A few days ago I posted something on my Instagram about the false reality that Instagram and social media have created for an entire generation. While in the moment I posted it because it was something I agreed with and wanted to share, I received so many individual responses from my followers who agreed as well. It became clear to me that this problem was worth talking about.
I remember when Instagram first came out – it was the latest trend, and I personally was already late to the technology game. I joined Instagram mostly because I was leaving New York, and it was a way for me to remain in touch and share with my friends the adventures and life that I was going to live in Qatar the next 3-4 years. I had no more than 30 followers, and my news feed was full of people that I knew – without a single advertisement. It felt like the perfect place for me to check up on my friends, and see what their latest adventures were. It didn’t stay that way for long, however.
Today, you open Instagram and you are not looking at a feed of friend’s photographs, instead, you are looking at one of the most powerful and influential marketing platforms ever created. Whether you’re marketing a product, a lifestyle, a song, or a service of any kind, Instagram has become the most critical way to get that information, literally, into people’s hands. Now, we live in a capitalistic world, where businesses adapt to the current trends, and in that sense, one may see Instagram as a positive thing. Allowing a new wave of creative digital marketing to flourish has helped business grow. There is, however, a reality to how we consume Instagram, that has effects much more severe than simply purchasing something from an advertisement.
There is today an understanding of something called the “insta life”, a depiction of what a perfect life, perfect body, perfect relationship, perfect car… perfect anything, looks like. The reason they look “perfect” is because of one simple fact – the digital age has made it possible for anything to be manipulated to look a certain way. This poses a huge danger to people who know nothing other than what they see on their screens. Soon they begin to compare their lives to the ones they see in their feeds, triggering a series of emotions often times including, jealousy, self doubt, and ultimately a feeling that their life is not perfect. Thus, this desire for a constructed reality has started to cause many people to form various kinds of anxiety and depression, limiting their ability for self love and actually happiness in their own lives.
This long introduction to the topic can be written about in a book, and I’m sure it already has. The point I seek to make is that there is a life you know you live, and that life is the life you have control of. If you live your life based off what people’s Instagram feeds look like, you will end up with a collection of constructed perfect moments, as apposed to a truly fulfilling life with lasting happiness. Too often I find people comparing themselves in all aspects to things they see on social media, when the reality is if we spent as much time working and building up our own lives as we spend comparing to the ones on our screens, we could in fact attain a happiness that surpasses anything that you can capture in an image for Instagram.
Feelings happen inside you, not inside of your phone. Your emotions are not an algorithm, they are directly affected by your REAL life experiences. So when you work for something and feel fulfilled, you have truly made yourself happy. What has become the reality of social media, however, is a sense of happiness that is tied, quite literally, to the ways our accounts update us. When we get a notification or “like”, our dopamine levels go up. Over time, this builds up an addiction to these notifications, making our happiness a result of how many likes we get on posts. When you contextualize this and realize how the platform actually works, you see that when people don’t get the amount of likes they “need”, their happiness levels are actually lower. So not only are you comparing your life to something that is fabricated, but your happiness becomes chemically dependent on that false reality. It is a truly scary phenomenon.
Now this is not to say that all social media accounts are negative. There are incredible artists that capture beautiful moments and share them with their followers. I’d like to think that many people use their social media to influence people in a positive way. But even then, we must have the power to moderate our understanding and use of these platforms. Otherwise, our sense of “happiness” is governed not by our actions, but by the ability for somebody we don’t even know to press “post”, and the amount of heart icons that appear in our notification centers.
For anyone who thinks that they need to redefine their relationship with social media, I suggest a very simple method that has really helped me. Most social media platforms, as well as Apple’s iOS have new features that allow you to track how much time you have spent using their apps in any given day. Check those statistics, you will be surprised, and hopefully shocked. Once you are able to contextualize your use of such platforms, you will become increasingly aware of how much they govern your life, and the ridiculous amounts of time they suck out of your schedule. You will learn to detach yourself and invest time off the screen, and into things that can actually help you become who you want to become in this world.
As this is an extremely complicated topic that can not be covered in one article, I invite everyone to leave a comment below for discussion. The most important element of this epidemic is to share and raise awareness for those who may not realize the power social media has over us. In addition, I suggest that everybody read this article. It truly changed my life.
If you really want to change your life stop living it on a screen – go out, chase something, build something, become somebody.