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The Illusion of Having a Life on Social Media

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on

It was all fun, when I joined Facebook back in 2007. I was about to graduate from University, so it was a very fascinating tool, to have all your friends in one network. There we could post our party photos, exchange information all sorts of events, and talk to eachother. It was a great place to meet other people as well, and learn (or noise around) the life of others.

I’m surprised about how popular this way of socialization became after just few years of its introduction. Before, we just had the mobile phones, the emails, the letters, the land lines… and the most retro way… personal contact. If you were a guy in the 1980s and wanted a girl to be your girlfriend, you had to have the guts to go directly to her and tell her in the face. But not anymore after the year 2020, where you are not even allowed to have social contact. You are not even allowed to show your face in public (i.e. facemasks?) so how could you meet a girl?

No worries, that´s what social media and all dating apps are there for. You have the chance to post the best possible picture about yourself; and construct an attractive persona with the fotos you upload and the catchy language you use. Is this real? As real as you want to believe it is. The advantage of social media is that you have an opportunity to build a completely remasterized persona. Are you a bit overweight? Photoshop is the answer. You don´t have any relevant academic degree? No problem, make yourself an influencer or pretend to be an opinionated intellectual in Twitter. You live in an ugly house or apartment? Fear not, you can use Instagram templates to embellish even the ugliest of places with flashy lights and neon colors. You have no friends? Nothing to worry about. Just pay for them! Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have specific services to make your page traffic increase.

You can change everything, to build your online persona. In fact, I know friends who do it. I bet you have those kind of friends too. Those who post their idyllic holidays; their endless social events; their last new outfit; the latest visit to the gym; the green thai chai latte from Starbucks that they just drank… their lives look perfect. And look at yours: You have overweight, have no money to go on holidays, no new outfit to show, and no exciting social life. Why? Why is my life so miserable, compared to others? Why can´t I have the same too?

Social media is the perfect environment to spread the deadly virus of victimhood. Because others have a better life, I should feel sorry for myself because I don´t have it. And so, as an act of not being “left behind” I produce my perfect life on the social media too… but that doesn´t help me, because I know it’s all a lie. My life is really not better; if anything, I’m getting more anxious, and impatient. I’m losing the sense of reality where one has to work hard to get what one deserves; Seeing so many influencers and famous people in social media having the easy life, makes you wonder what can you do so to reach the same standard, without having to work your ass off.

So, where is this all heading to? It seems like we are going into a spiral with no end. The more we use social media, the more we tend to go away from our real life. In order to keep our imaginary life, we need to spend enormous amount of time backing it up with photos, comments, likes and interaction with others. The more likes and attention you get, the more trapped you feel in the web. You feel that you “have to” keep posting, keep liking and commenting. The more you do it, the more the anxiety, and the impatience, and the feeling of loss you experience. Is like if you are aiming to reach the top of the mountain; the elixir of life; the ectasis of fame and glory…and with every “like” or “comment” you receive a little share of it, your dopamine levels increase… the excitement grows… but stays there just a microscopical time. Your fame last as long as the newsfeed allows you to stay, which is barely some seconds.

I found this the hard way. I used to spend many hours of my day in social media just to get a grasp of what does it feel to be “popular” or that someone pays attention to your life for once. But as a lifelong student of human nature, I did know that those spikes of satisfaction are very superficial and last just an instant. The truth is, people is more worried about themselves that they are about you. You cannot get popular or get attention, unless you have paid attention to them first. In the social media world it means, that if you want to get many followers and be popular if you are not already a popular person or an authority of some sort, then you have to follow and comment a lot to others first. If you like their pictures and feeds, they will correspond liking yours. It’s a mutual exchange of acceptance. In Twitter is even a common strategy to gain followers: “#followforfollow- follow me and I will follow back. Who cares who you are, and what are your ideas about life… I just care that you follow me and that’s why I follow you.

That sounds pathetic, but that´s pretty much how social media works. It’s another world of illusions. The world online very rarely represents the reality; But for some people, the online world has become more legitimate than the offline one. I am online, therefore I exist.

The addiction to social media and the amount of hours we spend in building a fake life there seems sometimes to be a personal problem; but we are not alone on this. Actually, as Jaron Lanier mentions in his book “Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now”, those tools have been specifically designed to cause user-addiction. Lanier quotes in his book the former vice president of user growth at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works…No civil discourse; no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem- this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem…”

In the online world, all what matters is to get your attention at all costs. That’s why the social media platforms are built in a way that you can see certain information just in a very short span of time. New information in the “newsfeeds” is flowing like a mad river at all times, if you want to catch up with what´s going on with all your contacts you have to constantly keep scowling back and forth…it seems like a pervasive present, never ending, no limits attached. This of course has consequences in the way we absorb and manage information. Short attention spans limit of capability to think deeply about any matter. Flash news and short comments replace long conversations and long research (reading books, looking around in the environment to get a better understanding) which leads to decreasing your ability to focus and work on a certain topic for long periods of time.

The question we need to ask ourselves here is the following: Why to spend most of our times trying to feed ourselves in the online world, where everything is just images and words, when there is a richer, more fulfilling and exciting world offline?

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