Social media has always been a source of stress for me. I’ve had a like-it/hate-it relationship with it for a long time. I like when I make a new friend via Twitter or Instagram. It’s wonderful to exchange shared interests and thoughtful ideas with someone new in your life, especially someone I usually don’t or can’t see in person. But I hate it when I land on a post that makes me feel bad. I can feel anxious, inadequate, angry, sad, or even helplessly confused.
This bad tangled feeling culminated last summer. I thought long and hard about whether to leave social media all together. Finally, after agonizing over pros and cons, I came up with one way I can resolve those dark feelings while connecting with the positive people in my life.
The Artificial Aspect of Social Media
For me, the worst part of social media has always been the artificiality of it. There’s a never-ending stream of perfectly adjusted photos showing people, places, pets, children, food, and all else at their best possible moments. A woman walks on the beach with a slim body in a bikini on a beach. A sunset glows with various gorgeous colors on a lake. A child smiles with a mouth adorably covered in chocolate. And worst of all, glamorously dressed friends smile arm and arm, reminding the viewer what a great time they had without them.
And I have to confess, I’ve done it too. I love an alluring shot of a flower in my garden or how a rain drop pools on a leaf. I think my pets are the most adorable animals in the world and my travel outings are just as fun and interesting as anyone else’s. When The Forgetting Flower was released, I didn’t hesitate to post photos of the book reading and its release party. I’m culpable too.
But when posting these moments, I feel a strange mixture of pride and guilt at how lovely my life moment is while how unhappy someone else might feel at seeing it. I can’t resolve that while showing off, another viewer is secretly feeling envy or shame or plain sadness. I don’t like that dichotomy.
The bottom line is we’re all showing off something. One person shows off their awesome garden while another shows off a cute pet and another shows off an awesome vacation and another a fit body and another a best friend, and so on. And while that’s happening, someone else is feeling a negative emotion about it.
The Dichotomy Is Toxic
And it’s not just my sense of the experience. Everyone from computer science professor Cal Newport to public health researchers have talked about the negative effects of social media on people’s self-esteem. How it fosters depression and loneliness, especially in young adults. How it creates too much distraction and prevents the deep work of great art or scientific discovery or advancement in business. The effects are real and not healthy.
So I asked myself why was I still on it? Well, as I mentioned, I liked the camaraderie, especially on Twitter, of like-minded people. I’ve met gardeners and writers on that platform that have transferred into real-life friendships or at least acquaintances. I found publishing and promotional opportunities on Facebook groups. I’ve stayed up to date on my close friends’ latest career and family milestones on Instagram. And on Pinterest, I’ve found outstanding gardening, decorating and food ideas.
But I had to take a long hard look at how I could connect with those moments while preventing the sadder aspects. How could I post without seeming braggy or artificial? Finally, I realized the answer.
It’s Not About Me Anymore
I realized that if we’re all just showing off, then why not think of social media in those terms? So in my head, I renamed “social media” as “show off media.” This gave me a new perspective. Hence, I also gleaned a new approach. I became instantly self-conscious of what it was all about. And how I was contributing to the darkness.
In response, I vowed not to post anything that I didn’t think might help someone. If I posted a beautiful rose from my garden, then I better name the rose and give brief information on why and how others could grow it. When I shared vacation photos, I better include why people might want to go there, or ask where they had been recently. If I promoted my books, I’d need to include how they could entertain people and how buyers could get a discount or freebie.
In other words, I made it all about them.
Feeling More at Peace on Social Media
In doing so, I’ve felt cleaner and more whole. More positive. Now when I post, I feel like I’m serving the world a tiny bit. If I need to let folks know about book news in particular, I’ve found this website is the best place to do that. If readers come to my site, that probably means they already want information. So now, overall I feel like I’m helping. If I don’t feel like I can help someone on a certain day, I don’t post. It’s that simple.
There’s been another upshot to this approach. Under these parameters, I’ve avoided social media altogether for longer stretches at a time. I still check in for those good moments, but more readily hop off when I don’t find positive energy or posts that make me feel better.
For the last few weeks, my head and heart have felt fulfilled while also generous. And because I feel fulfilled and generous, I can spread those positive vibes around. As I go forward, I hope to reduce other people’s stress while enhancing my own online life.
So let me know how you’ve been feeling about social media lately. Have you been using it a lot? Gone off completely? Or still trying to find a happy balance? One thing’s for sure, it’s a tricky little devil.