Social media has this hold on us.
When I scroll through my feed on Instagram or scan through a blog, I find that many times I am weighed down by the vanity of it all. A hundred arguments can be made for why our intentions with social media are good and justified – we post to encourage, to share in community, to find likemindedness, to break up the monotony of life – and yet we still find ourselves feeling a sense of disappointment at what social media has NOT given us. I know this to be true because I see it happen over and over again. We take “breaks” from this world, as if to step outside for a bit of fresh air. But then why do come back, knowing full well that it will happen again?
Maybe it is just that our expectations of this online world are skewed.
We work hard at building identities out of nothing, using thin air to define who we are to the rest of the world. We collect likes and follows and shares like they are bricks, forming the walls of vast mansions that we point to as symbols of our self-worth. But in truth they are illusions. They are empty, the walls without mass, and the reality is that these buildings exist only in our imaginations.
I open myself up to much criticism and accusations of hypocrisy, of course. For here I sit writing this in order that it might be shared online, that it might be read and enjoyed and approved of by any number of anonymous followers. And, yes, I find pleasure in that. Yes, there is pleasure in the affirmation we receive from others, anonymous though they may be. And let us not forget that the community we build around ourselves online certainly is anonymous, despite our determination to be open and honest with one another. We may even succeed at transparency, and yet even the immensity of the internet cannot contain the infinite soul of a person in it’s entirety. Even those closest to us, the ones we share physical space with on a daily basis – our family and closest friends – can still never truly know the depths of our souls.
How much greater then is the chasm between our true selves and the “self” we expose through social media, one that is painstakingly controlled and edited and redefined?
Knowing this, we continue to pursue a manufactured identity despite ourselves. I fall victim to the desire just as much as the next person. Each “like” brings me an inward pleasure, while I tell myself all the while that I do not need it.
It is in our nature, as humans, to seek affirmation from each other. It is what draws us into relationships – the desire to validate our existence as we pour ourselves into another person and they in turn pour into us. We reflect one another, as mirrors. What social media offers is the instant gratification of that longing to be affirmed.
We join in the conversation to say to one another, “Yes, you exist. And so do I.”
Our hearts are perhaps in the right place. Can I even say how many times I have been touched deeply by someone else’s post through Instagram or a blog? No matter how much I want it to be true, that post is never the whole picture of that person, not even close. But when we do make the effort as individuals reveal a certain inner part of our being, however minuscule in comparison to our full selves, it does have potential to strike a chord in another’s heart.
The vulnerability and honesty we put into our posts is not lost, only shrunk.
But let us not be fooled into believing that what we see and what we show to the world through a device is a full picture of who we are, or who they are.
There is a subtle revelation of character in physical proximity to another person that cannot be duplicated over a phone or computer or tablet. As a writer, Instagram especially has been a powerful instrument for sharing truths with other women, particularly mothers, and receiving encouragement and solidarity in return. The danger lies in relying on this ephemeral world of social media to meet the needs of my heart. Online relationships are not true companionship, not yet. (Why else would the next logical step from online acquaintance be to meet in person?) And where there is not true companionship, there is not true love. The emotional response I may or may not have to any particular post or comment or picture viewed online is certainly real, but the driving force of it is not.
What we put online, what we manufacture, is a dim reflection.
It is a cloudy window into our soul, but not the full picture. It does not contain our full selves, and therefore can only give a partial glimpse of our experiences. It speaks to us, but it is not the source of our emotions, only a catalyst for our being able to experience them deeper. They already exist within us.
For this reason, relationships that exist in the physical world will always be of much greater importance to our humanity than the flimsy community of online companions we have built. There is too much control in the world of social media for there to be true authenticity, however noble our intentions toward that goal might be. There will always be a disproportionate amount of our character and our identity left out of anything we post for it to be a full, unaltered reflection of who we are as people.
Of course, there is still value in what we share with each other online. But perhaps it is just not quite as much as we want to believe.
The balance lies in knowing this to be true, and in an awareness of our immediate physical space, however small it may appear in comparison to our online world, and engagement with our immediate physical relationships, however few they may seem against the background of the enormous yet anonymous online population. The value of our physical relationships, after all, is not in their quantity but in their depth. There is not room for the depth online, and rightly so.
Be here, be now. That is where love lies.