My wife and I were at a party several weeks ago and decided that it would be incredibly important to take a quick selfie so that we could post about our evening on all the social media platforms. It felt as if it would be almost disrespectful to the Facebook gods if we didn’t share a snapshot of this event with all 2,000 of our closest Facebook friends. So there we sat, in the corner of the room taking picture after picture trying to find just the right shot that would capture the spirit of the moment and the joy of the relationships we were forging that night. Yeah right! Let’s be real. We took picture after picture trying to find the one angle we thought made us look best.
It took 10, 15, maybe 20 pictures to be satisfied with what we were going to put out there. And if I’m honest, I absolutely was not looking at my wife in these selfies. I always looked at me first. Every time. It hit me at some point after that party as I saw the “likes” coming through on Facebook how crazy this whole process is. My wife and I could have spent more time hanging out with friends but instead it seemed appropriate to try to capture the moment in a picture we could present to the world in such a way that people would “like” it.
Now let me be clear, my wife and I aren’t alone in this: our culture is sinking into a collective narcissism in which we all care more about the self we are presenting to the world than we care about the heart of the people we are trying to impress. It’s a problem and the long term fallout of this selfie culture is leading to major problems in our relationships and in our own hearts. The research is clear: social media can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety, affect performance on cognitive tasks and even make people feel less content with their real life.
So quit living for “likes” and live more authentically online.
Post with a purpose
Many people who use social media post about even the most mundane aspects of their lives in a manner that is designed to garner the approval of others. A quick browse through my Facebook feed will reveal shockingly significant details about a friend’s day, like pictures of the gourmet dinner they whipped up spur-of-the-moment last night or the favorite outfit they just happened to wear to the grocery store this afternoon. Because we document our lives so intensely, and consistently, it can start to feel like we are performing for our online friends rather than actually living and experiencing our day.
Not only is this breeding an over-focus on the external and material aspects of life, it is keeping us from real connection and friendship. If you want to fight the tendency to use social media to perform for others, focus on posts that might inspire back-and-forth discussion and posts that you might want to share and react to. In short, focus on meaningful posts that spur actual connection with others like asking for a recommendation for travel or a news article or video that prompts discussion. Even Facebook agrees with the need for this shift in the way we post. Just this week the website indicated that they plan to transform the News Feed to favor “Meaningful Posts” that prompt dialogue and interaction with friends. So, it looks as if even Mark Zuckerberg agrees: we should post with a purpose and with an eye toward actually using social media to be social.
Post your experiences
One of the justifications for the selfie culture is the belief that consistent posting will enable us to “document everything so that we can remember it.” The most pertinent question to ask yourself regarding this point is this: when you look at your social media feed do you remember what you were doing or feeling? My guess is if you are honest you would recognize that your first thought when you examine your posts is not, “Oh, I remember what a great time I was having.” One way to ensure this is to post pictures of what you were actually experiencing, not the selfie of the moment. What were you looking at right in that instant? Capture that picture and post it!
For example, rather than posting a selfie of you and your daughter after the soccer game, post a picture of her actually playing soccer or of your spouse right after she scores a goal. Then you can ensure that your feed chronicles your experiences rather than a series of pictures of you that don’t reflect the emotion you were experiencing in the moment.
Another strategy that will ensure more authenticity on social media platforms is to post your experiences even when they aren’t positive. Let yourself share experiences and situations in which you have struggled or failed. Ask your friends for advice. Look for opportunities to let other people be the experts. And remember, we are impressed by people’s talents, but we connect to their weaknesses. Let others see the real you, warts and all, and you might be surprised by how social your social media experience actually becomes.