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Monday, 28 April 2014

Perspective: The Disconnect ~ Our Social Media Li[v]es

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If you're anything like me and spend an inordinate amount of time on the internet, you may at one point or another have been made to feel inadequate by your friends and fellow bloggers. As they write up posts on their romantic holiday with their fiancĂ©, share photographs of their picture perfect child doing something adorable, or update their status about their latest [highly successful] creative project, it's natural to feel that your life is flat and uninspiring by comparison. When things aren't going as well for you, it's easy to feel a secret pang of envy even while being happy for the success of others.

There isn't a whole lot going on in my life at the moment, so I've found myself spending too much time scrolling through feeds and idly reading blogs and it's been making me feel worse about my own circumstances. I've become more and more aware of the way I use social media and I've lost count of the number of times I've composed [then deleted] a tweet which makes my day sound idyllic when in reality it's anything but. That impulse to present things in a positive way is almost automatic and that is frightening. When did the social pressure of social media become such a powerful force?

As online writers and social media users we are the curators of our own lives. We present a very public story to the world and it is often seen as self-indulgent to share the bad things. Who wants to read about your abundant frustration at the city you live in, or your failure to secure any job interviews despite spending your weekends writing piles of applications? If you share that stuff it might be seen as attention seeking behaviour. The problem is that in selecting what we share and what we don't share we're creating a disconnect between those we interact with online and our real selves. The editing of our lives, whether conscious or not, is inherently dishonest and prevents real connections with others.

I had a chat with a friend on Facebook only last night. I'd assumed everything was going swimmingly for her as the posts and tweets I had seen all centred on her creative pursuits and projects, with a smattering of smiley faced photographs with her new boyfriend. To my surprise it turns out that she's been rather unwell and very down for the past few months as she's struggled to find work and make friends in a new city. It served as a startling reminder that you simply cannot tell what is going on in someone's life via their social media profiles. 

I'm sure in some cases those happy blog posts are written by someone who is genuinely having a whale of time with no thought to bad luck or dissatisfaction. However, you can bet your boots that a fair number of your friends and online acquaintances have a whole lot of unenviable crap going on in the background. That holiday with the fiancĂ© was marred by a huge row on the last night, those photos of the children are the only ones in which they weren't crying, shrieking, or generally misbehaving, and that creative project must be balanced with a hunt for something that will pay the bills. 

I want to finish by sharing an excellent video by Shimi Cohen about how social media is making us lonely. Please watch it and give a second thought to how your use of the internet can not only serve to misrepresent you, but also feeds into this culture of social media lies. I'm certainly not suggesting we should all avoid sharing our success stories but perhaps we could think about how we share these stories in a more authentic way. 

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