"I've noticed you've been a lot more critical lately", my husband said to me. "Maybe it’s because of your type of work, but there seems to be more negativity in your life than before. What’s going on?"
At first I was shocked and appalled by his blunt comment, but only because he was right.
After I un-clutched my pearls, I started to think about the real issue at hand. Was I becoming too critical? Or had I forgotten what it's like to live without a long lists of others' accomplishments scrolling on a visual conveyor belt before me.
As a professional in the media, I am required to spend more time online than the average person, and I've come to find it makes me trust others a little less. Being around a lot of other creatives, writers and bloggers, all vying for the same things — the same jobs, attention, more money, more opportunities to be published — I can't help but wonder if what I'm seeing is even real. When you see people's online life versus their real life and how distant they are from one another, you can't help but become suspicious and start believing fake-ness its the norm.
The root of this cynicism is how social networking allow us access to intimate information about people we wouldn't be able to obtain offline. The green-eyed monster has many more opportunities to rear its ugly head in this society where people put their best foot forward and piece together a perfect life on the web. Each and every time we open an app on our phone we invite the potential for feelings of jealousy, envy and inadequacy into our day.
The spiral of negativity into cynical feelings begins when we see our Facebook or Instagram friends excelling or enjoying life in ways that we aren’t, or can’t. It happens when we see tan, bikini-clad bodies frolicking on inflatable swans while we glance down at the Cheez-it crumbles on our sleep shirt, knee-deep in season five of Scandal. It happens when you see your girl crush showing off her sculpted abs and perfect butt in gym clothes, meandering over to the mirror and lifting your shirt only to realize you don't have a body up to her par.
Then the universal fear hits us: Why is everyone else having all the fun? All the beauty? All the things?
In real life, the richness of interpersonal interactions helps to fill up our tank of positive feelings and eclipse any jealousy we might be harboring. But when it comes to online communication, the daily assaults of— mostly contrived — perfect images of Sally, Becky and Harry, people we don’t know but feel a one-sided connection with anyway, becomes emotionally demanding. Now we have to feel something about the photo, be it envy, happiness, the need to say something happy about it to hide our envy, you know the drill.
Before social media was a thing, we carried on with our existence blissfully ignorant to the idea of competing for the imaginary prize of who is having more fun. Having a good life was relative — if you felt good about what you were doing, you were content. That's not enough anymore, it seems. We need the internet's stamp of approval to prove that we are, in fact, having a good life.
The end result of our constant comparison is often the very opposite of what the social networks aim to do — help us to share our lives — and we are left feeling despondent. When the only photos we see are staged and posted deliberately, something in us starts rejecting them. I’d like to believe it’s a natural goodness in us, a need to be real, to connect with other humans on a palpable level. When we start saturating our culture in posed shots of immaculate outfits at enviable locations, the sparkle starts to wear off after a while. Do you ever feel like you can't even follow people whose life is just too damn "perfect" all the time? It’s tiring and makes us irritable, a combination that leads us to become critical.
What follows is a cycle of criticizing those we are envious of in a vain attempt to make ourselves feel little bit better. This trickles over to our offline life, where we begin seeing things from a comparative standpoint. We are all becoming a little bit more judge-y in real life as well.
The question remains, why do we do it? Why do we continue exposing ourselves to this negative feeling-inducing stimulus? You'd think the payoff for spending hours on social media would be so great that we are willing to accept this new condition. Perhaps we need to examine why we are willing to lose perspective on what's important just for a few moments of vain entertainment.
Is it because we are bored? Depressed or have no goals? Because we have too much free time and no life of our own?
If the internet bubble burst, what would you be left with? We must think and act ten years ahead (I read that somewhere important, most definitely NOT on a bottle of Dr Bronner’s Peppermint Soap during some light shower reading). Ten years from now there could be some new way of comparing ourselves to the rest of the world, and all the social media we invest so much of our time into right now could be long gone. I encourage you to invest your passions in things that will outlast the changes in technology over time, things that won't fade away from you.
In the meantime, I want us to think about something. Is the internet doing what it actually set out to do — help us get closer to one another — or is it creating a platform that brings out the ugliest side of our personalities?
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