There’s this wonderfully insightful writer whom I adore. Her name is Cheryl Strayed. And in her indescribably perfect book (and online advice column), Dear Sugar, she writes the following:
“Facebook and Twitter are heartbreak torture machines.”
She writes it in response to some poor girl who can’t get over her ex because she sees him everywhere via social media. Sweetie, welcome to millennial hell.
But Strayed’s words ring true for reasons more profound than ex-boyfriends and their online shenanigans.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – they’re heartbreak torture machines for lots of other reasons, too. With overuse, they make us unhappy. Deeply unhappy. That’s not just anecdotal evidence talking – there are statistics, people. Facebook actually makes humans measurably unhappy. Why do you think the phenomenon of vanishing, deactivated Facebook accounts is so widespread?
But why does it make us miserable? Well, if the root of all human unhappiness is comparison (which I generally believe to be true) – social media is the ultimate ground for grass-is-greener suppositions.
The worst part is, we’re comparing ourselves to something that isn’t real. People’s lives, by and large, are not the carefully woven narratives they post on Facebook. Far from it.
How do I know? Gina Allemand, who allegedly killed herself when her boyfriend said he didn’t love her anymore, just recently posted adorable photos on Instagram of the two sharing a romantic dinner. Derek Medina, who shot his wife then posted a photo of her dead body on Facebook, had happy family photos strewn across his page. How many lovey dovey status updates and cutesy-pie pictures have you seen pop up in your stream, only to be told the couple split days later?
Social media is a realm where people construct the lives they want others to think they have. It’s image crafting. And the vast majority of us are guilty of it – myself very much included. It’s hard not to edit when you have the option.
It’s not just relationships – it’s jobs, possessions, lifestyles, physical bodies, friendships. Everything is subject to Photoshopping, censorship and a heavy handed edit tool. It’s the ultimate in image control, and tragically, it’s becoming the basis by which we judge our own lives.
Please don’t do that. Please. I’m talking to myself, too.
The chick from high school posting perfect body shots could be suffering from an eating disorder. Your co-worker constantly raving about her Leave It to Beaver family could be facing a divorce. Your ex checking in from clubs every night could have just gotten fired. You have absolutely no idea what’s behind the digital facade.
This isn’t to say we should wish anything less than the best for other people. We should love and cherish and hope for their happiness. But it’s not about that – it’s about us thinking we’re not good enough because we don’t have what we think they have. Because what we think they have is staring us in the face 24/7 from our computer screens, smartphones and tablets.
It’s all an illusion. One very widespread, very convincing illusion.
For most of us, minimizing the time we spend stalking other people’s profiles and agonizing over their better relationships, better bodies, better jobs, better bullshit is a wise choice. We don’t need to see what everyone else is doing every second of every day. Instead, we can save social media for the roles in which it excels – keeping in touch with friends and relatives, following brands and organizations we love, watching adorable animal videos. The good stuff.
Our own lives are pretty awesome. Instead of agonizing over what other people’s are like, let’s get out and live ’em. No one goes to their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time on Facebook, after all.