I've been meaning to write a post about social media and the way it makes us feel badly about ourselves for awhile---but after a dinner experience I had last night with some folks, I think today is the day.
I was having dinner with a bunch of girls whom I don't know very well at all, but I am getting to know through my fantastic sister-in-law. Some of these girls and I went to high school together, but for the most part, since I've lived in Chicago for the past 7 years, I haven't really gotten to know many of them--until I started attending these great book club dinners with all of them a couple of months ago. They're great--but that's not the point of this story--the point is that 5 separate times yesterday during this dinner someone said something to this effect to me: "You're just living the life. I'm so jealous. Everything you do looks so great and fun."
And I found myself having to say, "Nooooo, trust me, it's not like that." But I got the distinct impression that they didn't believe me.
Here's the reality--if you follow me on Instagram, you probably are under the impression that all I do is go running, sit on the beach, hike in the woods and drink quality coffee. And that's actually a pretty accurate representation of about 20% of my life.
But the other 80% consists of sitting in front of a computer, on sometimes beautiful days, editing and culling photos for 10-12 hours at a time. And that not only can be mind numbing, but it's also terrible on my body and by the end of an editing session my neck sounds like an old bag of Doritos being crumpled up.
The other 80% of my life consists of ponying up money I don't have to pay for health insurance out of pocket for the first time in 12 years or updating software and cleaning lenses and transferring files onto almost full hard drives and deleting RAW files only to discover the client wanted to buy the RAWs and rescuing files from faulty CF cards and finding out that the Airstream needs all new curtains because they are water damaged or learning that the truck is leaking oil for no reason or learning that the campsites are all booked for Souther Carolina sojourn or having an overly long conversation about ordination legalities in the state of Arizona.
It ain't all pretty. In fact it's a LOT of time in front of an energy draining computer screen. It's a lot like anyone else's life. I can pretty much promise that.
Yes, I certainly have a LOT of wonderful things going on in my life and I do my best to take advantage of them on a daily basis, but that isn't the whole story and I think that social media, more and more, is causing us to envy one another unjustly.
If you look at a typical social media account, be it Facebook or Instagram or even Twitter or Tumblr, you'll find that the majority of the posts are something akin to, "Amaaazzzing drinks tonight with the best people on earth at this adorable local only, sustainable cafe." or "Love my child SO much. She is just the best and smartest. Sooooo glad to be a mom." You'll never see the reality: "Spent the entire day at my boring desk job thinking about how I could quit when in fact the economy is so bad that that would be financial suicide." or "Most boring day ever. Just watched TV and felt lonely." or "Wow. My son just pooped 4 times in the tub while I was washing him and now he has been screaming for an hour straight." Because, more often than not, the reality of our lives isn't pretty or fun or exciting or amazing--it's mundane and boring and sometimes sad and depressing. But with social media holding as much court in our lives as it does, no one is ever going to post the reality--they are only going to post the pretty.
And it ain't all pretty.
Last year I had my students work on a project where they had to recreate Allen Ginsberg's iconic poem, Howl, to mimic his style, but to address a modern day issue (Ginsberg was railing about atomic energy and conformity)--I would say 80% of the students in my classes chose to address social media and the impact it has on their daily lives. I had no idea until we started to talk that social media is like....the WORST thing ever for a high school student. It's all about getting followers and likers and friends. They told me about "Follow to Follow Back", "Ghost Followers" and "Unfriending to Friend"--none of which I still really understand. The gist of the writing and the discussion, though, was that there is incredible pressure on not only young people, but any social media user, to maintain the perfect online presence--and, sadly, for many young folks the perfect presence involves drugs, alcohol and sex--because that's what makes a kid cool in the eyes of their friends or their "ghost followers". And for those of us who are older, it's about putting out an image of total happiness and joy, ad never admitting that maybe life is a whole lot more difficult than the social account portrays.
The long and short of all of this is that last night, after this dinner, I drove back to Grand Haven thinking about all the comments of people saying what a great life I'm leading, and I came up with 2 conclusions:
1) I am very glad to be living the life I am living right now. Is it perfect? No. Is it everything that IG and FB probably make it seem? Far from it. But it's the life I've chosen and the one I am looking forward to leading.
2) There are a lot of folks out there who are putting way too much energy into these social media tools we claim to use as a way to communicate. In fact these tools are causing us to disconnect from the reality of human interaction, and instead drift into a world of fantasy--let's get back to real human to human connections, guys. Cause in the end, that's what it's all about, right?
Trust me. It ain't all pretty. And anyone who tells you that it is, is lying through their teeth.