I recently met up with a friend who lives abroad and I don’t often get to see. After having a chat about how things were going for the two of us, she said, ‘I look at your social media and your life looks so idyllic and perfect. But it’s not really like that is it? You’re struggling and have problems like everyone else.’
So this got me thinking about social media and the skewed way we portray our lives, whether intentionally or not. I think it’s important to say upfront that I have never been entirely comfortable with social media. I’m quite a private person and don’t like to share too much, and I worry about my footprint across the internet. I am also, very conscious about posting anything that could be misconstrued or misleading. But here is the dilemma, the person posting on social media isn’t the person I always am. Now, it’s not as if I am posting about an imaginary life, or that I have invented a character. It’s just that the side of myself I post most often as, is not the side of myself I most often am!
We are frequently selectively posting the rosy parts of our life on social media. I don’t necessarily think this is a conscious decision for most of us. It’s just not like we’re grabbing our phones to snap a pic in the middle of an argument, or when we’re bored in the office, or late night on the sofa covered in popcorn crumbs! The times we grab for our phones are during those moments we want to immortalise with a photo; you know, when we’re having a wonderful time and everything is beautiful. Not during the times we’d rather forget, or that are simply not on our radar as being particularly noteworthy! So naturally, that’s all that goes on social media and that’s all we see of other people and all they see of us.
“the side of myself I post most often as, is not the side of myself I most often am!”
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine conducted a study on the effects of social media on it’s users. Results of the study showed that the more people used social media, the higher their likelihood of suffering from depression. In fact, people who spend around an hour on social media each day were almost 3 times as likely to suffer from depression as lighter users. Another study conducted by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology at the University of Houston had similar findings and linked it to Social Comparison Theory, the theory that we compare ourselves to others to determine our social and personal worth.
So basically, while I’m lounging on the sofa covered in popcorn crumbs and looking at my friend’s holiday snaps on Instagram, my self esteem is taking a nosedive! During these moments it’s important to remember that your friend with the holiday snaps has most likely also lounged on the sofa covered in popcorn crumbs feeling envious of someone else’s holiday snaps. All we get when looking at social media is other people’s rosy, Instagram worthy moments (not to mention the filters!) and not all the mundane bits that make up a good portion on their day.
“while I’m lounging on the sofa covered in popcorn crumbs and looking at my friend’s holiday snaps on Instagram, my self esteem is taking a nosedive!”
This is an issue that’s not going away. Our children’s and grandchildren’s generations are going to be consuming even more social media than we do now, so it seems logical to assume there will be more incidences of depression linked to social comparison. For the sake of our children’s, grandchildren’s and our own sanity, it’s vital that we find an effective way of managing it. Perhaps as posters we can take on the social responsibility of adding a note of context to our photos, ‘this photo captures the perfect moment just before the kids started screaming’ or ‘this is the most slimming photo I could find, the others all show my pot belly’! But perhaps more realistically, as consumers we can try to keep in mind and remind ourselves that what we are seeing is not everyday life.