A while back, I texted my friend freaking out that I had not posted on Instagram since December, a miniscule problem in the grand scheme of things, but something that had become worrisome to me. She reassured me that there must be some event that I could post about. I calmed down as I realized I would soon be having my sorority’s date party and then two weeks later be heading to Cancun for spring break. While Cancun did not happen due to the novel COVID-19, at the time, I was able to rest easy knowing that I would have things to post. My brain soon started contemplating all the possible photos to take, the caption options, and what I would be wearing. Unfortunately, I am part of the masses when it comes to social media obsession. There has become a need to publicly present yourself in the best possible manner online. Social media has begun to dictate our lives, shaping the way we want others to perceive us, resulting in the real versus virtual self to become widely separated.
As a social media user, there is a desire to be seen and heard. Social media becomes the template for what happiness should look like and in order to succeed and gain that euphoria, we must post our best selves. We post to be perceived in a certain manner as social media has created an inherent drive to always be perfect. Rarely are posts shared or uploaded about mental health, financial troubles, or work problems. During National Eating Disorder Awareness week, one might post about their struggles with anorexia and receive a multitude of “I’m so proud of you” comments, but it is only because this time allows them to acknowledge their previous struggles. Only during National Coming Out Day do individuals decide that it is the right time to let the world know about their sexual orientation. Even when we want to tell the world something significant, we decide to do it at just the right moment on social media, to optimize how many people see the post and interact with it.
Consciously or not, most of our social media posts are optimized around getting some kind of interaction. We think about the wording of captions for way too long, run drafts of posts by friends, message people to comment, plan times to post and like people’s content to be supportive. While social media is more informal than writing a ten-page paper, the act of creating a post may take just as long as formulating a central argument and thesis statement. An immense amount of effort is put into our posts, specifically those shared on Facebook and Instagram.
Social media has become so ingrained in society that once posting and sharing start, the addiction only further progresses; there becomes a constant need to share. But if we have not posted in a while, does that mean our lives are not exciting? The two-month gap between my last post and my sorority date party post made me contemplate my own life. I see so many exciting posts from celebrities, influencers, and even friends, that I feel as though my own life is not as enjoyable as their lives. I begin comparing myself to them and then feel an obligation to post. I need to seem just as perfect, adventurous and creative. Social media has somehow become a competition, as if everyone is trying to “one up” each other in who can be more perfect.
It’s not only the perfect Instagram post that people worry about, but also the perfect feed. Collectively, everything needs to look cohesive which often results in the use of filters and edits. There are many applications that will clear up your acne, make your eyes bluer, or even make your body appear thinner. All of these modifications are used to create the perfect image amongst the perfect feed.
Social media has amplified the need to showcase our best self. The success of one’s life becomes measured by the content on their social media pages. We look at how many likes, shares and comments someone receives and then proceed to judge them for it. We strive to be seen in a certain manner, so we optimize our posts, ask people to comment, and even delete and repost if necessary. Social media has taken the driver’s seat and we have become its passengers. We have become so obsessed with narrating our online lives, that we forget to just live in the moment. It is hard to realize, but important to note, that perfection is not everything. While we might want to always present our best selves online, it is okay to be vulnerable and show the world our flaws. We should embrace who we are, not who we want to be. It is time to realize that our real self and virtual self can be one in the same. We should not let social media tell us who to be, but rather tell social media who we truly are.