We live in an era that is dominated by social media. Everything you see, hear, or do can be effortlessly transmitted onto a platform for all your friends/family to complete strangers to see. The advent of social media has also brought a long-hidden facet of being human – the longing for approval. Now, not only can we share our lives, but we can cash in for approval and validation in the form of likes, retweets, upvotes, and on rare occasions when Snapchat makes you aware that your friend just took a screenshot of your bikini photo or weird alcohol-fused text.
Ego validation and approval are a basic human social need, there is nothing to be ashamed of (so be sure to hit that “like” button at the bottom of the page). However, there is a more insidious side effect that has come about that I’d like to bring forward. Due to the approval-based nature of social apps, we are rewarded for posting certain kinds of content through the aforementioned methods. This leads to a kind of “filtering” that occurs; you don’t post about every little thing that happened during your day nor do you take pictures of every meal you eat (okay, to be fair some of you do). Instead, most people post the interesting cool things that happen to them like that limited time Björk art exhibit at the Metropolitan, or that glass of $400 wine you got to try. Thus news feeds become inundated with pictures and posts that are interesting, aesthetically pleasing, but not necessarily realistic.
Not seeing the issue? Let’s paint a picture. It’s Saturday night and I’ve opted to stay home and listen to the entirety of The National’s discography while I assemble a bookshelf from Ikea. It’s not the most riveting weekend and during a break I decide to catch up on my Facebook feed.
“Hey, it’s Julia. Wonder what she’s been up to. She went skydiving? Wow, that’s insane.”
“Hm, I haven’t hung out with Juan in ages. Let’s see…he went to a Nets game today, that’s cool. Looks like he took some photos at the game. Wait a second, is that Jay-Z in the photo? He got to meet Jay-Z!?”
“Okay, surely someone here has had just a plain old regular boring weekend.”
Scroll with more intensity.
Anita wrote a status, let’s take a look.
“Decided to keep it low-key and stay in this weekend.”
Alright this looks promising!
“Will need my energy next week when I’m flying to Haiti to help build roofs! #blessed #squadgoals”
GOD DAMN IT.
Now those are extreme examples (except the skydiving which seems omnipresent, what’s up with that?), but what I’m getting at is that with these filtered feeds, we get a narrow view into peoples’ lives, one that makes everyone seem a lot more interesting or exciting than we probably are. The truth is Anita probably prepared for a while for her excursion to Haiti and she doesn’t necessarily spend all her free weekends volunteering. Or Julia spent several days a week walking dogs after school to save up money to go skydiving. And Juan certainly wouldn’t be posting about the many Nets games (perhaps the only Nets fan in NYC) he goes to throughout the season if he hadn’t met Jay-Z. Maybe you know someone whose life really IS that interesting, but chances are statistically – that it’s not.
When the average person flips through Instagram or Facebook, it can instill this inner sense of dread that is an amalgam of disappointment and perhaps insecurity that one is not living life to their fullest, or at the least that it’s not as cool or interesting as that of others. But it’s like comparing yourself to a mirage, you’ll never win, especially when your competition is primarily comprised of a snapshot of the best and most flashy parts of a person’s life.
The sense of missing out is something I’m sure is common to the experience of many in this day-and-age. If you feel that way, at least you aren’t alone. If it’s any consolation, most people have pretty boring stable lives with the occasional gulf of excitement. You aren’t missing out too much.