Social media has fundamentally changed how we interact with each other and ourselves. When you see someone you “know” from social media- what do you do? Do you panic in an awkward limbo between saying “hi” and acting like you haven’t scrolled through this person’s entire life and know intimate details about them? But how do we reconcile this extensive level of access to one another and maintain our sanity?
Do you remember the time?
Middle school was probably one of the most emotionally challenging periods of my life thus far. I can recall flickers of myself before sixth grade, but the version of me that exists today, for better and worse, was born from experiences starting in 2001, the advent of the millennium.
I met people I am still friends with, met an awkward boy who I now admire as a complicated man, entered spaces with relatives that have set the tone for our relationship to this day and developed qualities in a raw form that make up the woman I am. All of this character-building and emotional strengthening happened within the privacy of my small bubble – unpaved streets of my childhood neighborhood, 30-student classrooms and without the onlookers of the digital world.
People around my age are largely fortunate enough to recall a time of seemingly world-ending personal experiences on a continuous loop throughout adolescence, happening one at a time, sans the archives of social media. I truly sympathize with youth today as they struggle to develop, as we all did, into functional adults and independent persons, but worse, with the added pressures and burden of life on the amplified digital stage in the social media age.
Welcome to the new age
As an adult, I too can admit the challenge of living in the digital age. It is a lot to process, the learning never ends and it has no bounds, as it continues to infiltrate every corner of humanity. Social media is a fantastic invention that has enhanced communication, altered life on a global scale and completely upended business strategies and access to consumers. Pause here. Today I am writing about and to consumers.
I have broken down individuals who use social media into two categories – contributors and consumers. My vantage point is that of a consumer. I could spend an embarrassing amount of time scanning social media, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook – guffawing at nonsense, eyes watering as I read reports of sudden tragedies and most often, cheering for my family, friends and followers as I virtually witness their wins and some losses.
I like to think that outside of my intentional effort to not waste away with my eyes glued to my phone in the palm of my hand, I have a relatively healthy balance and approach to living a real life, curating a digital life, and managing the effects of attaining said balance.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m referring to Instagram because it’s fairly simple and straightforward, it links to Facebook, the behemoth of social media and it’s my personal favorite and most frequented application. As a consumer, I don’t post often or much. I’m far too critical and have more important real life things to consider and obsess about, like my child, my job and my health. However, I admire those who share their lives and their worlds with the masses. Whether you have 200 followers or 20,000 followers, trust me, someone is watching, cares and is talking about you. Optics do matter. (Be Yourself)
Think about it. Are you a contributor, a consumer or a combination?
Understand the dark side
People actually experience anxiety about their digital lives. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. The more technology we acquire, the more stressed out we become. I’m not going to dive into social media addiction or the adverse effects of spending excessive time online.
Even I experience bouts of anxiety about how my actual and digital lives collide. For instance, when I see someone in real life that I only know from social media, I’m inclined to speak to them as a friend because I feel like I know them. I have to remember that I don’t . I view them. I recognize them. That’s it. I remember people that I’ve only met one time and have looked crazy on several occasions trying to convince this person where we met.
Situations like this can be stressful but how much do they really matter? Treat these as opportunities to elevate interactions that will maximize satisfaction. If you want to make that connection, find a direct, polite way to introduce yourself and mention that you are connected virtually. If you admire someone, tell them. If you’re not fond of a person, why follow them? At least mute them for your own sanity. Be smart about your online life and don’t waste precious capacity just keeping up and keeping tabs. Unplug for a while if necessary.
Three things to keep in mind:
- Live in the real world, not the “reel” world. There was a world before social media, it still exists – Remember life still happens when you’re not recording. Don’t sacrifice living in a moment just to capture it. Do you feel better venting about your day to a screen and obsessing over how you look to the viewers or would you rather engage an actual person: a friend, relative or colleague and gain some valuable, memorable insight or feedback? Now, if you have monetized your social media and your viewers pay your bills, please don’t mind me, secure the bag!
- Stop feeling anxious. Start feeling connected. Find the balance. If it’s more stressful than enjoyable, cut back. Scroll less. Read an article or book, watch a new movie or if you’re like me, do that thing you’ve been putting off for days or weeks. I can admit, after a long day, sometimes scrolling is therapeutic. It’s like watching the evening news, reported by everyone in my life that I’ve ever met. Try to make it more meaningful and spark a conversation. Out of the seven consecutive stories you just watched, connect with at least one. Congratulate a follower on a win, invite an old friend to catch up, or simply drop a compliment – via emoji. It goes a long way. Move a direct message conversation over to text to make it real. Turn an interaction into impact. Establish a bond. We need relationships to thrive, not followers.
- Manage your expectations. Social media should enhance life, not become it. If you’re consuming too much social media, chances are it’s starting to consume you. Another person’s pockets and journey is really none of your business. Be entertained but don’t compare or overthink. As consumers, we have access to what we are shown, not to what actually is. You don’t know what drama unfolded on that luxurious vacation or what dispute that smiling couple recently overcame. It’s too easy to want what we see without understanding what we’re looking at. Be proud of you, the real you. Too often, we romanticize the curated digital life. Embrace and share the moments and remember they’re just that: MOMENTS in time.
Reflect on your approach to social media. I totally underutilize social media for productive reasons, mainly because real life is so much richer, but I’m working on it. Find your healthy balance and don’t fall prey to comparison. This is your life to live – enjoy it!
Charlia is dedicated to helping others overcome various forms of social isolation through community-building programs and efforts. She currently works as a Project Manager in AARP’s Public Policy Institute, focusing on the development of resources and programs to empower family caregivers in multicultural populations. She is obsessed with understanding identity to promote effective communication that will lead to compassion and healthy relationships – the key to establishing emotional intelligence. Outside of work, Charlia spends time with her daughter Jayce, pet chiweenie Desmond, and as a Girl Scout Troop Leader for two troops in Washington, DC.
Articles also written by Charlia: Navigating the Sweet Spots of Life, Why “Just Be Yourself” is a Lie to Millennials, A Daring Challenge: How to Figure Out Your Personal Brand