The Social Media Illusion

When’s the last time you posted pictures of a subpar day on Facebook? When’s the last time you bragged about dropping out of school on instagram? When was the last time you went on twitter to share with the fact that you spilled coffee on your new computer with the world? If you can’t remember a time, then you’re like me and the vast majority of people (at least the people that I’m exposed to on any form of social media). Most people (including me) tend to only post good and happy times on social media. Party photos, graduation photos, wedding photos, an exciting trip to somewhere exotic. We want to look good and we want people to know we look and feel good. We’d rather keep the darker sides of our lives to ourselves and off of social media (most of the time). I feel like a lot of us are actually partially aware of this phenomenon, but being exposed to so many pictures and status updates of other people doing well can make us lose sight of this at times.

When I was in high school, I didn’t drink or go to parties. I wouldn’t say that my group of friends was the most popular at school either. That’s not to say that we were losers, but we weren’t the varsity football team from stereotypical American high school movies. I, like most other kids in high school, was unaware of the whole Social media illusion at the time. I used to go on Facebook and get bombarded by pictures of people at parties, drinking and having fun. I couldn’t help but think that there might have been something wrong with me or that I was somehow missing out on something. I didn’t know at the time that the exact same kids posting these pictures also had struggles in life and probably scrolled through their feeds, saw people they perceived as cooler than them and wished they had what the people they were lurking had. I didn’t know that we were actually all in the same boat. We’re all human and have insecurities and struggles. Nobody is perfect and nobody has a perfect life.

As I got older, I learned to be more confident and actually started going to parties and stuff. I still didn’t really drink though. I remember thinking it was kind of cool to be doing what everybody else seemed to be doing on social media and I started posting pictures of it too. Not too many though, but a few. I felt cool, I’m not going to lie, but there was a problem. There were still people posting cooler things on social media. People were travelling, scuba diving, volunteering in South America and many other things. I wanted to do those things too. The problem with this way of thinking is that we can NEVER be satisfied. We’ll always have that ONE person who SEEMS to be doing more interesting and exciting things than we are. You’ll NEVER be happy if you constantly compare yourself to others like this.

It’s pretty easy to explain why we all feel this way and in this case it was honestly due to the fact that I forgot that these people who seemed to have such wonderful, struggle-free lives, also had struggles. Struggles that I couldn’t see because they were only posting the good times. Struggles that could very well have been worse than mine.

This whole Social media illusion phenomenon can manifest itself in so many different ways. It can happen when we look at celebrities for example. How many of us have looked at the life of a celebrity and felt jealous? How many of us have wanted their “perfect lives”. The celebrities we look up to aren’t perfect. In fact, many of them are far from it. They have struggles just like we do. Yeah, they may have money and big houses, but can we say that all of these famous people are truly happy? How do we know that there’s not something missing from their lives? They may even look at us and envy the fact that we can go grocery shopping without being hounded by paparazzi or go out without any make up on without ending up on the front page of a tabloid magazine with a title like “So and so didn’t put on eyeliner today”. Their lives honestly aren’t as great as we think they are. We need to remember that they’re humans with struggles too. We only actually see a little bit of what goes on in their lives.

When Robin Williams committed suicide I remember discussing it with a few people. To my disgust and disbelief a few people said “He had everything! He had money, a house and fame, how could he kill himself? You can’t kill yourself when you have everything!” What I, and a lot of other people fail to understand is that just because somebody has the things that would make US happy, doesn’t mean that those same things make THEM happy. Yes, he clearly had a lot, but there was clearly an underlying issue and it’s very sad that he unfortunately saw no way out. I personally thought he was very good actor!

I’m sure we’ve all had at least one instance where we were told by somebody that they were jealous or envious of something we had that we perceived as trivial. It’s a weird feeling because to us it seems like nothing, but to them it’s a big deal. It’s hard for us to grasp that they’d want what we have. Celebrities and the people on your friends list would probably feel the same way. I have a friend who looks up to me for some things that I see as normal and ordinary. We were talking one day and I told him how I was envious of his ability to save money and work the job he works and he was surprised. To him they’re both completely normal and trivial things, but to me, they’re things I’d like to get better at doing. I also meet a lot of people who do well in math that are jealous/envious that I can speak multiple languages. They forget that I have struggles and that it’s not all sunshine and plane tickets and I forget that they have to put in a lot of time and work into their mathematical abilities. It seems like we sometimes look at what other people have and disregard what we already have.

The social media illusion also effects people who have gone through or are going through break ups. How many of us either know somebody who routinely checks up their Ex on social media? Some of you may even do that yourselves. I’ve seen countless people do this and they always end up feeling worse afterwards because they see the person doing well and they feel bad because they feel like they’re not doing equally as well. They forget that their ex has struggles and issues too. They’re just only seeing the good and what their ex wants the world to see. Their struggles are probably offline.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the time of year when people start graduating!  Graduation day, oh graduation day.. what a great and happy day it is!… for the people graduating and their families and classmates! It’s not usually a happy day for the people who are still slaving away at school or have yet to go to school.

This is actually what inspired this article. A friend and I were talking and he said something along the lines of “Everybody on Facebook and Instagram seems to be graduating, getting jobs and getting on with their lives and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life and still haven’t finished school”.  This struck a cord with me too because I honestly feel the same way this time of year. I’m human too and am in no way immune to the social media illusion. I realized that if my friend and I were feeling that way, then others must be too and I decided to write this article to help snap people out of it. Even if this goes unread, I could potentially read it in the future if…. scratch that, when I, for what ever reason, fall back into the social media illusion trap. I say when and not if because its sneaky and one can fall into the trap when one least expects it.

Anyway, back to the glorious time of year when people graduate. This time of year used to bother me a lot more a couple years ago until I started meeting graduates that were struggling with tons of student debt, struggling to find jobs or people who regretted going to school altogether. I’m not saying school is bad in any way, but what I am saying is that these magical, superhuman graduates that seemed to have such perfect, successful lives on social media actually don’t. They still have a lot of struggles and even have struggles that people who didn’t go to school DON’T have. Student debt and finding jobs are good examples of these struggles.

See, folks? Nobody has a perfect life. Social media and the media in general make it seem like people have perfect lives, but they don’t. ALL of us have struggles and ALL of us go through hardships. It’s part of being human. Don’t compare yourself to others on social media. It’s a losing battle. You’re pretty much only seeing the life that that person wants others to THINK they have. Why should we hopelessly try to emulate the life of somebody else when that person isn’t actually living the great life they seem to be portraying online to begin with? Always remember that people tend to only post the good times on social media. A lot of people keep their struggles offline. The next time you see somebody graduate, remember that there is probably still a long road ahead of them. 

The next time you feel the need to check up on and ex online only to see that they’ve moved on and are having a great life, remember that you’re only seeing what they want the world to see. Who knows, they may very well be looking at your social media and feeling more jealous than you are.

The next time you see somebody posting pictures of themselves snorkelling in Cuba, remember that they too have struggles. It’s probably just a one week vacation and then they’ll probably be thrown back in the same struggles that you’re facing while your lurk their photos.

This is not to say that you should wish hardship or misfortune on anyone. That’s faaaar from it, just remember that the perfect lives you see online aren’t as perfect as they seem so you shouldn’t compare yourself to them!

Thanks for reading and always remember to spread positivity!

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Photo taken in Berlin, Germany.

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