‘We have basically been told to believe and trust that the ‘perfect’ life that social media is portraying is the one we should all strive for. That then makes it harder for us to break free from it and see how far from reality it actually is’
So said 19 year Swedish songwriter Lova Alvilde quoted in The Guardian Guide on April 7th (1). This was part of an article about young musicians, social media and how they are trying to make sense of modern life. Another musician Ruban Nielson went further:
“When you talk to someone who is a baby boomer or Generation X about all this they would say: ‘this is the real me, and this is the version of me on social media,’”. “But the thing that is really monstrous about it is that for younger people who have it as a more formative part of their identity, you might end up with no real ‘me’ behind the social media. All the emphasis will be put on social media to actually represent the full scope of who you are and there might not be an identity behind that. That’s more terrifying. I have two children and I protect them as much as possible from that stuff but there’s no way to socialise your children without acknowledging that these things are out there.”
What Alvide and others interviewed were wrestling with was a life framed by social media so much that it is almost a straightjacket and who are finding this life hugely dissatisfying.
Recent revelations about Facebook and its use of our personal data have graphically shown what social media is – a series of businesses that exist to make money out of us. The multiple platforms most of us are on have become as natural to us as breathing – we check them countless times during the day, they hugely shape our life but they are not ‘just there’, they have been created and their use is recreating us and as Alvide says, our view of reality.
I am a user of social media, it has its advantages as is evident from the fact that I will be sharing this blog on Facebook and Twitter but I am grateful that I did not grow up in an age of social media – I was unpopular and insecure enough as it was! These days’ social media is often the lens through which young people see life and crucially see themselves. Social media is not real life – it is a snapshot of life at any one time, a 2D image of who we are and what’s going on with us. The danger comes when people think what’s online = real life and the battle starts to create and project an image that will be well received. Hence the age of the endless selfie and scary stories like a rising number of nose jobs fuelled by selfies that give a distorted perception of what we look like (2) – imagine the idea that our phone cameras can’t accurately represent us!
One of the phrases I learned as a Sociology student was socialisation. Socialisation is about the influences that help us to understand what normal is. (3)
I’m sure we’d all agree that we’d prefer that children’s view of what’s normal was based on a life of love, safety and opportunity rather than say parents with heroin addiction or living in the midst chemical warfare. Healthy societies are built on children growing up to become healthy, well-adjusted adults with good values and a healthy identity. It’s startling to read a bunch of young adults saying just how bad the driving force of social media is for them.
Another musician Noah Cyrus (author of a song called ‘We’re f***ed’) talked about her internet addiction, particularly in relation to Instagram, which she started to use at the age of twelve.
“I wake up and the first thing I check is Instagram and I don’t think that’s a healthy state of mind”. “Youth culture is wrapped up in social media. Instagram tells us you need to look a certain way to be famous. Everybody’s obsessed and I think its endangering young people and what we think youth culture has to be.”
Whilst social media clearly can be a force of good and ill the context is of a generation hooked on it who are at the same time experiencing rising mental health problems. Social media is not the sole cause but clearly neither is it the generations salvation.
So what’s to be done? The hope in the article is that those interviewed are questioning the power and effect of social media. Just as Mark Zuckerberg was forced to squirm in front of Congress last week we need to examine our use of social media and not accept unquestioningly its place in our lives. Let’s be honest we’d probably benefit from using it less and maybe having a few more real conversations or reading more books and less ‘amazing 15 facts about what the cast of Home and Away are doing now’. I think social media is useful for sharing information, having a few laughs and keeping in touch with far flung pals. The danger is when it starts to warp our idea of what life is like – for example the common perception that everyone else is having a lot more fun and looks a lot better.
A couple of months back I was praying and as I sometimes do I got a picture in my mind. The picture was of a person sat in a chair looking at a hologram of themselves. It struck me how easy is it in a variety of ways to construct an image of ourselves to compare ourselves against. We can look at the alternative image of ourselves and think about what we could be and see how far we’re falling short. The problem of course is that the image isn’t real. We’re the real 3D image, with all our shortcomings.
In the mental picture the person in the chair had the option to lean across and switch off the projector that was producing the hologram. I think we often need to do that – to stop damning ourselves with a false image of who we’re supposed to be and get on with doing the best we can with being our actual selves.
In my version of reality our actual selves are frail and flawed but are purposely created and deeply loved by the God who made us. He offers us a peace and security about who we are. Even on a bad hair day.
3 Process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, language, social skills, and value to conform to the norms and roles required for integration into a group or community. (www.businessdictionary.com/definition/socialization.html)