In July, I was a bachelor.
My wife was able to get a head start on our vacation and took the boys to visit friends and family over three weeks before I had time off work.
On a whim I started chronicling my days without family on Instagram. Most nights they were gone I posted a picture of what I was doing accompanied with the hashtag:
Some social media savvy individuals only share pictures from the same genre or theme to attract a particular following. Some utilize their accounts for carefully strategized advertising or “brand-development” (whatever that means). Some share to create a story, develop an idea, and make the viewer think.
My theme wasn’t intentional from the start, but after a couple days I tried to keep it up for the duration. Admittedly I had some vague delusions of having some sort of Instagram prowess, but really I was just throwing up a picture once a day of whatever I was doing, an afterthought some nights.
But a strange thing happened.
I received feedback, in person, from my small circle of friends, on my Instagram Odyssey. My wife, who doesn’t use Instagram, was also getting comments about it from our friends and family.
People were commenting as if they were aware of how my time without my family was going.
A friend said, “You’ve been going on adventures!”
A family member said, “Your posts are so sad. And lonely”
A friend told my wife, “Jared’s Instagram is so funny.”
I was a little confused at each of these comments. They weren’t entirely accurate
Oh, I went on a day trip with my coworkers, we stopped briefly at a waterfall.
I’m eating dinner alone most nights, but that’s kinda peaceful, actually.
Did I post anything funny recently?….maybe, I mean, I guess so.
Typically, at this point I should present a case that a “Social Media Presence” isn’t real; it’s a fabricated persona, a façade, not a real person. I should encourage you to deactivate your Facebook account and get out in the “real world” with all that “sunshine” people keep talking about. Know people face to face.
But, it’s a little more complicated than that.
I don’t think you should quit Facebook or Instagram. They’re both useful tools. Most of you reading this blog got here because you clicked through from my Facebook post (and the rest of you probably saw it when my parents shared it).
Social media is real life, no matter what some may say.
Did I tend our community garden plot in July?
Did I feel sad and lonely without my family?
Is my Instagram entertaining, funny even?
The point I want to make here is not that the persona on social media is fake, just that it’s not complete. This is a less ambitious point, less controversial, less catchy, but true and complex in a way that the more commonly made point is not.
Social Media is real life.
But it’s not a full representation of a person, what they do on a daily basis.
Humans are sad and happy, sometimes at the same time, sometimes for the same reasons. A person can appear carefree and joyful but be sad and hurting on the inside. Life is full, but a moment is just a moment. And a picture just shows a moment.
I really did tend the garden… for about an hour every two or three days.
I felt lonely some evenings… but I also enjoyed my introvert time (besides, loneliness isn’t inherently bad).
I won’t argue about being “funny”, I prefer the term “clever” but I’ll take “funny”.
Pat Rothfuss was discussing some of these issues in a recent podcast. He said:
If you come over to my house for dinner, the bathroom will be spotless, but nobody lives like that day to day… at least I don’t
- Pat Rothfuss
Even if you’re posting constantly, social media are not conducive to deep, complex representations of a person.
|An intentionally sad one ;-)|
It’s true that we were all smiling in that picture, but that doesn’t mean we’re a perfect happy family.
It’s true that we made a gourmet dinner last week, but we also went to McDonald’s.
It’s true that my sons are cute when they hold hands, but they’re less cute when they’re choking each other.
Posts (especially pictures) only show a brief moment, a thought, a whim. People are complex, intricate, nuanced. We can’t understand each other through our Facebook feeds or our Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram. I’d go so far as to say that the article on some emotionally charged social issue that your friend from high school posted is probably not his entire stance on the topic.
Those of us who use social media need to remember this. We need to remember it both as consumers and as producers of media.
What image are you putting forth for the world to see? …and why?
Do you only post when you’re angry (or passive aggressive)?
Do you only show people the perfect side of you?
Do you only post on one issue or aspect of your life?
Do you welcome dialogue?
I recently saw an Instagram post from a friend related to these issues. In the caption she shared that life isn’t always joyous, but she’s choosing to be positive and share the positive moments for these purposes. I find that a wise way of interacting with this whole situation. Sharing one aspect, but for a well-thought out reason.
Her picture is below.
Are you satisfied with your connections through social media?
Do you follow up with people in person about a post you might not understand?
Are you a safe place for others to honestly share the fullness of who they are?
Do you find yourself feeling jealous or proud in comparison to the moments you see online.
Maybe it’s time to realize that social media are just tools. They show real life, but only briefly.
Go talk to your friends, or give them a call.
At least send them a private message.
Ask follow-up questions.
Social media can only show part of life, it can’t be all of a relationship.