Perhaps it’s because I’m one of those millennials who won’t get off their phone to have a “human interaction”, or maybe it’s because I just watched the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror. Regardless, today is a “let’s talk about social media” kind of day.
If you haven’t seen “Nosedive”, the general concept of the episode is that everyone has a rating. Think of it like Yelp! for people. Every single interaction you have with someone can be rated, and the higher the rating the more perks you get. Are you a 4.5? You can get discounts on rent, a better job, a better rental car, special airplane seats, and more! are you lower, like a 3.2? Good luck. And with this sort of system, the higher your number, the more rating power you have. Make a mistake, break up with someone who has a higher rating than you? Well, their friends are going to rate you lower until your rating is too low to keep your job.
The implications of this sort of system are not entirely foreign to how the real world works. Those with more connections are going to have an easier time getting jobs, apartments, friends. Luckily, unless you’re in a very strict social group, or a celebrity, you’re probably not getting rated on every single interaction you have. How exhausting it would be to fake your personality every day, every second of your life for people to like you.
Well, some people do feel like that. Except, instead of having exact ratings, it’s a never-ending guessing game that feels impossible to win. The score is added together by the inconvenienced look in people’s eyes, the awkward touching of the back of the neck, the bored tone of voice. Every little thing a person does combines to make our brains think that every conversation we have is a 0.2 (even if the other person felt it was a 4.7). And it’s always completely our fault. Conversations that other people won’t remember play in our head 24/7, and implications other people never even consider feel life-threatening. That’s how anxiety feels to me, anyway.
For many people, this feeling has spread to their online interactions as well.
There are a million reasons that someone on Facebook could leave a message at “Seen”. Maybe they were busy and wanted to give it a proper response later, maybe they didn’t know what to say at the time, maybe they just didn’t feel like it. Anxiety, unfortunately, doesn’t care about the reason as much as the overall feeling. They saw it, but didn’t reply– they must hate us. Being seen and ignored might even be worse than being unseen at all. Respecting our own individuality and independence in an increasingly community based world is a fine line to walk, but absolutely necessary.
In our society, always being jacked-in to social media is what’s expected. Don’t get me wrong, I am not someone who thinks social media is ruining our lives or the way we communicate. I have amazing friends that I never would have met if I didn’t have the internet, and keeping in touch with people I have met in real life would have been much harder without Facebook.
But there is a point to logging off occasionally, and getting in tune with yourself. It’s easy to become addicted to the likes, reblogs, retweets, etc. of the present, because they all mean something. Even if it’s a second out of someone’s day, they still chose to spend that second acknowledging something you did, and that’s great. External validation for those who cannot provide any for themselves is a godsend for many of us. But when you start to obsess over the numbers of it, over people who you haven’t spoken to since fifth grade, it can easily become a demoralizing chore.
So, how do we fix this? How can we traverse social media through anxiety? Honestly, if I knew the answer to that, I don’t think I’d be writing this to begin with. In my experience, even if well-meaning, the people who say “just don’t worry about what others think!” really mean “I don’t want to or know how to help with this and don’t want to put in the effort to listen. This works for me so it should automatically work for you.” It’s human nature to be curious about what others think of you, and unless you’re in a position of power, kind of necessary.
A good beginning to the fight is to start the conversation about mental health. It takes a lot of vulnerability and self-awareness, but it is possible. Talk to a friend, colleague, teacher, parent, mentor, counselor, or anyone you can trust. Starting to answer your emotional questions with rational, positive responses will help you start to trust your own perceptions, and the more often you do it, the easier it gets. Being in a place where you are comfortable with yourself, where you have a support system, is vital in every matter of life. You deserve people that will support you and accept you as who you are.
“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” – Brene Brown
P.S. A tad ironically after this post, I’d like to thank the people that liked or followed after my post yesterday. I wasn’t expecting it so that was really nice to wake up to! Also, if you haven’t seen Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability yet, I highly recommend it. To summarize, it’s about the fight of being open to others in a culture where privacy is so valued.