sifting through all the bullshit to find the content you actually want to see or read.

You might be wondering, “So why don’t you just delete it all?” Well, that’s because there are also reasons why I love social media. It certainly has its benefits.

The Pros of Social Media:

1) It Can Be Powerful

Social media is FAST. When news breaks of a kidnapping victim or a missing person, people share content quickly. At times, this has led to the recovery of victims who might have otherwise been gone forever. Social media has been responsible for, or at least assisted with, the exposure of large-scale corruption and wrongdoing. Also, platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter are the source of many laughs and interesting articles. I enjoy following pages that brighten my day with illuminating, mentally stimulating content. Additionally, building your personal brand in a digital space can be great way to network professionally and find like-minded people who can help you make connections in your field. Oddly enough, the same things that make social media annoying also make it successful.

2) You Can Connect With People From Around The World

Social media’s intended purpose was to connect people. This, in my opinion, is still the main reason why I keep it around. I have friends and family all over the world, and just recently I reconnected with a relative I met when I was 10 years old while visiting family in Latvia. I hadn’t seen this particular girl in 16 years, and suddenly I found her on Facebook. It was incredible to think that I could so easily get in touch with someone I thought I might never see again. During my adult life, I have also made wonderful friends from other parts of the world, and it’s so easy to keep tabs on them through Facebook or WhatsApp. Without social media, I wouldn’t have the ability to do that.

3) You Can Share Cool Hobbies and Things You’re Proud Of

Many of us move away during our adult years, and we become busy with our own lives and careers. Since we don’t see our friends in person anymore, it’s only natural to want to share news of our accomplishments and milestones on social media. I don’t fault anyone for that. If you just started a cool project, you just had a baby, you got married, or you graduated from a difficult program, it’s completely understandable that you would want to spread the great news to your social circle. No one wants to hear constant boasting, but there is nothing wrong with sharing accomplishments and moments of great pride. I actually enjoy seeing my friends doing well and reaching goals. It brings me happiness to know that their lives are going in a positive direction. Sometimes, our careers even call for some social media engagement, and that's perfectly OK. 

So what’s the solution to finding balance in the midst of this love/hate relationship? Taking a break? Deactivating? Here are the steps I’m taking.

How to Find the Happy Medium:

1)      I start my morning WITHOUT scrolling. I’ve noticed that my days are much happier when I don’t start off with the ol’ timeline scroll. I have less anxiety and I feel more productive. Sometimes I sit down and write instead, or I just relax, breathe, and focus on my surroundings.

2)      I limit myself to a few minutes of social media catch-up time, and then I return to real life. The truth is, I don’t want to be up in everyone else’s business all the time, and I don’t feel the need for everyone to be up in mine. It’s nice to just get out and enjoy life while keeping my random thoughts where they most often belong—in my own head and off the newsfeed.

3)      I delete any app that I feel has more negatives than positives for me. I already got rid of Snapchat a long time ago, considering that I never watched or posted stories anyway, and I might delete another app soon.

4)      Most importantly, I’m embracing the idea of depicting my life in a genuine way and living in the moment more often. When I asked my sister about her views on social media, she explained that she no longer uses apps like Snapchat as much as she used to. I asked her why, and she said, “Honestly, I am so busy having fun now that I worry less about what other people are doing." And THAT is exactly what I’m striving for.

“I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are.”
— Charles R. Swindoll