A good counseling buddy and I hit up Starbucks last month for a marathon gab session, and among other things, talked a little bit about how we feel “behind” in our lives. Although part of this was the ticking social clock I’ve already written about, we both agreed that this feeling is fueled by jealousy and insecurity–which is in turn fueled by Facebook and other social media.
We’re both under 30, so we are part of that first generation to grow up with Facebook. I don’t just mean it’s always been a presence in our lives, but we have actually grown and changed as the company grows and changes. I joined in 2004, when only college students could join networks. My age group was the first to document their lives on Facebook, beginning with the silly college prank photos, through graduations, weddings, jobs, cars, vacations, and houses, and now, babies. Lots and lots of babies.
Thus, I think it’s pretty easy to feel like you don’t measure up somehow. I have a darn good life, and I still get major Facebook anxiety watching as my friends upload photo after photo of some notable achievement or epic vacation. I am always really happy for my friends, but on a crappy, insecure day, a newsfeed clogged with baby announcements and vacation photos doesn’t help.
In addition to Facebook, other social media can add to insecurity and jealousy. Lifestyle blogs of every persuasion abound, focusing on fashion, home, crafting, food, travel, you name it. Pinterest, Polyvore, and other similar sites allow us to share our own ideas and likes. The dangerous part of these types of social media lies in the seeming accessibility of it all: the blogger with the perfectly decorated house or beautiful shoes, the 34,589,234 craft ideas on Pinterest that you just know you have the time and skills for. So now, we’re not just feeling pressured to have babies (thanks, Facebook!), we’re feeling pressured to have organic, kale-fed babies that we put in meticulously-decorated and organized nurseries filled with lovingly handcrafted items. When our own attempts at what we see fall flat, we may feel inadequate or jealous for things or time we don’t have. It’s keeping up with the Joneses on a global scale.
I think even lifestyle bloggers feel a bit of this pressure. The author of What I Wore, Jessica Quirk, recently initiated a Facebook conversation with her followers regarding how “real” she should be on the blog. She seemed a little frustrated by the pressure to keep it perfect. (Sorry–I can’t link to it directly.) Although the verdict seemed divided, many of her readers were turned off by the perceived perfectness of some blogs and encouraged her to keep it authentic. She already does this, which is why her blog is the only lifestyle blog I ready daily!
So yes, social media does a pretty great job of making us feel inadequate sometimes, possibly even better than TV or print media. Blogs and websites show us the lives of people just like us, and Facebook IS us. And we don’t measure up, and then jealousy or dissatisfaction or inadequacy creeps in, and it spirals out from there.
What’s a 21st century kid to do? I had a conversation with my husband recently about how I felt like we weren’t going anywhere based on what I see friends doing through Facebook, and while this may not be a breakthrough to anyone but me, he pointed out that we–all of us–only put our best on social media. We only show the faces we want to show, and those faces are happy vacation faces, wedding faces, and baby faces. Not didn’t-get-the-job faces, or messy-house faces, or broke-down-car faces. Bloggers do the same thing, and Pinterest is 100% aspirational.
When I thought about it some more, I realized that social media forces the idea of life, curated. This word has crept into lifestyle blogs–Apartment Therapy is a big culprit for the proliferation of “curate.” AT readers are exceedingly proud to tell you that they have lovely “curated” vintage typewriter collections, “curated” minimalist apartments, and “curated” capsule wardrobes featuring only Japanese denim. And everyone–all of us–has “curated” Facebook pages. We save and display only our best for others to see.
Life can’t be curated, though. It’s too big and messy to confine to a single page. When I start to feel the old social media jealousy, that’s a reminder that I might be confining myself and comparing myself too much. Usually, that means taking a break. No Facebook for the rest of the afternoon or weekend or whatever. No Pinterest for a week. No Apartment Therapy until further notice. I also need to remind myself to get out and engage with life occasionally. With a full-time job and a heavy class schedule, I spend a lot of time with the computer. I also end up spending a lot of time on social media because my friends live all over the country and it’s difficult to keep up with all of them. I tend to forget how nice it can be to call a friend, bake a treat, or sew something. Keeping busy and engaging with real life–not online life–helps remind me how good I really do have it.
I also realize that there are some self-esteem issues underneath all this. Just like most people, I’m not 100% secure in my self-esteem and am working on that in other ways. But if social media is causing unrealistic expectations, then I’d just as soon reduce that source of insecurity from my life and engage in things that bolster my self-esteem.
Facebook and other social media platforms will continue to be a pervasive social force, affecting our lives in ways we can’t imagine. For now, though, it serves me well to remember that social media is rather one-dimensional, and I’d be missing out on a wide range of emotions and experiences if I only lived a happy, well-curated life.
Is social media a source of anxiety for you? What do you to do keep perspective?