Selfie-Loathing: Instagram May Be the Most Depressing Form of Social Media Yet
They say envy is the art of counting someone else's blessings instead of your own.
And Instagram makes that easier than ever. We are all painfully aware of how social media has drastically changed the way we live our lives. We have talked about social media burnout before, and encouraged each other to put the phone down, disconnect, spend time outdoors, reconnect with real life, etc etc etc. What we haven’t touched on, is how comparison-driven social media is, particularly Instagram, and how comparison truly is the thief of joy.
These days, you don’t need to drive through the fancy neighborhood, sit next to the impossibly fresh natural blonde next to you on the airplane, or walk into an empty Burberry store and get dirty looks from the salespeople to wonder if you fit in and feel less than.
No. All you have to do is look at your phone.
Your phone that sleeps next to you, that lives in your house, that interrupts your dinner, that you look at on impulse anytime your friend leaves to use the bathroom. Our phone that has become a 5th limb and the modern-day High School mean girl.
Why, we wondered, is Instagram particularly depressing? The answer is simple, because the platform itself is only about visual information, and vision is a window out of ourselves and into someone else. Instagram isolates all other senses, and only gives us visual stimulus, without any sound or tone context. As humans, our nature is to assimilate anything we see into a pre-existing category in our brain, and so we build a story around what we are seeing. Often, the existing categories we use to file away these images in our brain are idealized versions of ourselves, scenes from movies and other glamorized internet material, thus leading us to feel bad about ourselves for not measuring up.
This feedback loop (from hell) is a black hole of comparison and consumerism. We’ve all heard the expression “mindless scrolling”. You know it well: You are laying in bed, click on Instagram with the intention of spending only a few minutes on the app, but begin to scroll, scroll, scroll, like, like, like, scroll, scroll, scroll… 30 minutes later you find yourself holding your phone thisclose to your face, feeling bad about your house, your marriage, your bad lighting, your body, your stupid top knot that is never full enough, your uncool job, and on top of it now you have a headache and go to sleep feeling inadequate and ungrateful.
We get down on ourselves when we compare our real life to the highlights of someone else’s. You may see one glamorous second of my day, but you didn’t see the tough conversation I had with my husband earlier. You didn’t see the hurt I felt from a falling out with my best friend, the frustration when my work leads led nowhere, the panic I lived when my dog was in the hospital, and the stories told around the fire about the friend we lost.
You only saw a smiling face.
We only see the pretty and the shiny, and we want to be part of it. So in an effort to prove to ourselves that we are worthy, we also start posting only pretty and shiny. Then we get comments on how pretty and shiny that is, and we feel good about ourselves. Only to see the prettier and shinier thing next to us, and feel like we’re not as pretty and shiny. Now you have to make more money and spend more money so you can win at social media.
We covet things believing they will make us happy. We think, I have to have this. Think how pretty and shiny it will look! Everyone will die of envy.
And so it goes, on and on until we are all exhausted of pretending to care about things that don't matter. I, probably like you, am tired of the sameness, the always-perfect life, the captions crafted with the sole purpose of inducing envy, the bodies photoshopped within an inch of their life. The perpetual need for everyone to be perceived as special, get more attention, get more sponsors, make more money, ultimately keeps us on the hamster wheel in a world run like a popularity contest.
Then come the experts giving lessons on how to grow your following based on authenticity, when they paid for a few thousand followers themselves. We see others showing how real they are, baring their flaws and all in the most self-deprecating, humble-bragging kind of way, so that all the comments below are applauding, complimenting, and building them up, thus achieving the whole point of the post. Something that was supposed to be empowering to the viewer is used as a building block for the poster’s own self-esteem, at the cost of your feeling bad about yourself.
Social media has become a useful and important tool for our work. It's the language we need to be fluent in in order to win at business, and without it you might not be reading this. And naturally, anyone who uses any online platform should take pride in what they put out into the world.
But there should be a limit to our “editing”, or we edit ourselves straight out of our online life. We become vague entities behind carefully crafted captions desperately trying to sound deep only to end up feeling hollow. The person behind the brand washes away any personality and put on the persona they think their followers want to see, and after a while it's just... boring. Their values change over time, and their sense of identity is lost.
People like pretty photos and that’s a good thing to know - we can and should use this to guide our marketing and our branding. And Hunter boots are cute and Starbucks is delicious.
The problem takes root when you start to beat yourself up for not having as pretty of a gallery as the totally perfect blogger next door, and start convincing yourself you are not as good as her. When you find yourself having thoughts like “it’s not fair, my pictures are way prettier than hers, why does she have that many followers?”, “if only I had a pretty house I could be just as big”, and “why doesn’t anybody like me, am I not as cool?.”
What’s the antidote, I wonder? I think we need to ask ourselves one question.
What’s our motivation? And more importantly, do we love what we do? If we do, we should strive to protect it. This overwhelmingly creative world can suck the creativity right out of us, which sounds contradictory, but just think: when you spend 30 mins on Instagram in an effort to connect with people and to promote your work, you are probably left feeling exhausted, annoyed, and not at all #authentic or creative. That mindless scrolling doesn’t stimulate any part of your brain that you can utilize later. It simply numbs it. Like watching TV, your brain is practically sleeping, but it’s taking in all the spoon-fed material. It doesn’t have to work to receive it, like when you read a book or work on a problem. Because of its bite-size format we eat it up like potato chips. We can’t stop, and we don't stop.
There are wonderful sides to social media we can all benefit from, it connects people across the world and makes large corporations approachable. But it's up to us how deep we let ourselves dive in. The shiny world of material consumerism is losing its appeal to many millennials, and many are feeling jaded and tired.
So instead, let's build something outside of social media, a legacy we can share with our families, and use Instagram as a window into our world. Show what you are proud of, your happiest moments, and your greatest accomplishments. Live a happy life and provide value to others without expectation, and that in itself will bring you value back.
Live a pretty, full, and well lived life, and then post about it if you still want to (spoiler alert, you may not care to anymore).
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