I believe that on a subliminal level many of us subscribe to the idea that we do not exist unless we are posting, and in turn receiving likes, comments, and shares on social media.
Picture: Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893) depicts the subject’s existential crisis experienced in fear and isolation. (Courtesy: Legomenon.com)
Centuries ago, René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am” (or in Latin: Cogito ergo sum).
Today, it seems like the modern credo is “I am active on Facebook, therefore I am” or succinctly stated “I tweet, therefore I am.”
We post about our thoughts, feelings, future plans, and check-ins to hair salons, gyms, and holiday destinations. We upload pictures of the environments we find ourselves in, selfies, and the food we make, order, and eat.
People wonder why you haven’t posted pictures of your recent holiday or made your itinerary public. Could it be that you were taking a holiday and not curating another Facebook album at the same time?
The idea of “social media fasting”, although often discussed during New Year’s resolution-type conversations, is not the norm.
“Pick me!” we seem to beg our followers and virtual friends whenever we post.
Do we cease to exist in the world and minds of others if we choose to stop posting?
Social media and self-esteem
Please do not get me wrong. I do not believe that social media is either good or bad in and of itself. However, it is the way in which social media is used that matters most.
As a psychologist, I am interested in the way in which our minds process and make sense of the information we consume on Facebook.
Jealousy and envy are often by-products of viewing someone else living their #nicelife online, especially when the reader is in a self-critical space or plagued by feelings of low self-esteem.
In depressed and negative feeling states, we forget that Facebook posts are not accurate reflections of the profile owner’s life but a (re)construction of a moment in their life.
Constructions are edited. The creator chooses:
- what to include and what to exclude (the beautifully arranged table setting vs the tired individuals who assembled it for the event),
- how to frame the subject matter (“freedom fighter” vs “terrorist”),
- the perspective from which it is “seen” (near, far, sad, anxious, hopeful), and also
- to consider the preferred emotion to be evoked in followers.
Some people are more gifted at this editing process than others.
It is important to add that the above-mentioned editing is not always a conscious or intentional process. A lot of the time we do it without thinking.
When posting, we are most likely to leave out the boring, the gross, the shameful, and the mundane. We do not believe that those “between the lines” moments are as important as the carefully styled and produced (re)constructions of our lives that make it onto our social media feeds.
How do I know that my life is of value?
Beyond the editing of what we post, I often wonder what underlies our collective compulsion to post.
After posting more than my usual share of social media content, I often ask myself, “Do you appreciate what you are doing today or now, in and of itself, without the external validation and buy-in of followers?”
In the same vein, I would encourage you to consider the following questions:
- Do you feel secure in what you have, plan, and are currently doing?
- Do you secretly crave the stamp of approval from your virtual friends and followers in order to experience what feels like a legitimately good experience?
- Can you decide for yourself what feels right, good, and healthy to you?
And pertaining to social media envy:
- Instead of feeling insecure or envious when looking at people’s posts about achieving their #lifegoals, can you allow yourself to feel inspired to follow your unique dreams and future aspirations?
Whenever we find ourselves in an emotional crisis, it is helpful to disengage for a moment and to observe the situation at hand. The same advice applies to feeling negative emotions when consuming and creating social media content.
Consider how your mind is interpreting what you are reading and creating online.
How can you use these insights to support yourself in actualizing your one-of-a-kind best life?
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Eddy, N. (2015, 13 August). Get your own goals. Nicole Eddy Blog. Available: http://www.nicoleeddy.com/get-your-own-goals/#more-722 Last accessed: Sunday, 20 September 2015.
Shabi, K. (2013, 12 June). Meaning of The Scream (1893) Painting by Edvard Munch: Art Analysis. Legomenon. Available at: http://legomenon.com/meaning-of-the-scream-1893-painting-by-edvard-munch.html . Last accessed: Sunday, 20 September 2015.