The Tangled Web of Social Media Addiction
Social media amplifies humanity. Every office dinner I’ve been to would be incomplete without braggarts or having to listen to strong abrasive opinions. I’m yet to attend a party where people aren’t more interested in air kissing, checking out your dress than find out what interests you or who you really are. I’ve never been invited to a friend’s house without having to go through albums of baby photos and not feeling compelled to have a hysterectomy afterwards.
Facebook is a kaleidoscope of emotions, life events, conversations, opinions and the bizarre. It’s a voyeur’s paradise. It is humanity on heroin. Never dull, often entertaining, falsely energizing but instantly addictive.
At the peak of my affair with Facebook in 2009, a wise friend who was not very active on FB had said, ‘I’m just not interested in chronicling my life for others. I just don’t feel the need to put into words/express/share everything. I’m not a Kardashian, my life is meant to be private.’
So what lures us into revealing our lives online? Is it narcissism, vanity or just wanting to get something off our chest? Let’s give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and assume we’re just excited and need to brag to someone. Even if that’s the case, the only people it’s okay to brag to in life are our close friends, significant other, and family members—and that’s what email, texting, phone calls, and live talking are for. Our moment of self-satisfaction is profoundly annoying to people we’re not that close with. This type of image crafting only induces jealousy.
Here’s what renegade writer and my ex-colleague, Mahinn Ali Khan, with 12762 followers on Twitter has to say about Twitter –“Every day I open Twitter and wonder if I have anything to add to the cacophony. I don’t. Let’s face it. Most of us are just talking to ourselves here. We come to Twitter to vomit. To show off. If my most important activity revolves around the attention & validation I receive from strangers online, I need to relook at my life. And yet, this strange, and sad desperation oozing out of 140 characters is what I see most of.”
I still remember the moment, in 2010, when Facebook began to feel strange. A colleague let me borrow his hard disk so I could transfer all the great music he said he had on it. Then I found a folder named Hot Girls on that disk which had many sub folders filled with photos of women he had saved from Facebook, including mine. Though flattering, I found myself quite uncomfortable with the idea that someone I worked with was probably secretly jerking off to my holiday photos.
Not long after that, I was made responsible for hiring people for marketing roles and had to snoop on their social media pages as part of the hiring checklist. I understood that social networking should be done with caution as no one wants a future alcoholic employee posing with random Thai women all over the Interweb. This realization, along with my getting married, inspired me to deactivate my Facebook account in 2012. I didn’t want my wedding or honeymoon photos to be viewed by ‘friends’ whom I hadn’t actually connected with in years. People I had met just once were friending me when I had forgotten they existed. I have been dark on social media ever since, staunch even as I led a digital marketing team and through the advent of Vine and Snapchat. I’ve decided to stand outside the vortex of likes and status updates and followers.
Impossible as it may seem for the Insta-obsessed to grasp, I did get engaged without scripting an “I said yes!” status. I do host themed birthdays and costumed Halloweens without plastering the party photos everywhere. I do eat al fresco gourmet lunches without posting them to Instagram. And I do watch live cricket without sending a tweet. I’m so relieved I don’t live by the millennial mantra of “Pics or it didn’t happen” anymore.
‘It’s hard to believe you are doing this’, says my brother who was literally breastfed by the internets. ‘Even our 60+ year-old aunt is using poop emojis, generously doling out compliments to all and sundry, flaunting her thick dyed-black plaited hair every chance she gets and being the cheer-spreading female Santa on Facebook.’
Eschewing social media can seem like an act of defiance, akin to the way some people brag about not having a TV or internet or car or skipping a cable package. For me, it’s a matter of privacy and sanity. I mainly deserted social media because I found it to be rife with false intimacy, an unnecessary means of connecting with people I no longer really know.
But my road to wisdom was indeed paved with excess. I admit that I have spent many hours of my life clicking through thousands and thousands of photos of friends of friends of friends I didn’t even know. I knew the last names and faces of people who were total strangers. It was a monumental waste of time.
I don’t really see the point of it all. I keep in touch with my real friends and family via phone, email, and text. I find it’s just more personal that way. I prize intimate one-on-one interactions, even group emails/chats, over blasting vacation photos and outfits of the day to 1,000 friends or followers on social media.
I quit Facebook also because I didn’t have a constant stream of updates to advertise about my life that I was super-happy about, like, ‘Hey, everyone, I’m working twelve hour days’ or ‘Hey, everyone, my Augmented Reality kiosk at the SAP Tech Ed event was a big hit.’
Overall, I felt that social media is a little bit of denial of that natural ebb and flow of life and the reality that not all your FB friends are actual friends. It just makes you feel like you’re in touch when you’re totally, completely out of contact. I’ve bumped into some of my Facebook friends at the mall and they wouldn’t even say hello. It was awkward. And these were friends who had liked every photo of mine for the last eight months and I had liked theirs in return. See that’s how implicit the ‘You scratch my back’ rule is on FB.
For me, social media is largely filled with fake, puffed-up versions of people’s real lives. Instead of messy, cluttered houses, we post food porn. In lieu of mascara-stained selfies after a fight with the boyfriend, we post #tbt wedding photos with sentimental captions. Everything is sunny on social. I’m no longer subscribing to that myth.
I’d rather live my life instead of constantly clicking away artfully posed selfies. It’s very, very self-gratifying, almost masturbatory. My least favorite genre of post is what I call the “wealthie,” a spin on the selfie. Picture this: “A photo of two Himalayan cats sunning themselves in front of a car with the caption, ‘Lulu and Lady are enjoying the weather.’ No, they’re not. You want all of us to see that you now own a Merc. We get it, you’re rich motherfucker, congratulations.
It’s a game I’m not keen to engage in, even though my sea-side wedding would have been the stuff of Prisma-filtered dreams on Instagram. I no more suffer from crippling FoMO about what everyone else is eating, wearing, or doing. It has definitely been a struggle to wean myself away from this Novocain of comparing myself to others and always feeling like I’m chasing something. Cutting this shit out of my life has allowed me to be a lot more present and grounded, more in a place of gratitude.
My real friends Whatsapp me all the time and I know they really value keeping in touch and maintaining a friendship. They are the ones who showed up at my mother’s funeral, brought me flowers at the hospital and read my newspaper interviews first. They are the ones I plan holidays, parties and brunches with. They are the ones I’m sometimes not in touch with for years but we know what we have is for keeps. I emailed my brother a photo that might have been an ideal Instagram post: three giant African snails moving along dewy grass on a sunny, early Bangalore morning. I included a brief caption: “Too precious for social media.”
What are your views on Social Media? Do you follow any rules to keep your relationship with social media healthy? Like no social media when I’m with family or when I’m on holiday? I’d love to hear.