As someone who works in social media, I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook, and therefore am constantly being reminded about what other people are doing, eating, feeling, celebrating, hating, and loving at any given moment. Escaping the noise of other people’s need to announce their existence in every format possible has proved to be a weird challenge for me. Most days I oscillate between giving up on the Internet entirely, and wanting to be a loud member of the conversation alongside everyone else.
In the xoJane post, “The Competition Is Killing Us: When Social Media Makes You Feel Like Crap”, editor Lesley Kinzel confesses what I think a lot of us experience as we are constantly bombarded with updates about other people’s lives. From jealousy, to sadness, self-doubt and even anger, often knowing even the most inane information about someone else can make us feel bad about ourselves in comparison. Engagement announcements, houses bought, jobs acquired, weight lost – simply logging into Facebook can be a trigger for all the goals or aspirations we have not yet met. But let’s remember, “yet” is the operative word in that sentence, because the truth is, much like “reality” shows, the online content everyone shares online is a choice, and a highly curated one at that.
“What we forget is that social media is not an all-seeing eye.” Writes Kinzel, “We choose the things that we share. Indeed, this is partly why social media is so seductive — it gives us the opportunity not only to aspire to the perfected ideals others promote, but it also enables us to craft our own faux personas, to portray our own lives with an intoxicating degree of control.”
Who among us has not taken four or five shots just to get the right angle of a photo of our cat, that we will then add a filter to so everything looks dreamy, before posting it on Instagram? There is a reason we snap a shot of a beautiful piece of food porn before we dig in, and not after we have a few bites. Everything has to be perfect, so our peers and followers think that we are perfect as well, and in some way, we can cultivate our online personas down to the last piece of glitter.
There is actually science regarding the social implications of user-generated content, specifically as it pertains to our need to connect socially, and our emotional drive to be “Liked”.
“We may appear to be choosing to use this technology, but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards”. Writes Tony Dokoupil, in a July 9 Newsweek feature “Is The Web Driving Us Mad?”. “Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell”.
I get sucked in by that “squirt of dopamine” all of the time. I love nothing more than writing something that brings me more followers on Twitter, or receiving an email in praise of my work. But as a semi-personal blogger, I also feel the need to be honest. I have to make my content interesting enough for you to read, but real enough so I am still writing what I know. And there is a fine line there, and one I think a lot of people trample on in order to make themselves look good.
One of my favorite recent Internet events was the discovery of the website Rich Kids of Instagram. It is a collection of photos of all of Scott Disick’s cousins (just kidding – maybe), flying around in their private jets and hosting pool parties at their mansions. For someone like me, it is totally addictive to look at. It is just so different from my own life, I almost feel like an anthropologist discovering a long lost tribe of people. Far from an engagement or birth announcement, this is a glorification of a lifestyle I was simply not born into, and privileges that as of now, are humorously out of my reach. Being jealous of these kids would simply be a waste of time – time that could be spent making my life just a bit more awesome today.
But the Internet’s reaction to Rich Kids got me thinking about how we react to a lot of the “too perfect to be real” content online. We are all sort of aware of the staging that goes into a shot of delicious looking cupcakes or creative nail art, and we know that the people who took or pinned those photos still trip and fall and pass gas like the rest of us, so wouldn’t it be fun to celebrate that too? That is why I propose starting a trend on Instagram called “My Gross Life”. Users can post a photo where they are just like, “yup, that is me!” and not feel ashamed of whom they really are. It could be just the dose of honesty we need in order to make us feel a little saner about social media, and a little less critical of ourselves. You are more than your Instagram photos, and the Internet deserves to see it.
Here, I will start. This is a photo of my kitchen right now. Please share it with your friends. I totally don’t mind.