I've noticed a lot of posts popping up on the internet recently discussing how our social media content affects others, and what we should and should not post online. The discussions delve into sensitive topics like intentions, envy, comparison, etc. But the overall notion remains the same: social media makes some people feel like crap.
Some people are fed up with perfect Instagram streams and over-the-top happy Facebook statuses. They want to see the real life, the whole picture, the messy and unfiltered stuff. After reading some of these articles, and specifically the comments that followed, it seems to me that people tend to fall into two different camps:
1) The people who blame the posters
2) The people who blame the viewers
I'm left to wonder: if someone posts 20 beautiful pictures to Instagram from their amazing vacation, and someone else looks at the pictures and feels jealous, who is at fault? If someone posts 10 beautiful pictures of their smiling baby on Facebook, and a tired momma who is home with a colicky baby looks at them and feels sorry for herself, who is to blame? If someone tweets about their promotion, or the lavish gift their husband gave them, and someone else reads it and feels resentful, who is at fault?
Is anyone at fault, really? Should the person posting pictures and statuses cease to do so in case it upsets someone? Should we follow up our beautiful pictures with ugly ones to even it out? Should we shell out complaints immediately following every joyful Facebook status?
Sometimes when I read articles like these, I feel defensive. And I'm trying to figure out if I feel defensive because I'm guilty of these things, or if I feel defensive because I genuinely believe the message is wrong. Or both.
And for me, I guess it boils down to: what is social media for? What standard are we holding it to, and why?
I'm all for real life. I'm all about getting real and honest and vulnerable and sharing things that are hard to share, both in real-life community and in appropriate online spaces like personal blogs and forums. I get that, I support that, I live that. But Instagram? Instagram is a photo-sharing platform, it's not a window into our souls. And if my Instagram feed suddenly filled up with pictures of dirty diapers and messy kitchens and screaming babies and bickering spouses, I just don't think I would like it anymore. I want to see the good stuff, the celebratory stuff, the vacation photos and smiling babies and picture-worthy moments. These photos make me happy. I know that a stream of pretty pictures doesn't mean the person taking the pictures has a perfect life.
I'm not so disillusioned by social media that I can't see the difference.
When I scroll through Facebook I don't want to see a giant collection of complaints and political stances and passive aggressive comments. I want to see links to funny articles and inspiring stories, pictures of friends who live far away, clever and joyous status updates and much-needed birthday reminders.
I don't want to live in a fake online bubble where people can't be "real", but I also don't want to live in an online place where people are so focused on being "real" that they feel ashamed of being happy.
I struggle with envy and jealousy as much as the next person. I'm jealous of good writing, good photography, good style, good blogs. I compare and occasionally feel badly about myself. It's an area in my life where I've asked God, time and time again, to soften and mold into something more Christ-like. It's a void I've asked Him to fill. But when I get this way, when I spend too much time online and find myself comparing my clothes/blog/house/life to others, I certainly don't blame anyone else for making me feel this way. I don't blame the person with the perfect Instagram stream or the person with the happy-go-lucky Facebook page. Why should they be held accountable for my area of weakness?
To throw it the other way, I guess another question to ask is: what is the intention behind the perfect pictures? What is the intention behind the happy status? I know that for me, I like taking pretty pictures. I'm a photographer. There is intention in that, from both a personal and business standpoint. For every 80 pictures I take on my cell phone, maybe one makes it into my Instagram stream. Of course I pick the best one, the prettiest one, the one that will best showcase my photography skills. I order prints from Instagram on a regular basis, and even ordered an Instagram calendar for Brett for Christmas. We use Instagram as a scrapbook of sorts, an online memory-keeper, so of course I post the pictures where we are smiling and happy. I don't need pictures of Everett throwing a tantrum in my photo albums (well, maybe one to laugh at later).
What is the intention behind the happy Facebook statuses? To brag? To get attention? Or is it simply to share something wonderful with online friends in hopes that people would share that joy with them? Does it depend on the person, or the day, or the circumstance? Are we sitting at our computers judging the intentions of others without really knowing what the true intention is? Is that any better than having a poor or selfish intention to begin with?
I feel like I'm rambling, but I guess all of this is to say: why are we trying to hold social media to the same standard we hold our real life? Is it not impossible to portray your life in its entirety---good and bad---on the internet? And if we know this, if we accept this, then why are we so obsessed with attacking the partial-truths that people share online? If we know that a beautiful instagram stream doesn't equal a perfect life, then why does it bother us? Is there harm in simply using a photo-sharing app to share and view "pretty" photos? If looking at those pictures makes us feel resentful or jealous, should we maybe take a break from looking at them, and look at our hearts instead? Do we expect people to share an equal amount of good and bad online? Is that the goal here? Are we more inclined, by nature, to keep our heartbreaks more private than our triumphs? If we are sitting at home crying over a terrible day, do we have an obligation to share that with our online world? Why?
I'm asking a lot of questions because I don't have the answers. At the end of the day I can only be accountable for myself: for what I post online and what I view online, for my intentions and my heart.
And maybe, in its simplest form, there is a fine line to it all, and we just need to find the balance. Maybe there's a fine line between real and fake, between truth and lies, between humility and pride. Maybe there's a fine line between jealousy and contentment, resentment and peace, bitterness and good will.
Maybe every day we dance on that line, and need to make more of a conscious effort to step down to one side.
Thoughts? Comments? Let's chat about it....