Society blames and glorifies social networks at the same time. They have been making our lives easier, but the way we often use them actually generates an entire palette of issues. Every posted picture on, for example, Instagram, contributes to creating a specific persona. Of course, to some people Instagram still represents an online album that has the purpose of sharing a few moments and experiences, but that is exactly how it all starts. Later on, an alluring selfie-culture takes its place, and Instagram users start to like the idea that there is a place in cyber space that is completely under their control. That Instagram profile – or better, persona” – looks flawless every day, travels frequently, has a stable social life, relationships, cute pets, eats good food every day . . . Basically, that “persona” we invest our time in represents a pure perfection that can never actually be achieved. As humans, we are not free of worries 24/7, as some motivational captions may suggest, nor have we been liberated from the more-or-less chaotic circumstances of real life. Certainly, sharing some critical moments is not necessary – the point is that we don’t forgive ourselves a few “flaws” and rather choose to merge with that filtered and carefully presented persona.
The need to promote one’s personal life as a dream-come-true and to be liked by everyone, even by complete strangers, has become pandemic. One of the noticeable symptoms is the tendency to sacrifice personal experience in order to promote that new identity. There is nothing wrong with posting in and of itself, the problem is the attachment that we allow to take over. We can notice by observing our surroundings that people before inhaling the air in a foreign country grab the phone and take a photo. People are forgetting more and more to observe the new environment first, to get to know the culture and connect with people. A person may seem happy while posing, with all those hashtags, captions, the Brandenburg Gate, the Pyramids, the Eifel Tower, the Great Wall of China or something else in the background that indicates location. In reality, there is a real chance that the person has been experimenting with angles and lighting, has deleted about ten unsuccessful pictures before selecting the best picture to share perfectly the essence of wanderlust with every follower. As a “reward”, the picture is being showered with likes. The very number of likes means nothing, it is, again, the attachment to validation by others that boosts dopamine levels and brings the joy of successful achievement. That constant and often ignored need for validation leads to oversharing (in the case of Instagram: ten insta stories of every bit of a day), without considering that actually no one cares about what we eat, or whether we are “fitness-junkies”, or how many reps we completed in the gym (if any of that is actually true), etc. The same goes with relationships, with displays of intimate moments with our partners. Why would anyone except us care how happy and satisfied we are with our relationship?
There is also the phenomenon of social media narcissism. Our profile is a place where no one can notice how insecure we sometimes feel about everything, the place where we receive insta-gratification for the fragmented lives we build. Every attempt to accentuate the body in the mirror, to set a perfect selfie-angle to look skinnier or more muscular, to bring attention to our cheekbones, but not to look like a Bratz doll with an abnormally tiny body is energy-consuming. The thing is that all that effort doesn’t end up looking like a Vogue cover, but instead conveys our eagerness to show the world how “glamorous” we can be.
Another explicit example of contributing to a virtual “persona” would be twitter. The honesty, vocabulary, humour, creativity, and everything else someone provides in those 140 characters usually are not related to actual life. Think about how many people you know in person and how ridiculous and unreal their tweets seem to you. That friend of yours who is too lazy to do anything tweets about the importance of hard work, another friend may be in a serious conflict with boyfriend/girlfriend, yet still tweets about love, how his/her relationship is unique, and sometimes about intimate moments. Unfortunately, this sort of blunt behaviour in cyber space is not surprising. The fact is that it is much more comfortable to discuss politics, or people, or to judge, or to provoke from a place where no one can confront us, instead of speaking with no hesitation in front of actual people. It is also easier to spend time posting words of wisdom than living them. Approvals of other users feed our egos, which is normal to some extent, but not if that reaches the stage of total addiction. In such a state, we put ourselves on pedestals because of the success we gain on the internet and neglect our aspirations in life and most importantly – ourselves.
Shutting down all accounts is not a solution. Social networks are not the cause, they are just tools we often use to misrepresent ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we lie all the time, or that we are not beautiful, successful, smart, etc. The border between the casual use of social media and turning it into our source of self-esteem (and direct path to misery) is blurry. Although it seems that we have complete control over our profiles and the contents we share, the truth is that very often our creation controls us. We should put our opinion of ourselves first and invest in our self-development, our close friends, experiences, and memories, instead of trying hard to build an “image” and outsource our self-worth to everybody on the net.