Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Great Truth of Social Media

Ah, Social Media.  It is quite the fickle friend, isn't it?  Some days, it's really exciting to have all of these ways of keeping in touch with people, of meeting people we wouldn't have met otherwise. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.--All of these sites allow people to engage with each other in ways we probably otherwise wouldn't. 

Recently, there has been a stigma concerning social media--those who abstain from social media (yes, these people do exist) lament that just because you have 650 friends on Facebook doesn't mean you have any friends in real life--or that you're well-liked.  All it means, they say, is that you have a large social network on Facebook. You probably don't even know some of these people, they insist.  While these people almost invariably come off as bitter, sure, that is sometimes the case.  For me, I can tell you exactly how I know every single one of my 'friends' on social media, and I can probably tell you an anecdote or two about each of them.  And, yes. I do spend the majority of my Friday nights alone, but even before social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and even MySpace were invented, that was the case. I like alone time. #aintnothinwrongwiththat.  So, maybe they're right, I don't know.  But, maybe they're not.

I've even heard people categorize social media.  You know, the old 'Facebook is for people I know in real life, but don't like, and Twitter is for people I like, but don't know in real life.' And, maybe for some, this is true.  But, no matter how we use social media, most of us are trying to put our best foot forward.  This has been criticized in various places, I'm sure we have all read/heard this before-- 'you only post selfies of you that look good!' To that I say, 'so what?!' Long before social media existed, we wanted to hide pictures of us that weren't so great. The invention of the digital camera was great for that. 'I don't like this photo of myself!' Delete, and retake. Even before the invention of the digital camera, people would hide the photos of them that weren't so great in a photo box, but put the better pictures in an album under the coffee table.  'You only post selfies of you that look good!' is the equivalent of walking into someone's house, looking at the pictures on the wall/on display, and exclaiming with disdain 'you only display the pictures of you that look good!'

Of course people only post pictures of themselves that look good. Why is this a negative thing?  Should we all post pictures of us that look terrible?  That I just don't get.  It was very hard for me to post the picture I posted on my previous entry--no one likes putting pictures of themselves out in the world where they feel they don't look their best.

Beyond just looking our best on social media, many of us choose to try to put our best foot forward in other aspects, too. We only post the positive things that happen to us--positive thoughts, feelings, expressions--#100DaysOfHappiness.  In fact, I began taking part in 100 Days of Happiness on Instagram, but eventually quit because I realized it didn't make me happy.  Most days, I was searching for something that wasn't lame that made me happy.  Most days, cuddling with my dog and drinking an icy cool fountain drink of diet coke makes me happy.  But, I thought, these were too lame for Instagram.  Too lame for my friends posting group pictures of their friends/cool things they did in their day, trips they took.  I wake up, get a diet coke, go to work, come home, watch Netflix, with little variation. Sometimes I go to the gym, sometimes I don't go to work. Participating in the 100 Days of Happiness challenge made me less happy, and more stressed. So, I stopped, and continued posting pictures of my dog or other random things-- basically, the same stuff I post on Facebook.

But, what I don't often post are my sad thoughts--my problems, my fears, my boredom.  Except in this blog-- I kind of think of this blog as a no-holds-barred kind of thing. I talk about whatever I want in here, I talk about unhappiness, depression, things that have happened.  No one wants to read about these things in their news feeds on a day to day basis.  In fact, I have seen more than one person threaten to delete people as friends if they see more than one or two negative things in a relatively small time period.  I understand the sentiment--seeing someone whining constantly isn't fun, it isn't what we are all on social media for, is it? 

But, then, why are we on social media?  To keep in contact? To see how everyone's life is going?  To tell everyone how our own lives are going? To put all the good things that happen to us out for the world to see, while covering up the bad?  Who knows. I guess the reasons are different for everyone.

There was recently a short film depicting this interesting paradox--how some of us lie on social media, paint over the ugly parts in our lives, and how when we stop doing that, if we are honest about things, no one wants to talk to us, see what is going on with us. (You can watch it here).  There's also a short film that implores us to put down our phones, and walk away from social media, because we are missing the human connection part of life. (You can watch that one here).

But, the thing of it is: I don't think we are.  I think that people, whether it's over social media, or in real life/person, don't want to hear about your problems, unless they truly care about you.  I remember this one Mock Trial trip in college--we were in a small hotel room, hashing out some team issues.  One girl, who I always thought of as a friend, looked at me and said "No one cares, Natalie." About the fact that I didn't sleep at all the night before, and had gotten pretty repetitious about that fact (which happens to me when I'm exhausted).  And, that, right there, is the truth

No one cares.  That is why we don't want to see negative things on Facebook. That is why we threaten to delete people if they break our 'no negativity rule.'  If it's our mother, our sister, our brother, our actual friend, we care more.  But, if it's an acquaintance we haven't seen in years, we just don't care.

And, that's kind of sad.  There are studies now saying that social media fuels depression--some posit it's because everyone else's life seems so great in comparison to our own.  Some posit that it's because we post statuses and pictures and don't get enough 'likes.' Maybe it's some combination of both, maybe it's one instead of the other--or maybe it's because we know that people don't care.

For me, I don't try to put my best foot forward--at least, not on this blog.  And, truthfully, it doesn't bother me when people slip and have a negative moment-- life isn't always rainbows and butterflies and donuts--sometimes, life isn't fun.  And there are people I know who live through depression, and post about it, and I don't scroll by and roll my eyes-- I respond.  Because maybe that's what they need. Maybe it isn't... But, maybe it is.

And more than I want to see positivity on my news feed on Facebook, I want to see real life--stress, happiness, sadness, joy, life, with its many ups and downs--you don't need to be afraid of sharing your 'downs' with me, though I sincerely hope that all of my friends have more ups than downs.

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