I remember receiving the topic, ‘Is Social Media and Technology Good or Bad?’ a few times in high school for both English and Afrikaans writing assignments and speeches. My answer would focus on both the advantages and disadvantages but the main ones were that social media connects people who are far away from each other and disconnects those who are close.
Of course, this is a generalisation. I’ve often used social media as a way to connect with a friend sitting in the same room as me, and I feel like it’s been positive. In the same way, the secret to a successful long distance relationship isn’t a cell phone. While technology definitely helps you feel closer to a person who may be far away, your friendship may still fade because of other factors.
The reason for this post, however, is not connection and disconnection. Instead it’s about the truth of people’s social media accounts. I think it’s important to realise that social media only shows the surface of a person’s life. When I scroll through Facebook, I see people on overseas holidays, at festivals, at restaurants and events with family and friends. For the most part, it looks like the person is having a good time. Maybe they are having a good time.
The problem with social media as we know it is that people choose what they want to share with the rest of the world, and so in most cases we only ever see the highlights. The photos and videos that represent the happiest moments in people’s lives. The most beautiful and attractive ones.
When somebody posts a photo of themselves, laughing with a friend at dinner, we may think, “Oh what a close friendship. It looks like they’re having fun. Their pizza looks delicious. They look so pretty.” I know that I’m guilty of those sorts of thoughts, and I can occasionally feel quite down about my own life after scrolling up and down Facebook and Instagram, mainly because I’m envious. The thing I’ve started to realise though, is that photos aren’t actually a good representation of somebody’s life.
If we were to delve deeper into the dinner photo, we would discover that this is the first time Jane and Susan have seen each other in the last 8 months because every time they make plans, Jane makes an excuse and cancels. Susan is secretly frustrated with Jane and doesn’t actually feel close to her. It turns out that their ‘delicious’ pizza actually tastes like carboard and the service at the restaurant is terrible. Jane spends the whole of dinner talking about her awful boss and checking her messages on her phone, and she doesn’t even bother to ask what’s happening in Susan’s life. Both Susan and Jane feel insecure about their appearance and they spent over an hour getting ready for the dinner. Both secretly believe that their friend is prettier and more successful.
It’s amazing how misleading a photo of two girls laughing is. Maybe this sounds like an exaggeration to you, but I know that I personally have these photos. There’s this one photo of me and a friend from a night in a club which I actually post quite often because we both look pretty in it. I can specifically remember how awful the night was though, and I’m sure I probably went home and cried. You probably wouldn’t have known that though when you saw the photo and so it makes me wonder how often I have made incorrect judgements of people just by seeing their social media pages.
I know some people who are going through a tough time – depression, break-ups, grief. Their social media accounts give none of this away though and if I didn’t know any better I would say that they were at their happiest. I think it is important to keep this in mind as you scroll through Facebook. People very rarely post their tears but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling behind closed doors.
To be honest, I don’t actually blame social media for any of this. Social media is a mere tool and humans are the ones who filter, sensor and choose what to publicise. I know that humans have a tendency to hide their feelings and only show the world the parts to them that they believe make them look strong, cool or likeable. This isn’t only on social media, but face to face too. People very rarely show you who they truly are when you speak to them, and it takes a certain type of awareness to break through the walls and discover how somebody is really feeling.
I’m not sure if there will ever come a time where humans feel safe enough to drop their walls or when feelings such as sad and hopeless are no longer weaknesses, but rather emotions that makes us authentic and human. For now, though, I can only ask you to be kind to others and be aware of the fact that what you see in others is only one layer. When you find yourself feeling sad when you scroll through social media, wondering how everybody has it together when your life feels like a mess, be aware that people don’t post their downs for the public to see and your insecure, sad and heartbroken feelings are experienced by more people than you realise.