Originally posted January 27, 2013
“I see the cultural messaging everywhere that says that an ordinary life is a meaningless life…And I also understand how grandiosity, entitlement, and admiration-seeking feel like just the right balm to soothe the ache of being too ordinary and inadequate. Yes, these thoughts and behaviors ultimately cause more pain and lead to more disconnection, but when we’re hurting and when love and belonging are hanging in the balance, we reach for what we think will offer us the most protection.” -Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
I have been mulling over the power of facebook and other social media in the area of self worth and presentation of ourselves to others. It sometimes strikes me as odd how much of our daily lives we put out there for others to see. I wonder at times what makes people “like” certain posts or take the time to comment. And I wonder, how much do we measure ourselves by the click of a box, an online popularity contest that goes on everyday and sometimes to the tune of “poring over the excruciating minutia of every single daily event” (a favorite / semi-prophetic quote from Seinfeld)
I recently read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and it has honestly transformed much of the way I process my daily patterns of thought and behavior. I highly recommend it. I may have to “blame” Brene for this increasing discomfort with the faux connection via social media. I love writing, I love connecting with people and sharing ideas. I have a large and dusty collection of old journals, and stacks of old letters and cards from family and friends that tell stories and have the timeless power to bring an instant smile, and sometimes not a few tears.
But what we are pulled into in the world of constant status updates is a whole new animal. It seems sometimes that we take Socrates famous warning that “an unexamined life is not worth living” and turn it into “an unreported life is not worth living.” Or to put it another way “if I have an experience, but I don’t update my status with pictures and a cute caption, did it really happen?” I am saying this with full awareness of my own desire to update and report.
So what’s the harm? Beyond the possibility of boring others with the “minutiae” of my life, what are the consequences of this type of connection? I have begun to think that there are three reasons that I am becoming a little more cautious, and maybe a little more hesitant to utilize this type of communication. First, and maybe most obvious, is the insidious loss of importance of face to face connection. Nothing, not even the wittiest virtual exchange, can replace sitting with someone and really listening and really being heard. Second, and closely related to the first, is the impulse to put more importance on describing the experience than truly engaging yourself in the experience. It’s frankly sometimes easier to snap a picture and post it, than to fully immerse yourself and just be in the moment. And third, when we are crafting ourselves and our experiences so carefully I think we tend to lose part of ourselves. To live fully we really need to be authentic, and that is hard to do in the world of social media where we could believe that most everyone else more in shape, more creative, better parents, and more beautiful than we ever could be. And to begin to believe, as Brene Brown puts it, that “the orinary life is a meaningless life.” We begin to slide into the sad pit of devaluing the very real and not-so-perfect nature of our own lives. The knee jerk reaction is to put the best of ourselves out there. But the best is not always the truest. And embracing life and our part in it is not possible if we are constantly using the smoke and mirrors to keep up with the less than authentic parts of others.
Personally, I have only felt the truest growth when I can be vulnerable and honest with someone who is vulnerable and honest with me, and we are able to challenge each other to authentic growth. This is true connection. And I don’t know about you, but I crave this. And I am so very grateful for the places I find it. I think social media like facebook has its place. But right now I am giving serious consideration to what exactly that place is. What place do I allow it in my mind? And how can I make more room for the wonderful flesh and blood people who see my scars and flaws, and who love me, challenge me, and provide for me what I think most of us are really seeking: Connection. Real Connection.