We’re alive during such a progressive time and yet we’re falling backward.
Most of us seem to simultaneously be dependent on modern technology and be frustrated with how it’s transformed areas of our lives. We love being able to easily communicate and connect, but the more we communicate, the less we really connect. We text and “like” each other’s posts so that we get the sense of knowing each other without physically getting together or really sharing. Often, we end up feeling worse about ourselves after a stroll on social media. There's regret if we had an amazing night and didn't get a picture to prove it. It's hard to understand how to create a curated, "on-brand" feed or how to appropriately edit photos or captions. Plus, there's weird professional pressure to be a "personality" and accrue followers. And yet our addiction grows!!
So, how do we live more authentic and fulfilling lives in an Instagram world?
SEEKING APPROVAL AND VALIDATION FROM OTHERS
Our brains are deeply wired to seek social approval - that we're good, that we're doing it right, that people like us. Part of this is a normal drive for belonging and survival, but it can be unhealthy when our own self-worth is based on external sources, like approval from others.
Social comparison is inevitable and we all do it, but it is especially rampant on social media. One problem is that we know ourselves from the inside, but we only know others from the outside. We're constantly aware of our insecurities and faults, but all we know of others is what they do and tell us, which is a far narrower source of information. Since we mostly present the best versions of ourselves on these platforms, reality is lost on social media.
What's important is acknowledging that flaws are part of being human and that struggle therefore connects us to others. Everyone is every bit as disturbed as we are. Without knowing exactly what troubles each person, we can be sure that it's something. Rather than comparing ourselves to other people and watching our self-esteem bounce around as a result, we can remind ourselves that everyone suffers and feels painful emotions. Recognizing our common humanity means seeing our flaws and imperfections as something that unites us to others, rather than setting ourselves apart.
AN ANTIDOTE TO LONELINESS
Just as human beings have a basic need for food and shelter, we also have a basic need to belong to a group and form relationships. Social rejection signals that we are all alone—that we are vulnerable—and need to either form new connections or rekindle old ones to protect ourselves against the many threats that are out there.
The hard truth is that we are all at once irredeemably alone and also not alone at all. We are born alone, in many ways we live alone, and ultimately we will die alone. No one will ever fully know what it's like to be you. And yet - look around you - everything you see is here because other people constructed it or harvested the materials or packaged it or built the roads to get it here. Everyday you entrust your life to other people. Then there's the natural world: an ever-present ecosystem brimming with life, of which we are a part. We're all sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. All of us - all of the species - are on one little ball of dirt spinning around one of the stars. The sun beams you feel on your skin are from the same source as the sunlight on the arm of a person in India and is the same light that helps your food to grow.
You see, you don't need social media to affirm your belonging. You cannot not belong to this world.
SOURCE OF PROTECTION
Cell phones allow people to limit their attention and absorb themselves into a very focused sphere of stimuli and activities. In this way, technology provides a shelter from having to think about the world’s situation and your personal problems. It's also useful when you're at a party and you have no one to talk to ... grab your phone and you're never alone! You're fine, you're cool, you're not awkward. You can just absorb yourself in a little protected world on the screen with your friends. And, god forbid, you ever get bored; on this device there are endless sources of distraction.
The disadvantage is that with our bid to escape ennui, life actually becomes shallower, more frantic, and more desperate. The more we react by trying to get rid of boredom or discomfort, the less equipped we are to deal with it. Distracting ourselves again and again, we never learn how to cope with the uncomfortable sensations that come when we can’t get satisfaction. Avoiding your feelings is escapism. And the problems persist.
Instead of distracting yourself and numbing your feelings, try to open them. Can you just stand here alone and be uncomfortable? Can you pause the busyness and resist the urge to always be doing something? Can you stand in line or sit at a red light and notice what's going on around you instead of scrolling through your feed? Seeking bits of distraction is ok, but understand that they can be superficial responses to deeper issues.
INSPIRATION & CREATIVITY
The internet is probably the greatest invention of our time. We really do have the potential to learn about everything. Political and spiritual messages spread, ideas disseminate, advocacy groups form, inspiration abounds, access to art and beauty becomes part of our daily lives.
Let the stuff that makes you smile be what shines in your posts. Aim for content that's meant to delight, illustrate, celebrate, and entertain. Inquire what you are hoping to get from this post (praise? attention? connection? support?) and explore those desires. Be authentic and show the messiness of your life. Don't try to sanitize it.
Finally, recognize that you are the one using the internet to get something you want, rather than allowing it to manipulate you. Social media is a tool that you are choosing to use. It is a collection of words and pictures that only appear in front of you because of some coding, a battery, and a wifi signal in an otherwise useless combination of glass and plastic.
To quote Louis C.K., "It’s now, we’re us and this is here. If you’re in pain, this too shall pass. If you’re in luxury, this too shall pass. Ask an old lady how she’s doing. The internet is not real. Draw a picture on a napkin."