When life is good.
And I’m enjoying myself.
There’s still this one thing that bothers me.
It’s the proverbial thorn in my side, a nuisance that won’t relent like an angry gremlin clawing at my ankles, snarling and taunting, “Hey you, pay attention to me! You’ll never be good enough for me!”
Okay, that’s a weird image. I don’t know why I chose that. I’ve never even seen the movie Gremlins.
Anyways, this so-called gremlin is social media and my ego seems to have agitated it because it’s seeking vengeance.
Every time I’m feeling excited or self-satisfied the gremlin appears.
When the likes don’t roll in, it mocks and teases me.
It tells me I’m worthless and I believe it.
I feel anxious, disappointed, angry, defeated.
“Two minutes and still no likes? WTF!?”
“7 likes? Seriously? This is bull! Nobody cares about me.”
When the likes are in high supply, it encourages me to eat them up and I become a glutton, feasting on the attention with an insatiable hunger, gorging fiendishly as my bloated gut wrenches with panic that the food will soon run out.
“100 likes? Make it 200! Make it 1000! I am the greatest! Keep them coming!”
“Uh oh, these likes are starting to slow down. You mean that’s it? Argh, I want moooore.”
Have you felt this way before?
If you haven’t, you either don’t use social media or you are chill as f*ck and I want to hang out with you to learn how to be chill too.
You and I both know social media has its dangers, that it can manifest narcissism and loneliness.
We know it’s engineered to hold our attention, baiting us with clever algorithms and instant gratification.
We know it glamorises the lives of our peers and lures us into a game of comparisons where the only winners are the ones who don’t play.
Yet social media is so frequently useful, fun, and entertaining; and it’s nearing ubiquity, with approx. 70% of all adults and 90% of 18-29 year-olds active on at least one social media platform.
As Gary Vaynerchuk likes to remind us, “…social media is just the slang term for the current state of the Internet.”
So this article rests on a few assumptions:
- You use social media.
- You occasionally feel some form of anxiety from using social media.
- You plan on continuing to use social media.
If these statements are true, you and I have something in common.
If they aren’t, there’s a chance you think I’m crazy (but I’d love it if you sent me an email describing how social media does or doesn’t fit in your life).
One person I never want to be is the social media hater-non-abstainer. You know who I’m talking about? This is the person who uses social media to post about the evils of social media, who every few months writes an elaborate Facebook post announcing the deletion of their account, only to remain active on multiple other platforms and reactivate their Facebook account within a few weeks.
“Your social media isn’t a real reflection of you,” such a person might say, “It’s a curated version of how you want people to think of you.”
To that I reply, “So what?” Maybe that’s a good thing.
Great novelists aren’t expected to write their first draft and have the book published the next day. They spend months or years editing and refining their work to create the final draft that the public sees, the words by which they will be remembered.
So what if our physical life is the draft and social media is the final? What’s wrong with giving ourselves the chance to be seen as we want to be seen?
Of course, the novelist example is easily undermined with the example of live music, in which case if the live act is notably worse than the recording, the performer is doomed to an eternity of unflattering YouTube clips and negative word-of-mouth.
But let’s pretend I didn’t just write that and carry on.
In my not-so-subtle opinion, dismissing social media as superficial is the cynic’s way of avoiding the true challenge of coexisting with the most disruptive cultural entity of our time.
If you or I resolve to remain on social media, it’s our duty to deploy optimism and tact to maximize the good and eliminate the bad.
Revisiting the gremlin metaphor (sigh), it’s my understanding that the trouble with gremlins arises when you feed them after midnight.
So what’s been feeding my gremlins after midnight and how can I cut off their food supply?
I’m sure that the anxiety I feel from social media – like all anxiety – stems from fear.
When I don’t receive the gratification I expect from social media, I feel scared; not in a scared-of-the-dark way but as a lingering discomfort that works in opposition to my fulfillment. As a massive visual forum where social status is quantifiable,
I fear that I’m not successful and never will be.
I’m a 25 year old postgrad who has recently begun my career. As part of the “be an entrepreneur and follow your passion” generation, I live in constant apprehension that every decision I make will bring me closer to a life of mundane work, labouring for the profit of others and denying my heart what it most desires.
On top of this, no amount of support and happiness for my peers can completely eliminate the want-to-flop-onto-the-ground-and-die jealousy I feel when one of my social contacts posts about “how excited they are to officially announce [insert major career milestone here]”. If this person’s milestone is something I would like to achieve myself, the feeling is tenfold.
And I’m as guilty as anyone else of making these official announcement posts when I want to be congratulated for something I’ve achieved. The problem is that my network isn’t always as excited for me as I am. When I get too excited for likes and comments, I set myself up for disappointment. Even worse, I set myself up to feel that what I’ve accomplished isn’t actually important.
Associating the engagement I get on my social posts with my success has hurt me in the past and has actually discouraged me from working towards my career goals, creating real harm in my life.
I fear that I’m unpopular.
I’m not a trend setter, I’m not particularly cool, and my life is not celebrated on social media the way that the lives of popular people are.
The frustrated teenager inside of me hates this. Every day on social media I see certain people being showered with praise for seemingly mundane things – their meals, standing in front of a graffitied wall, taking selfies – and I see certain others receiving little or no praise for posting the exact same things.
For example, to the exact instant that I write this, I still have no idea why one person will receive 200 likes for a picture of their muffin and why another, who I know to be an equally nice and interesting person, will receive zero likes on a picture of their own baked snack. All I know is the obvious: lots of likes good, no likes bad.
And, like in high school, social status sticks. Social media makes me fear that I was a loser in high school and always will be, and I worry that if I don’t regularly post things to appear cool and interesting, my popularity will slip away and I will become a social untouchable, doomed to receive no likes on my pictures of muffins.
I fear that life is unfair.
This is the fear that hurts, the substance that fuels the fears I’ve written about above. It’s an old debate in which each side has merit, but I suspect that most others dread the same conclusion that I do, that life is unfair and will not reward us all with the same gratification.
I can accept why the popular person gets 200 likes on their muffin and the unpopular person gets zero likes on theirs, if the popular person is some sort of philanthropist baker who creates spectacular artisanal muffins and donates the proceeds to charity, while the unpopular person is a cold and deceitful sociopath who stole the muffin from a local homeless shelter, but that’s rarely the case (okay, that’s probably never the case, but you get what I’m trying to say).
I don’t know why some people receive praise and success while others don’t, with factors such as altruism, authenticity and the basic quality of their being seeming to be without consequence. I don’t know this for the same reason that I don’t know why some people are born into fulfilling and privileged lives while others are brought into the world to suffer and die young in some sorrow-stricken corner of the planet.
Being alive is exciting and incredible but the basic unfairness of life makes it scary. Social media reflects and reminds me of this unfairness and it is my mistake for spending too much time absorbed in its endless feeds on my computer and phone, altering my worldview and driving me to cynicism and fear.
I refuse to be afraid any longer.
If you have me on social media, you will still see me posting, liking, commenting and sharing. I haven’t written this to make a statement or to denounce these digital services we enjoy. I’ve written this to give visibility to one of my demons, to make it appear foolish in clear sight and ensure that it will never again hold my psyche within its sinister grasp.