“(Social networking) causes us to assume that our every action is a mini milestone surely worthy of blasting out to people we somehow believe care half as much about ourselves as we do.”
Since iCarly and Sam & Cat aren’t part of my regular viewing, I’m sad to say I’ve never really given Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy much thought, but after coming across her essay in the Wall Street Journal on social networking and online romance, consider me woefully ignorant. Besides it’s incredible insight, it raises a lot of interesting talking points about how social networking is changing our daily interactions and how we present ourselves, which made me really sit and think about how I and many others go about our online lives.
If we’re really being honest here, all of us sell an illusion. The pictures we paint of ourselves online are never who we really are, but we often lose sight of that. We hide behind the filters of our Instagrams and witty retorts from our Twitter. We post only the best pictures of us on Facebook because we want to show the world we have it all together, only to shrink away when opportunities for more real things come up. We let the tool (and that’s all social networking is) become the master instead of mastering the tool, and when that happens we settle for the invisible and digital high fives of strangers. Digital life is more comfortable than real life to many of us.
Real life is scary, unpredictable, and immune to deleting. Breakups are never as clean as changing “In a relationship” to “Single”. Most days we aren’t as photogenic as our profile pictures. Real life can’t be saved forever in a Facebook album; it moves on despite our pictures, Vines, and tweets. Moments and feelings pass with the wind and so many of us try desperately to capture it forever instead of living within them as they happen. Unlike our digital kingdoms, in the real world we have flaws, insecurities, and bad hair days. In the real world we can’t simply log off and hide from problems. The real world requires authenticity, and that scares many of us to death because we care way too much about what strangers think of us. So the filtered selfies and curated status updates keep the illusion alive. The stuff we put online isn’t our REAL life, but some of us desperately want it to be.
The most important stuff in our lives isn’t what has the most likes or retweets, it’s the stories behind them. The memory of putting my nephew on my shoulders and hearing him laugh while smacking my head repeatedly is better than any picture. In life, the way you look at something often determines the value you get away from it. If we see setbacks as punishment instead of opportunity, we miss out on potential meaning. If you pursue a relationship with only you in mind, you hurt others and emotionally damage yourself. If you put something on Instagram only to get the maximum amount of likes, you’ve ruined a memory or experience by putting a number on it. We can’t lose sight of what is important, and if you find value in getting on the popular page of Instagram or reaching X number of followers on Twitter, you’ve set yourself up for shallow validation and you’ll find yourself dancing under the puppet strings of the masses in search of the next warm and fuzzy feeling.
McCurdy’s opinion (along with many other people) is that social networking works best when it commemorates experiences instead of taking away from them, and I agree wholeheartedly. Watching a concert through the tiny screen of your phone isn’t near as good as what you get when you put it back in your pocket. Spending time with your kids becomes much more meaningful when you’re content to watch them laugh instead of taking pictures of it. Relationships grow deeper when you don’t constantly tweet while on a date. Being authentic and intentional online comes from having that attitude offline, and it’s something I’m really thinking through and working on.
My advice is when using social networks, don’t use it for just anything or throwing out random words (which I’m guilty of). Live first, tweet later. Be intentional when with friends or family. Put the phone down and be real with people in real life. That’s the stuff people will remember, not that time you posted a picture of your Starbucks.