Monday, February 11, 2019

And they all lived happily ever after: The falsehood of social media

Let’s talk about social media.

The swear word that seems to be on the cusp of everyone’s lips. I was thinking the other day, about why I got social media in the first place. Facebook I joined later than most; I was still clinging to the crumbling remains of MSN long after my friends had migrated to this new blue and white world, which is what eventually led me to do the same. Instagram I joined when I started uni, with the hopes that it would encourage me to take more photographs (I would always forget when they were sat quietly in my gallery) and document my experiences from university onwards. I stepped into these platforms with innocent curiosity and a heart brimming with optimism – so when did everything get so negative?

People go online for different reasons. To reconnect with faraway friends, express their interests or perhaps for promotion purposes. But it often seems that instead they end up in the midst of a friendship and relationship massacre because of what so-and-so put on their story, or crumpled with misery because their post didn’t get ‘enough’ likes – (Instagram, I’m looking at you). The problem then, I would argue, doesn’t lie with whether or not we ‘do’ social media, but how we do it.

What we have to remember is that everything on social media is staged. Those delightful, candid pictures that you see? Probably not candid. Those spontaneous, ‘on-the-spot’ selfies? Most likely not spontaneous. Sometimes I post a snap of me three-quarters way through an essay with a colourful snack at my side, even though the reality is that in the same morning I was pulling my hair out and close to tears trying to write so much as an introduction. We’re probably all guilty of it - it isn’t a bad thing. I actually really like Instagram, although at times it’s easy to resent it. It all comes down to how you look at it, and seeing it for what it is, which, on the most part, is a cherry-picked gallery of happy memories, good angles and aesthetic composition.

Instagram is not your GUIDEBOOK.
If you look up to Instagram as your life guide then you are probably going to be left feeling a bit gloomy. Why? Because it’s a false fairytale. Social media is a highlight reel. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all bad. I mean, you are probably reading this post because of a link on Facebook or Instagram. It has its perks, but in many cases we are aspiring to or envious of relationships, appearances and lifestyles that aren’t real.

A couple will post a picture holding hands and suddenly they are ‘relationship goals’ even though that photo is a lightning-flash from an entire relationship. Girls post ‘just woke up’ selfies looking flawless, when in reality it is probably a combination of good lighting, light make-up and repeated attempts to capture the right angle. And there’s nothing wrong with these things. Of course you’re going to post a selfie when you’re feeling most confident and of course you’re not going to take a photo with your partner in the middle of a rough patch or big argument. But we have to realise this, and not look at these momentary bursts as the shiny logo for an entire life. Instagram is not your life guide. Sure, it can be inspirational, but it’s not your handbook. Just because the influencers that you follow are posting about their detox-tea diet and twice-daily gym sessions, doesn’t mean that you are anything less for not doing the same. Just because people are posting about their top-end grades and career success, it shouldn’t intimidate you. It’s good to celebrate others’ achievements, but we can also acknowledge that we might opt for a slightly different path, or maybe an alternative route to the same destination is better suited to us.

My advice would be to follow the people who inspire you, not intimidate you. I see blogs of girls who gym it every single day and I think wow – how admirable. What a great commitment, good for them – but it personally isn’t a lifestyle choice for me right now. Does it sometimes inspire me to do a quick home-workout or a bit of yoga? Yes. It all comes down to perception.

It’s easy to feel deflated when it seems like everyone is achieving except for you, but the truth is you will be achieving things that you don’t even realise. Do I post a picture of my work station when I am elbows-deep in an assignment and feeling motivated? Yeah. Do I post a picture of the empty document at two AM when I’m stress-eating a doughnut trying to Just. Write. Any. Thing? (Sometimes, yes…) But my point is, don’t be fooled. Everyone knows exactly what they are doing when they tap that ‘post’ button. These pictures don’t get published by accident (unless disaster strikes). Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is all planned. So why would we base our life choices on something so perfectly choreographed?

Admittedly, it’s easier said than done. I am writing this post but guarantee a few weeks down the line I’ll scroll through my feed and feel a swell of sadness at the endless gym pictures of girls with hourglass figures and muscular legs or flawless skin in ‘make-up free’ shots, or people the same age as me who have high-end jobs and publishing deals. But that’s where we have to remember what doesn’t get posted. The tears, the mornings in bed when it’s cold and the gym feels too far away, the number of rejections it takes before securing a publishing deal.

Don’t use these things as a spotlight, illuminating what you don’t currently have, but as a means for how you could enhance what you do have. Let the announcements of published novels inspire you to persevere with the project you’re working on; let the news of friends’ album releases encourage you to get your own music out there; let the yoga videos inspire you to explore mindfulness when work has you run-down.
Don’t overdose.
The bottom line is: social media is far from a fairytale. But as long as we know that, it doesn’t have to be the Big Bad Wolf either. It is possible to use it in a positive way – for connectivity, inspiration and brand-promotion. Follow accounts that inspire you: book blogs, travel feeds, music creators, art accounts, and ditch the ones that feel a tad too artificial, conceited or intimidating.
But overall, take social media with a pinch of salt. If capturing pictures of latté art and sunsets makes you happy, then that’s all that matters. If you prefer more spontaneous shots of family weekends and university socials then go with that! And if you like a mix of everything, then that’s what you should do. Just remember when looking at other posts that it’s a reel of highlights, but it isn’t always real. And if it is, then it’s a screenshot from a much bigger picture.
I like to say: treat social media as you would a strong painkiller - take it in small doses.
Use it as an art form, to stimulate positivity and express yourself – not to prove anything to anyone, or set unrealistic standards. After all, what's more important: a happy selfie, or a happy heart?

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