How about a round of applause? Or, better yet, an indication of envy? Or, rather, just tell me how fabulous my life appears to be in comparison to yours.
If you can relate, I challenge you to take a closer look at what motivates your social media life, giving yourself permission to be unfiltered… with yourself. I’ll be unfiltered, too.
Almost every able-bodied human being over the age of a fetus participates in some form of social media. This includes my definitely-not-tech-savvy grandparents. Likely yours, too. I am on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, and am grossly incapable of keeping up with my own social media overload. And I, like so many, have developed a bad habit as a result: I am not always living in the moment. Rather, I’m often revolving about in the social media stratosphere, phone in hand, notifications rolling in, while oblivious to the value of what is right in front of me – which is always to say, I’m too preoccupied with documenting my life for others that I sometimes forget to live it.
One day when I have children, grandchildren and, perhaps, a face full of wrinkles, I will be grateful for the pictures I have which captured my wanderlust-ing freedom and carefree frolicking. But, most of all, I will be aching to relive those moments in my mind. Pictures, videos and other means of documentation are valuable because they assist us in preserving our memories and preventing them from losing their pulse, but what if they also cripple the making of them – creating a distraction from the beauty and importance of the actual experience?
We Are Always Connected, Yet So Fragmented…
A couple of years ago, an acquaintance of mine made an extensive effort to coordinate which one of our mutual friends would be performing the Facebook “check-in” for the evening. While in route to meet her and a few others for dinner, she sent out a group text message which read: “I’m going to go ahead and let one of you guys check us in at dinner because I’m always the one to do it.”
I was amused by her request, but it struck me as a bit unsettling. She was already manipulating and strategizing how she was going to document a moment she had yet to live. It seemed like such a shame.
In our society, I often feel as though we devote more time to documenting our ventures and whereabouts, trying to get the lighting and hashtags just right, than we do actually connecting, conversing and creating worthwhile experiences. We are rarely ever present where we are. We may be out with our friends, but are more focused on finding the optimal window light for our selfies, as opposed to actually engaging in conversation. We may be physically out to dinner with our significant others, but instead of locking eyes with them or savoring every flavor or admiring the decor, we are, instead, making efforts to document our whereabouts on SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook.
We feel compelled to show up for our audiences but, as a result, fall short of showing up for ourselves. We are always connected, yet so fragmented. While stretching for the the illusion of connection to the outside world, we have become disconnected from the point of it all: living.
Time spent among friends is often overshadowed by agendas, feeling contrived and staged. Social media breeds and feeds shallow connections, and I find myself ravenous for deeper, more meaningful connections now more than ever. I crave eye contact. I want to see faces light up with epiphanies. I want to intimately witness a spark of an idea become a blazing inferno – right before my eyes. I don’t want a picture to prove it; I want to feel it in real time.
The truth is: We are starving ourselves while gorging on our incessant compulsions to perform. Worst of all, it is a viciously contagious epidemic – one I am not immune to. I have sorely fallen prey to the social media monster, despite my hunger for what I know it can never, ever satiate in me: authentic, sanctified connection.
And I’m not at all alone.
While at at coffee shop not long ago, I observed two 20-something girlfriends as they posed, pouted and clicked – resulting in about thirty pictures. This was executed in less than 30 minutes, all the while discussing their social media unravelings. During their time together, I lost count of how many instances I heard them reference Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, for it dominated 80 percent of their conversation. Most intriguingly, they did not part ways without one of them compulsively burying her face in her phone and editing their new pictures. I watched as they sat next to each other in silence, one staring at the other as she edited like a maniac.
It was as eye-opening and revealing as it was hysterical and entertaining. The obsession was evident, and it was clear that their driving force and motivation was not so much to capture the time spent with a friend as it was proving a point to their audience. They were on stage. And, I cringed to admit having seen myself in parts of it. In fact, with social media, we are all on stage and are often seeking the most robust, roaring and ground-shaking rounds of applause. We often sacrifice the authenticity of our relationships for our delusions of relevance and the false sense of standing in the spotlight. It’s trickery.
“Excuse Me; I’m Highly Offended By Your Lack of Social Media Interest.”
It is difficult to not be offended if your photos do not receive as many “likes” or comments as the next individual garners. It is difficult to not compete for more social media admiration than your business competitor or friend. I think the most unfortunate aspect, however, is simply that our observers will ultimately receive all of the entertainment out of our lives because we will have been too preoccupied to enjoy it. We may be living colorful and whimsical existences for our audiences, but what about our own fulfillment? What about enjoying that jaw-dropping sunset? What was the actual experience like to – gasp! – live? Will we even know?
This is what I daringly propose: How about you take my hand and step off of the stage with me from time to time. We can climb onto the “Off the Stage and in the Moment” bandwagon together, for at least a few hours a day on occasion. Such fun it will be actually making eye contact – no phone in hand and no distractions, while having a conversation without worrying if the lighting is flattering or if your mother will find your outfit offensive. Let us breathe, be cognizant within our experiences and observe the lessons and wonders they may be offering. Let us marvel at the faces in front of us. Let us actually live a little, and not worry so much about proving to others how magnanimously we are living.
A prior version of this article was published to The Huffington Post, and can be found here.