Filtered and False

Recently, I watched an episode of Black Mirror entitled “Nosedive”, which was written by Charlie Brooker. The episode centers on social media, nodding to particularly Instagram, being seen as a form of social currency.  Within this society everyone is obsessed with social status: its residents present seemingly happy and uncharacteristically friendly facades in order to maintain their numerical ranking.  Everyone receives social ratings and the higher the rating, the more likeable and more potentially successful they can be.  A higher rating presents more opportunities such as receiving better prices on housing, being invited to high-class events, as well as being widely accepted by the world.  From fake smiling and entertaining fake conversations to posting staged photos onto social media the story’s protagonist, Bryce Dallas Howard, will stop at nothing to boost her rating and become one of the elites.  The crazy part is that this fictional society seemed so foreign to me at first and then as I reflected upon the episode, I thought: “Shit that’s like the world we live in today.”  I must say after watching this episode, the craving to log back onto social media significantly decreased. How do we surmount and overcome these social obstacles and pressures that society impresses upon us? My answer is simple: remove yourself from the platform.

Everywhere I turn I can spot a minimum of 2 people staring down at their shiny, bright mobile devices. I see social media attachment while crossing the street; dining at a restaurant; and shopping in a store. Its effect is truly omnipresent. In my opinion social media has both pros and cons, like most things in life. When used in a non-detrimental, moderate way I think the benefits of social media, such as viewing photos of friends and loved ones to see how they’re doing, can be a positive influence on one’s life.  However, for me and for many millennials it has manifested into a virtual, artificial way of receiving instant gratification and validation as well as a way to falsely portray one’s life.  

Once upon a time I used to be a very avid Instagram user with a substantial following.  I’m talking 21,000 users who followed me and my everyday life, which I updated through my stories.  I am definitely guilty of making my life seem more glamorous than it actually was: I would post photos of me eating and enjoying food looking cute in trendy outfits when in reality, I was not enjoying the food at all.  As a matter of fact, I was dealing with a restrictive eating disorder and those trendy outfits were freaking uncomfortable.  Social media, in my experience, was a competition surrounding how many likes I could receive; who followed me; how many comments I could get and in what way I could portray myself in the best light.  I was very much interested in utilizing Instagram as a means of self promotion for myself and to create my own brand. I suppose I was doing a fairly good job at it too when brands such as Daniel Wellington and Frederic Fekkai DM-ed me interested in doing partnerships and deals with me. However,  I noticed myself losing sight of who I was and becoming the girl who likes and comments on other people’s photos (who have a large following) just so I would receive likes and comments back.  I wanted validation from people I didn’t even know, from people who were probably just as insecure as I was.  When engaging with Instagram I thought things like:

1) How many likes will I receive on this photo?

2) I need comments because without comments I may as well have not even posted in the first place.

3) Does this photo make sense with the overall aesthetic for my page?  

4) I need to constantly refresh my page to make sure that enough people like this photo or else I will delete it.  

5) That bitch unfollowed me, so I will unfollow her back!

6) Why didn’t she reply to my comment? I shouldn’t have even posted to begin with.

7) I should like all her photos and maybe she will follow me back.  

I felt insecure and ashamed of my own life when I viewed pages of my friends going on fabulous vacations or shopping at cool new, hip stores while I’m in my apartment alone.  My emotional health spirals out of control and then I proceed to feel bad about my own life when in reality, none of our lives are as glamorous as we sometimes portray them on social media. Who actually posts a photo of them doing real, human things like procrastinating for an exam in the library? Or sitting on the toilet?  We are more than our social media pages and forget about the real, flawed, imperfect, human qualities which define us. It can sometimes be preferable to latch onto a social media persona because that version is the glorified, edited, idealized version of ourselves.  This type of self-representation is a visual externalization of their idealized selves; it’s not shocking to me that people project this version of themselves out into the world.  Most people don’t want to acknowledge their flaws and struggles publicly and would rather have idealized images and manifestations of themselves marketed to the global social world. That’s understandable because by showing our blemishes and imperfections to the world, we are opening up ourselves to judgment, hatred, pettiness, and rejection from the world.  On the other hand, by portraying our “best” selves, there is little room for rejection or hate and more room for validations and praises. There is little room for nasty comments when we put our best self forward.

Social media isn’t real, kids.  None of it is. It’s rather premeditated, planted, and catered to appease certain aesthetics as a means to boost self-esteem and other human perceptions. Also, I find that the more I use social media as a means of connection, the more isolated and lonely I feel.  Social media abolishes the idea of “wondering” about our friends and family and has allowed us to infiltrate other people’s very personal, intimate lives and almost become a part of it through the outsider’s lense.  The ideas of wonder and enigma have perished. We can experience other people’s lives, or what they want us to believe their lives are like, without actually being there. Honestly, there’s less need for face-to-face connection when can easily know what’s going on with them with the touch of a button.

I have spent the last 3 months hiking and camping in the forests of Oregon, and I must say the best part about this experience was not having any technology whatsoever. The luxury of focusing on myself and not knowing what was going on with my friends and family felt blissful and nourishing to my soul. While hiking, I’ve noticed that a large source of my anxiety is rooted in social media, which is the very entity which 80% of my time on my iPhone is spent on (particularly Instagram and Snapchat).  I’ve been off all social media for 4 and a half months now and I’m noticing these benefits:

1) I am more focused, alert, and intentional.

2) I find myself texting my friends more as a means of reaching out rather than through Snapchat or Instagram Direct Message.

3) I can be more present and in the moment when I’m out with friends or family.  Whenever I’m at a social function, I notice I barely touch my phone to check it.

4) I feel more confident, sure of myself, and significantly less anxious.

5) I have time to focus on myself and spend hours in museums sketching.

I watched a TED Talk by Cal Newport and he said going on social media is like going to the casino to gamble.  Like gambling, it’s a source of instant gratification and validation.  We are all waiting to see what likes and comments we will receive and then every time we log back in, we’re expecting more likes and comments. There is a rewards system except the currency in social media is likes, comments, and follows, whereas in gambling it’s money.  In this TED Talk Newport states: “Many of the major social media companies hire individuals called attention engineers who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling among other places to try to make these products as addictive as possible. The desired use of these products is that we use it in an addictive fashion because that maximizes the profit that can be extracted from our attention and data.” Every second we participate in social media; these massive companies benefit.  

What I’m trying to relay is that I have not been missing out on much by deleting social or moderating my time spent on it.  I am current and updated: I check TheSkimm, CNN, and the New York Times for news updates, so I do not completely live under a rock. I feel better about my own life and my identity when I do not waste time comparing myself to other people’s glamorous vacation photos or their perfectly airbrushed photos; deleting social media can cause a huge weight to be lifted off of your shoulders.  At first, it’s quite difficult during the first 1-2 week transitional period as you will feel isolated and removed from a large part of society, but the long-term effects are so worthwhile.  No one will forget about you, you are loved by your loyal peers.  If your social media friends are truly good friends, they will reach out to you and go the extra mile to connect with you off social media.  Just because you’re not on social media doesn’t mean you are worthless, insignificant, or invisible. In the end, it’s about doing what is right for you: If you find social media enriching to your life and fee that it enhances connection, that’s amazing.  If social media is part of your job as a marketer, using it is probably productive and I respect that.  But personally, it was not the right thing for my mental health and I removed myself from the platform.  The ultimate question to ask yourself at the end of the day before engaging in anything is “What is the intention behind this and how will this enrich my life?” There are many answers to this question; however, the one that’s applicable to you is the most important.