Perception is a funny thing, especially in the world of social media. The individuals that we know well know all of our ups and downs, despite smiling pictures we post to Facebook and Instagram. They know that we encounter daily struggles despite what we may tweet or post. They are aware that we are human- but what about everyone else?
I had heard about this before- a segment on NPR about how social networking sites correlated with a rise in depression, especially among youths. As an individual, I struggled so much in high school. I wasn’t a total outcast, but I wasn’t especially welcomed either- the world’s oldest story, right? I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would have been if in addition to never being invited to parties or events I had to see how happy everyone was at those things as they were happening. That’s the beauty of technology, isn’t it? It’s instant and it’s overwhelmingly happy/beautiful. No one takes a “selfie” seconds after they got dumped or immediately following getting pummeled by a rival team. They don’t capture memories of the epic blowout they had with their best friend or the devastation they felt losing the lead in that school play (“haha, I’m not even on the cast list?! Wait, wait, I want to post this to Instagram.” *click*). Nope, we put the things out there that we want everyone to see- our engagement rings, our babies, our pets, our vacations, our career successes. Parties, adrenaline rushes we’ve survived, concerts we’re at, getting ready to go out on a Friday night. It’s all there and those of us who don’t know someone exceedingly well, say- how the hell are they so damn happy all the time? How are they getting everything that they want and I’m still single/poor/unsuccessful?
At the end of the day, it’s all about perception. This is easier understood than putting into practice. I still struggle with it. It’s why when I break up with a person I will delete them as a Facebook friend. I’m not interested in how quickly they move on or how many friends they see in any given weekend- that won’t help me get over it. Frankly, it isn’t healthy. Maybe at the end of the day, they are having more fun than I am and they do have more friends than me, but you know what? They have moments of misery, too, I’m just never going to see them.
I had a real moment of clarity not too long ago. A good friend of mine has some of the most incredible posts and photos- taken around the world. She travels a lot and has a lot of wild, zany adventures that she pretty much just stumbles into rather than plans. One night not so long ago, we opened up about recent failures. There was no prompting to it and it didn’t turn into a big heart to heart. The conversation simply began when I admitted to a moment of weakness- I’d failed at a writing trial I’d been offered. The piece, while very good, they said, wasn’t what they wanted- and they didn’t take it. Wait, what??? You’re saying to your computer screen. But Aliy, you’ve been posting about all these crazy successes you’ve been having! You were published recently, you launched a website, and you’re finding clients under rocks! What do you mean you failed?! Oh, I failed. I not only crashed, but there was some mild burning, extinguished only by my own tears.
I had been very embarrassed by this confession. There were a few moments of silence and then my friend said “I just got laid off by one of my clients. I’m coming home for a few months to live with my parents until I get things figured out.” My friend is 32 and the last thing she wants to do is live with her parents- ever again. How is it being spun online? “Hey guys! I’m taking a break from traveling so much because I miss the States! Be home soon, but I won’t be back long before I’m off again. Catch me while you can!” (For the record, I was given complete and total permission to put this confession into the blogosphere.)
This was an eye opener. Holy cow! But…but…but…but, you’re awesome! How is this happening to you?! What it is that it says on that bumper sticker in Forest Gump, kids? “$hit Happens.” At the end of the day, we have all failed in some way or another. We’re humans, we have shortcomings, and it’s natural to hit and miss. It’s also human nature not want to look like an idiot- to not confess that you’re considering a divorce or you’re struggling to get pregnant. Maybe you’re up to your nose in debt or you got laid off. Jennifer Lawrence (I think she’s amazing) did NOT want to trip on her giant, beautiful dress when she went up to accept her Oscar. That didn’t happen when she accepted her hairbrush in her bedroom the night before the ceremony!
My advice is to stop involving yourself so much on social media networks and start involving yourself in the day to day. Social media isn’t going anywhere, but getting to know someone (really getting to know them) doesn’t happen by Facebook stalking. Ask them out for a drink, instead. Share yourself in a way that makes you appear human and vulnerable– that is how you will come to see the vulnerabilities in others. And for goodness sakes, don’t judge someone on their shortcomings. You have them too.
Do you have a difficult time perceiving reality versus what you see online? What are some things you do to counter this?