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If My Social Media Accounts Cease to Exist, Then Do I As Well? (Part 3)

September 14, 2017

Wow, it has already been over two months since I posted Part 2 of If My Social Media Accounts Cease to Exist, Then Do I As Well? If you follow along with my blog regularly, then you know I moved last month. That's a lot of the reason why it has taken me so long to finally post Part 3 today. However, it has also taken me that long because I wanted to give myself time to slowly back away a bit from social media to get a clearer perspective on the topic. Hopefully that comes across in today's post, but I have a feeling I am still just as confused about it as ever!


In the second post of this three-part series, I discussed how easily someone like me can fall into the rabbit hole of social media and get sucked into the online version of reality. I ended the post with these final thoughts:


"In a sense, we are all in each other's minds and experiencing each other's days from the comfort of our own homes (or from whatever cruise ships or airplanes we may be on or whatever). And that honestly seems pretty awesome in the truest sense of the word.


However, it doesn't seem like the human brain is capable just yet of logging countless people's thoughts, feelings, opinions, and memories into our own minds every day. So it's not that I don't care about what other people think, feel, or experience that is the issue. It's that I care too much. I care to the detriment of my closest relationships and my own mental and emotional health. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one."

For example, on my 30th birthday back in June, I was with a few friends eating McDonald's and cake (as one does), and I found myself with my nose in my phone, replying to kind messages I'd received from friends and family members wishing me a happy birthday. It was as if it hadn't been enough to have several wonderful people right there with me who were giving me their time and attention. I also seemingly just had to give in to that combination of feelings I discussed in earlier posts -- the excitement around what people had to say as well as the compulsive need to quickly respond to their well wishes. Now, there's nothing wrong at all with acknowledging and thanking people for what they'd sent to me. In fact, it's something I should absolutely, positively do. However, it wasn't the right time to do so when I was with real, live, loving human beings right in front of me.


But that's the kind of addictive behavior that social media and technology in general both promote. I don't mean to blame it all on that either. I realize that so much of it is up to me and my own choices. I remember how I had a flip phone all the way up until almost 2013, and I never understood why everyone was on their phones constantly. Then about a year ago, my mom said to me, "Cate, I have to tell you -- you're starting to do the same behaviors that you used to think were rude."


Bah!! But the internet is just so full of STUFF!! There's so much to see and read and respond to!!


Seriously though, with all the countless clickbait articles and abandoned blogs and websites, the internet is like a house on Hoarders that is full of old Happy Meal toys and half-eaten sandwiches. And if the internet is a house, then who owns it? Who is going to clean it? As my sister said, it's like the communal office kitchen that no one feels responsible for cleaning. It's honestly mind boggling to consider all of the figurative mold sprouting in every crevice of this invisible-yet-visible online world. I can't even see it, and yet it makes me feel like cleaning out 50 refrigerators and taking 100 showers until I finally feel clean.


So what do we do about all of this crap I just spewed at you in this series of posts?


I mean, as Albert Einstein once said, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" So, maybe we don't necessarily want to go completely MIA in the social media world. Maybe there are ways for each of us to have boundaries around what is healthy and what is not. For some, that may mean sticking to Facebook or Instagram only, and for others it may mean keeping up their Twitter feed. And yet for others, like my husband, it will mean not opting into any of it at all.


In Part 1 of this series, I talked about how I had deleted the majority of my photos on my personal Instagram account and felt pretty free. Since then, I deleted my account entirely. It was weirdly easy to get used to because I just didn't know what I might be missing. I actually had the experience of hearing news through my husband or telephone calls from friends rather than Instagram posts. It was fun to have out-loud, verbal reactions along with other people as opposed to the reactions I used to have -- by myself on my couch, smiling silently at my phone screen as I scrolled through a news feed.


I kept my writing-focused Instagram account (you'll see French on the left because I'm trying to make myself learn a bit of French that way) because I decided that will be my social media boundary -- an Instagram account to share my writing and a Facebook account to keep in touch with friends and family. Interestingly, however, I noticed that my checking Instagram less often has led to my checking Facebook less often. Several years ago, I gave up sugar and desserts for a few weeks, and I gradually ended up cutting out soda and fast food because I simply didn't want it anymore. The similarity in my experiences makes sense to me since I had the same type of addictive relationship with social media as I have always had with sugar. (I type this as I drink my coffee with a bunch of sugar packets dumped into it. Because, let me tell you, no matter how good it may feel to be sugar-free, and no matter how awful it may have felt when I had my first dessert after six weeks, it still always pulls me back. I really hope this doesn't happen to me with social media, too.)


Also, I don't mean to sound like the kind of person who always has some flavor-of-the-week fad or trend they're suddenly all about pushing onto anyone who will listen, but, I have to say, limiting engagement with social media is totally where it's at. For me anyway. It has been years since I worried so little what others are thinking of me or what I've posted, and I just realized how engaged I've been in my own life over the last few weeks. My focus has been on my goals and responsibilities in a way that it hadn't been in some time.


I haven't been seeing my life through a lens of whether something seems "post-worthy." I didn't even realize I had been doing that until I stopped doing it. When I first deleted my account, I regularly had these urges to grab my phone and take a photo to post something, and I'd even have it in my head what super-clever caption I would write. Then I'd remember that I didn't have an account anymore, and it weirded me out that my mind just automatically went to those places so frequently. Recently, I've finally just been living in the moment again.


In Part 1, I wrote, "[W]hen I was in the midst of deleting posts, I worried that I would feel my sense of self erasing away with my online presence." Wow, how heartbreaking that I actually had thoughts like that. If anything, not posting as often has made me feel more alive and in alignment with my core self. I feel free. I have moved houses, been to a concert, gone to the beach, watched a friend get engaged, read some of my writing at open mic nights, planned a trip, spent time with friends and family at barbecues, watched movies, etc. Basically, I did the same kind of stuff I always did. The only difference was that I allowed myself time to process what these things meant to me before I shared them as memories, and I didn't always do that before.


Now, I don't think everyone needs to go deleting their social media accounts to be able to, you know, experience total nirvana or be present with a friend or maybe even just get their laundry done. Perhaps it's possible to just do something simple like limit one's self to checking and posting on social media only on certain days of the week. I've seen at least one public figure whose Instagram profile reads, "Social media on Mondays only." That seemed clever because it set an expectation for herself and others at the same time. Therefore, no one will be offended if it takes her a week to reply to their likes and comments. However, for someone like me (a.k.a. a human with little to no self-control), I have learned that I am better off abstaining from certain things entirely. (Find out if you're an "Abstainer" or a "Moderator" here!)


Maybe a lot of it also lies in how we frame it to ourselves. If we allow ourselves to miss certain posts or news stories without feeling guilty or out of the loop, we will be much better off. If we can remember that the trips to Iceland/Bali/Budapest/Italy and the brand-spanking-new adorable babies and the destination weddings in Hawaii/Cancun/Costa Rica and the amazing promotions at work and the adorable new Labradoodle/Goldendoodle/Australian Shepherd puppies and the picture-perfect engagements at sunset are not all happening to everyone else all at the same time but, rather, that we're seeing an accumulation of a bunch of individuals' individual good days and moments, then perhaps we won't feel like the only ones eating egg-free chocolate chip cookie dough out of a pint while typing up blog posts ranting about how social media is both awful and wonderful at the same time and then posting said blog post via social media to get the same kind of validation being railed against within said blog post. Exhausting, isn't it?


Like everything in life, it's all about balance and perspective. There's no right-or-wrong, one-size-fits-all answer. As a friend of mine said, the real dilemma when it comes to social media is that it simultaneously connects us to those who are far from us and disconnects us from those who are near to us. So I suppose it's all about the timing and the balancing because both kinds of relationships are important.


I often have to tell myself to bear in mind that not many people are going to share their everyday moments with the world because, well, why would we, right? So we can't look at one moment of someone's week and think that every moment of their every day had been filled with the same kind of joy and ecstasy as what is being portrayed in their photo of a concert they attended or an award they won. In fact, the whole reason it's being posted is because it was an interesting, out-of-the-ordinary moment. I think we have a tendency to see this amalgamation of best-of moments and think they are representative of everyone's every moments when that couldn't be further from the truth. Not that I wouldn't wish for everyone to have that kind of 24/7 blissful happiness, of course, but it's not realistic. And believing in that myth is holding a lot of us back.


And that actually goes both ways. Over the last few months, I've posted a number of poems and blog posts that could leave people wondering if I walk around in a state of deflated sadness all day long (see: Emo, Mirror Selfie-Taking Cate *shudder*). I assure you, I don't. In fact, I'm pretty happy-ish most of the time. But sometimes, when it's 2 A.M., I might have just finished a sad movie that reminded me of a time when I felt rejected or like a failure, and maybe I'll write about that feeling and share it with the world.


So really, nothing is what it seems, and yet everything is what it seems. Because for at least a brief moment, I have really been as sad or as happy as the images I have shared have portrayed, and I have a strong feeling that I'm not the only one for whom this is true. That's because we are all three-dimensional, complex humans whose emotions and life circumstances are in constant flux. This is why we can empathize with each other because we've all had good days and bad days and amazing days and horrible days. It's the tragic beauty of life. We've also all experienced incredibly boring days, which I think is easy for us to forget.


I think we have become a bit desensitized as a result of all that the internet has to offer. We are so used to being able to distract ourselves from a drab work day or a dull weekend afternoon by looking up the hands-down cutest video ever of a puppy and panda becoming friends or looking at the most breathtaking photos ever taken in Paris or salivating over the most delicious-looking cupcakes ever created or listening to the most heart-melting, goosebumps-inducing performance of an Adele song that made even Simon Cowell stand up and hit the golden buzzer.


It's as if everything we see and experience has to be the best of the best. So it makes it exceedingly more difficult to find contentment in the everyday moments that make up 90% of our lives. Again, there is beauty in the ordinary, in the struggle.


Granted, many people do post everyday moments as well. But even those are made to look like the most awe-inspiring yet nonchalant, unassuming moments on the planet. I know this because I take pictures like that all the time. I see it as a personal challenge to make something as ordinary as a sidewalk look beautiful. So I suppose there's really no winning in any of this, just an increased awareness about when we let it all affect us too much. And that will be gauged differently for all of us.


In one of my favorite Humans of New York posts ever, an older gentleman in a Vietnam Veteran hat is quoted as saying, "Saddest moment? How am I supposed to choose between losing my parents and seeing my friends die in Vietnam? I don’t categorize those things. Listen, a person is like a rubber band ball. We’ve all got a lot of bad rubber bands, and a lot of good rubber bands, and they’re all wrapped up together. And you’ve got to have both types of bands or your rubber band ball ain’t gonna bounce. And no use trying to untangle them. You know what I’m saying?"


So we've all got to bounce however we need to. No judgment here. And, honestly, I love seeing everyone's posts. As I said before, however, sometimes I love it a little too much. I love it to the point that I neglect my own goals or priorities, and I get too sucked in to what strangers out in the online universe might think of what I post to the point that I neglect to listen to people right in the room with me saying, "Go for it! You're doing great!"


I want to be clear that I do not claim to have the answers about how to harness the power of social media for good 100% of the time and for anything less-than-good 0% of the time. I am also not pointing the finger at anyone who posts about either super joyous moments or really upsetting moments for others to share in with them. I have done all of these things and probably will continue to do so. I mean, look, I'm posting this giant rambling blog post about social media that has really no solid conclusion or sense of conviction. I post all kinds of things. It's just that these are all the thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head for years. Thoughts like:


Why do we post what we do? Who do we want to see it? Do we post things because we are already happy or because we want to be happy? Do we post because we're afraid we'll be forgotten if we don't? What would happen if we all went on a social media strike for a month? Would we go back to writing hand-written letters to each other like pen pals, or maybe just pick up the phone more often? And is it really so bad if social media is the new letter-writing?


I have no answers, only questions. Nor do I have a set opinion on what is good or bad about any of it. And maybe that's partially because the internet has taught me that there are always a million and one alternative perspectives that I have never yet considered before stating my own. So none of this is coming from a place of judgment but, rather, from a place of curiosity -- and maybe even a little bit from a place of concern. 


Basically, if we can all remember that we're just hypocrites who are trying our best and sharing our joys and our failures and our laughs and our cries -- and that's it's okay to not comment on or like every post or get comments or likes on every post -- I think we'll all be much happier. And we won't even have to post about it because if we are happy and don't post about it, not only are we still totally happy, but we may also be even happier than if we did. But, you know, whatever. Go ahead and post about it if you want. Chances are I'll double-tap it. <3

Some interesting articles and videos to consider reading and watching on this topic (yes, I am adding to that giant list of articles and videos to read and watch --  remember, we're all just huge hypocrites):


Anti-Social Network by Prince Ea:

The Instagram Generation by Jason Silva:

How We See Ourselves Through the Eyes of Others by Jason Silva:

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle:

Essena O'Neill Quits Instagram Claiming Social Media 'Is Not Real Life':

Please share your thoughts about social media with me! Do you relate to anything I've shared? Do I sound totally off base? Like I said at the beginning of this post, I'm still confused about my thoughts and opinions, so I'm just playing it all by ear. I'd love to hear what you think!


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