Updated: Aug 11, 2019
It’s 1am and once again you're still awake and scrolling through your social media.
There you are, snuggled up, pausing briefly on one image to the next, looking at all the pretty people, living their perfect lives. Despite the hour, tiredness still hasn't kicked in, instead your mind goes into overdrive, gazing at the images and building all kinds of scenarios about the people in them and before you know it, you're comparing your fictionalised view of their worlds to the reality of yours.
"The Grass Isn't Greener... It's A Filter."
I recently came across the above quote (ironically posted on Instagram of all places) and it got me thinking, most of us know that much of the time what we are viewing may be contrived or altered. Yet, despite this, day after day we join in, participating in an endless quest for photographic perfection, while spending hours upon hours staring at our screens locked into grid envy.
Filter It Pretty:"I don't like my eye make up, so let's shoot from the lips down" or" I'll retake this one as I look tired" or worse still, "you can't tag me in that one I look like I have an extra boob!" and it doesn't stop there. We've now got filters to give us thicker eyebrows, lengthen our lashes, change the colour of our eyes, plump up those lips, contour our face and glory-be, give us rhinoplasty and smaller waist lines! Then there’s the countless MUAs, granted some of them are incredibly talented but a lot of the looks posted are time consuming, and can fail to work in everyday life as they literally involve wiping out the subject's facial features with the aim of re-creating different ones by literally drawing them in, now that's taking "my face is a canvas" to a whole new level!
"I know a girl that's happily married 'til she puts down the phone" Drake.
And what about those "happy families" or rather the cheating, or worse still, the bitterly warring couples who are all loved up for social media yet lead double or troubled private lives? There's the mother suffering terribly from post-natal depression who sits smiling and posing prettily for a photo with her new born, having been sobbing only a few moments before.
Raging hormones, punishing workloads and exhausted from sleepless nights, many women already find themselves plagued by insecurities and nagging doubts that society's expectations of motherhood can bring, only to have this reinforced by the images of other mums with babies that never cry, perfectly coiffed hair, size zero figures and picture perfect homes achieved only days after giving birth.
If that wasn't enough, we also have the individuals wracking up huge credit card debt to maintain their "amazing" social lives and yet deep down many want nothing more than to slow down on the partying and find someone special with whom to share their time and the occasional cosy night in.
Oh The Irony!
How often do you look at and 'like' images of people that should you bump into them in the street you wouldn't recognise them, or worse still you'd cross over the road to avoid them?
Day after day we find ourselves living for adoration from these very people we don't know, or don't want to know, through manufactured photos that gloss over our truth and reality.
Some of us even go one step further, buying likes and follows from strangers in a bid to seem more popular or in the hope of being elevated to star status, the paradox being that while our surface popularity increases many of us are left feeling lonelier and more isolated than ever.
So why do we do this to ourselves?
Well, some might argue that's because a lot of what we see on social media does inspire and unite users, and of course that's true! There's so much power in a single visual image, it can help transform a frown into a smile, perhaps pushing someone to keep going or inspiring them to make that positive life change. Social media gives users a voice, helping total strangers to find common ground, they can reach out and say, "hey! It's not just you that's going through this, I'm here too!" Furthermore, limitless information is available at our fingertips, and 24/7 we can connect, sharing anything and everything with our loved ones, no matter where they are in the world.
The Feel Good Factor: Anyone who has seen Black Mirror's Smithereens will be familiar with the phrase 'Dopamine effect' used to describe the highly addictive nature of social media on its users. In the TV series the character of Chris (Andrew Scott) laments to Billy Bauer (Topher Grace) the creator of the social media platform Smithereens, that we have all become addicted to the instant high that posting a photo or interacting online gives us and it seems that there is a great deal of scientific evidence to back this up:
" When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward, which motivates you to repeat a specific behaviour. In contrast, low levels of dopamine are linked to reduced motivation and decreased enthusiasm for things that would excite most people." - Erica Julson.
The rewarding feeling that dopamine gives us is the very same reaction that occurs after we eat our favourite food, or the mood lift we get after dancing or taking an exercise class, except of course, for many, social media is a more preferable mood enhancer as it's relatively instant and requires a lot less effort to get that desired buzz. When we post and receive a positive response it's like one big sugar fix and it's such a wonderful feeling we naturally crave more. Unfortunately, this is like any other addiction and as time passes our need becomes greater and because our fix is so easily and instantly attainable on our electronic devices, we find ourselves spending more and more time caught up trying to achieve it through our virtual worlds. Unfortunately, when we don't get the reaction we hope for we feel deflated, bored or even abandoned. What goes up must come down, and those lows, for some, become increasingly frequent, often resulting in poor self-esteem and depression.
So What Can We Do?
Well, If you're anything like me, at some point you may have despaired at the amount of time you've sometimes spent browsing the net, valuable time you could or should have invested doing something else! Below are a few strategies to help you avoid that sinking feeling.
Take a scheduled break from social media and turn off the notifications. Initially you may find it difficult not to peep at those screens, but practice surely makes perfect! Fight the temptation to check updates on who's posting/liking what, and spend more time in the here and now. Trust me, it may be challenging at first, but stay with it! The pay off is huge, after all, you're re-claiming all that time you were wasting and becoming more present and available in your own life! This will allow you the time to feel appreciation and gratitude for what you really have, and by not constantly comparing ourselves to others it may help some of us ease up on the self condemnation.
Stop hiding behind the screen. If you're using social media to connect and make friends then seek out real-life interactions by joining groups that interest you rather than just commenting on random posts that pop up on your feed. Try and attend meet- ups they hold in your area. After all, a new "follower" a like, or an emoji is no substitute for the time spent with those whose company we enjoy.
I've been in this position and having forced myself to take the occasional social media detox, I promise you, very soon it really does become less of a big deal to put the phone on silent sometimes.
Not convinced? Ok, so let's look ahead, fast forward 30 years, sitting there in our rocking chairs reminiscing, but which version of our life will we recall? The carefully curated and photo-shopped series of events we once posted up to chronicle our lives, or will we remember our true feelings, and how things really were? Perhaps, you might argue, at that age it won't matter which narrative of our past we choose to hold on to as long as we are happy.
Catch up again soon!