Social media is great, theoretically speaking. Some years ago, who would have thought that there would be a platform that connects us to our family and friends, giving us glorious insights into their lives, at the click of a button?
I have social media to thank for a number of things. I’m privvy to some beautiful snapshots and memories from friends far and wide, across many continents. I’m part of some awesome mums groups. I’m directly connected to my favourite cookbook authors. Hey, I even won a fabulous cast iron skillet in a Facebook competition!
But then, I think about this unparalleled level of “connectedness” we perceive ourselves to have with those we consider “friends” on social media. It’s a funny term really, friends. I mean really, who hasn’t seen a “friend” from social media at the shops and avoided them like the plague? Come on, be honest. It’s not that I’m unfriendly or anti-social, but sometimes the awkwardness of knowing every detail about an acquaintance’s life can make real-life conversation anxiety-inducing. What can one possibly discuss that hasn’t already been shared with the online world?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I tend to be one of those yo-yo users of social media. On again, off again. I try hard not to do too much scrolling of the newsfeed. I read somewhere that people actually seem to lose all track of time when they use social media. Um, yes! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gone online to find a recipe and then found myself scrolling through post after post at some ungodly hour, seemingly unaware that I’m even doing it.
Straight up, it’s hellishly addictive. For me, anyway. I don’t know anyone who has the self control to just say “Alright Judith, I’m just going to pop onto Instabook and have a five minute scroll, remaining emotionally detached and unaffected by each and every post, then finish up folding these clothes before popping into bed with all devices switched off”.
It simply DOES NOT HAPPEN! And if it does for you, I applaud thee.
Ever the over-thinker and hopeless empath, if I ever find myself scrolling through the newsfeed, I’m bound to be floored by some heinous article of abuse, some terribly sad story of loss, and the worst kind- the overly happy post.
You see, generally speaking, I can directly correlate my absent-minded scrolling with the level of crappiness I’m feeling. It’s unlikely that I have an amazing day of true, real-life connectedness, feeling like a powerhouse of a mother and wife, and jump onto social media to scroll aimlessly through other people’s lives.
The crappy days are the days where I seem to want to inflict pain on myself. Oh goodie, the cupcakes tipped over in the oven and turned into a charred and unliftable mess at the bottom. Let me now turn to social media to see just how AMAZING EVERYONE ELSE’S BAKING ATTEMPTS ARE GOING!!
It’s not even a conscious thing. I’m not that weird. I don’t try to make myself feel bad, but if you scroll long enough, you’re going to see a well-presented Masterchef worthy dish that makes you feel that your chicken soup is just not going to cut it today.
This is where the issue of social comparisons come in. Studies show* that people who engage in social comparisons more often are more likely to be unhappy about their own lives.
I have to say, the happiest, or maybe not happiest… that’s probably not the right term. The most content people I’ve met are fiercely unconcerned by what others are doing. It’s not to say they don’t care about other people’s lives, I’m sure they do. It’s more that it seems they are so busy doing their own thing that they have very little concern for how everyone else is doing things. It’s sort of like an exam room scenario. There are some students so focused on their work that they don’t look up from their own page to notice their surroundings. Then there are the students who are trying to check which page everyone else is up to, constantly watching the clock, distracted by every noise and movement in the room. I’d say it’s rare that they accomplish what they hope to in that setting.
As a mother, the general trap that is social media is starkly obvious to me. Devoid of interaction and a sense of community, women are turning to social media in an attempt to form the connections that we have lost. But as many people have found, social media can be a strange kind of disconnected connectedness. We quite often see people’s highlight reels which we are comparing to our behind the scenes lives. And despite how much we know that other people’s lives aren’t always peachy, we find ourselves playing over in our heads that photograph of them holidaying in a tropical paradise, their perfectly healthy home-cooked treats, their smiling family faces. This kind of continual comparison is just not healthy.
Instead of being at each other’s houses, seeing the dirty dishes piled up, watching the toddlers having a tantrum, lamenting it all over a cuppa, we’re living relationships through most often happy snapshots.
And so it goes that a platform so useful and appealing that aims at connecting people has the potential to drive us further into disconnectedness.
With all of this in mind, I constantly renew my vow to myself to use social media sparingly. Some days I go into addict overdrive level, and some days I don’t use it at all; and I can almost guarantee the days I’m not on social media are the days I feel more content with my own life.
My rule of thumb for myself is this: if you’re constantly looking for opportunities in real life to post to social media, take a step back and start absorbing real life. After all, it still happened, even if you didn’t document it on social media.
*I literally have no studies to corroborate this. I just remember seeing it in a lecture about 10 years ago, and I’m rather enjoying not having to cite anything to prove it. Take my word for it, yeah?