Essays

Relationship status with social media: ‘It’s Complicated’

I know what you’re thinking: Arielle, you love social media. You’re always tagging friends in memes on Facebook, drunkenly snapchatting your friends singing in ubers, tweeting #JournoRequests and writing excessively long captions on Instagram. Yes, yes, I know. I live in the social media bubble just as much as the next millennial. I probably unlock my phone to check my accounts at least every hour. But here’s the thing – I kinda wish it didn’t exist at all.

I know this might sound weird, seeing as I come from the generation raised on MSN messenger and Bebo, but I actually do prefer living IRL. If I order a delicious brunch in a restaurant, my first thought is to shove it all in my mouth, not immediately whip my phone out for an Instagrammable picture. If I go to a festival and I’m wearing a cute outfit, I can’t be bothered to stand and take pictures in front of the ferris wheel – I just want to dance and laugh with my friends and drink gross cider until I get indigestion, and run around in the mud until my carefully-picked outfit is covered in stains. That would all be fine if I just didn’t care at all – but, I admit, I’ll regret not capturing those moments and putting them online when the following (hungover) day rolls around.

I hate that feeling – if it were up to me, I wouldn’t live my life through the lens of social media. As narcissistic as I am, I don’t particularly like documenting everything I do in picture or video form. I love to write, but putting myself out there like that doesn’t come naturally. But I feel like it sort-of isn’t up to me, as it seems that nowadays social acceptance and validation is wrapped up in a profile and a news feed. If you didn’t snap it, did you even go? If you don’t have many followers, do you even have friends? If you don’t receive likes, are you even likeable?

On the one hand, I know my value isn’t rooted in how popular or beautiful my social media accounts are. On the other hand, I think that if everyone else is doing it, I should probably get on board. But I feel like I’m lagging behind; I don’t really know how to take a good photograph, with perfect lighting (a millennial instinct I have somehow never acquired). I’m not exactly sure where the line is between self-promotion and bragging. I know a lot of people say increasing their followers is fun – almost like a game, setting themselves targets – but for me, it feels like a popularity contest I’m destined to lose. And sometimes, irrationally, I imagine someone looking through their feed, seeing that selfie I spent hours taking and mulling over, thinking ‘ugh what an idiot’ and scrolling straight past.

And it’s not just my own accounts that leave me feeling down-trodden. I am self-diagnosed with a severe disorder called Chronic FOMO (that’s Fear of Missing Out, for my non-millennial readers). Normally this only applies to seeing things your friends are doing, but for me, FOMO manifests itself even when people I hardly know are doing something super-fun, or super-cool; I get fear of missing out on a lifestyle someone else is enjoying. I suppose you might think it’s bog-standard jealousy, but I think it’s that constantly seeing what everyone else is up to – even if it is, as I’m fully aware, a rose-tinted representation of their real lives – makes it difficult to focus on all the good things I am doing, and prevents me from living in the moment.

I believe the technical term for this is being ‘hyperconnected’. It’s so easy now to see what everyone’s doing, whether that’s stalking your friends on Snap Maps or getting live Twitter updates from your favourite celebrity, so your mind never really switches off. This goes some way to explaining why us millennials are all so anxious; it’s like we are always in multiple places at once, which is inevitably dizzying and disorientating.

I do try to calm my mind by giving myself a social media detox every once in a while. When I find there’s a lump in my throat as I scroll through a feed, I know it’s time to take a break. I spent the whole of the Christmas holidays – ten days – without Snapchat or Instagram on my phone, and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was free from the pressure to show everyone I was having a great time (especially as I was ill for most of it, so I really wasn’t) and I didn’t waste my time looking at pictures of barely distinguishable table settings and roast dinners. My restless thumbs finally had a break from scrolling, and my restless mind finally had a break from all the noise. I hung out with my mum, I stroked my dog, I saw old friends, and I watched lots of Netflix – and most importantly, I didn’t give a crap what anyone else was doing. I actually felt free.

I would have loved to stay off the apps for longer, but the nature of my job means that isn’t really possible. As a journalist, I need to stay in the loop and keep my finger on the pulse, and as I writer it’s important to be visible; people understandably want to know who you are and what you’re about. It’s obvious that the bigger your following, the bigger your reach. But when the social media ‘ideal’ is a carefully-curated feed with pictures edited so much they conceal all meaning and truth, how can you ever really convey who you are? And if I did put the entirety of my soul on social media – chin spots and insomnia for all to see – I’m not sure I could face that judgement. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, and lord knows I don’t have great balance at the best of times.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that social media is a fuckboy and our relationship is complicated. Sometimes he’s a piece of shit and I wish he’d disappear from my life altogether, but I keep going back because he’s fun to look at and he often gives me that validation I crave. And as much as he’s dangerous, I s’pose it’s okay to mess around with him every once in a while. @arielletchiprout

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