My mom and dad are not the same person by any means, but they do have one thing in common- they feel the exact same way about my generation’s fascination with social media. I can’t tell you the last time a misunderstanding about a Twitter joke, new online trend or even a conversation about the number of accounts I have on various apps (“you have VSCO now too??”) did not end in an eye roll and a “this is why I’m glad we didn’t grow up with this”. As much as I love my parents, I like to defend my generation in these conversations, holding tight to the opinion that teenagers twenty years ago had their own confusing habits and battles to fight. I still firmly believe this to be true, but the adults in my life have one point that I can’t argue with. Their teenage years lacked social media, and with it, they lacked a pressure we have- the pressure to maintain a bubble of perfection.
Our social media, for the most part, is a realm of our greatest hits. We post the picture we look the best in and document the moments we think look the most fun. No one can blame us- it is ideal that everyone (both people we love and, yes, people we’d like to spite just a little) thinks our lives are the best they could possibly be. We want to seem happy and sought after, and social media is just one reflection of that part of our nature. The danger, though, lies in how much that desire influences our focus in social media. When is it too much?
Truth is, by telling ourselves that social media is so important to who we are, we are giving everyone else permission to think it’s important to who we are as well. Despite its inaccuracy, people use social media to decide just who people are before they’ve even met them. Don’t try to say you’ve never looked up a friend’s new friend, a classmate you’re curious about or your sister’s new boyfriend (yes, I’m guilty as charged on all of these) on Instagram before meeting them to try and form your opinion of them before they’ve even said a word to you. Whether or not you like what you see probably depends on how dressed up their social media is. Do they look like they have an active social life? How many likes do they typically get? Is this a fair assumption of them?
The definition of perfection, though, differs depending on what form of social media we’re talking about. While Instagram is where we usually want to look our prettiest and most social, Twitter is where we like to prove we’re funny and culturally aware. Facebook is where we assure friends of parents, past teachers and future employers that we’re successful and stable. With all these images to maintain, are we ever really telling anyone who we are online? This is the type of thinking that helps me understand my mom’s bafflement.
Wanting to say “I’m having fun!!” without words (although words do play a part- we all have that one friend we ask for caption ideas or puns) can seem harmless enough, but there’s more to it than making memories. The evolution of social media over the years has even made it possible for people who seem “perfect” enough to make money off of convincing 10k+ people on Instagram that they’re something they aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make memories, but as you scroll through the public memories of your peers, remember one thing- a lot more goes on behind the scenes than whatever is in the picture you’re wishing you were in. It’s easier said than done, but if you can help it, don’t let social media contribute to FOMO- all you’re missing is how many tries and deletes happened before that post. Live your life in real time. Let others do the same.