Like nearly all first-world teenagers, social media plays a big role in my life. I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn…everything. And I’m the first to admit that they function best as time-wasters. Far too often, I’ve found myself up past midnight, scrolling through my cousin’s fiancee’s best friend’s brother’s Twitter, completely unaware of the fact that it’s the witching hour and I have to go to class in less than six hours. I also have a bad habit of comparing myself to other girls on social media- looking through their travel albums, taking note of how many likes they get on their posts, comparing their follower count to mine. Every time, I come back feeling poor, small-minded, widely disliked, and jealous. I’m not an angry person, but when I fall into the social media rabbit hole, I feel resentful of the people who seem to have a better life than me.
Social media makes it easier than ever to feel like crap. Now you have quantitative methods of putting yourself down–followers, Facebook friends, likes, comments, views, shares. Social Media: Because You Needed Numbers To Validate Your Self-Hatred!
Maybe that’s a little too far. Social media’s purpose is, after all, to enable social interaction; it’s highly unlikely that Mark Zuckerberg and his peers wanted to remind people of all the reasons they should hate themselves. But still, I’m not alone in the sentiment that social media enables comparison–the most cursory Google search shows over half a million thinkpieces on the subject. My feelings are not novel.
This past week, though, I had something of a personal epiphany while scrolling through the Instagram page of a girl I don’t particularly like. I was scrolling through her and my pages concurrently, obsessively comparing our snapshots of time and playing “Who Had It Better???” Social media (and real life) had taken a toll on me that day, and I desperately needed to feel better than somebody. It wasn’t enough to just feel good–I had to feel good in comparison. However, while it began with me internally putting down another girl for my own benefit, after a few posts, I found myself scrolling through just my own page and smiling at old memories.
There was a photo of me and my sisters the first time they ever visited me at college. There was a candid photo from Halloween, starring my best friend and I as we laughed at something neither of us remember anymore. There was a photo of my friends and I at a haunted forest, posing with one of the actors. There was the first photo my boyfriend and I ever took together, taken during a rehearsal of the Rocky Horror production that brought us together. A picture of my high school best friend and I cooking pizza rolls before our senior prom. A picture of my youngest sister’s ultrasound, when we found out she was a girl.
Every picture brought me viscerally back to the moment they were taken. Walking my sisters around the quad; laughing until my ribs hurt and I collapsed into my friend’s chest; peeing my pants a little during the haunted forest; gingerly putting my hands on his shoulders for the photo op, stomach full of nervous quivers; trying not to get pizza roll sauce on my green dress; skipping in the hospital parking lot and looking at my mom with joy. They were some of my happiest memories. That was why I posted them.
That was when I had my epiphany. I wasn’t posting my bad moments, both because I wanted to forget them and because I didn’t want anyone to think that my life wasn’t perfect and wonderful. That’s what everyone’s doing on social media: showing you the best parts of their lives and hoping you never question it. We’re all gaining validation by snapshotting our happiness and asking the world to like it. Liking someone’s happy memory is akin to saying “I’m happy for you”. That’s all we’re seeking by being on social media.
A lot of people like to take a pessimistic view of this and shout a lot about “the void” and “vanity” and “selfie culture”. They can think that. I’m just going to use my social media as a time capsule of sorts; or, more appropriately, a highlight reel.
Sure, we post the best parts of our lives on social media, and it can be argued that we present a false reality. Sure. But that does not make the good parts of our lives any less good, or our happy memories any less valid.
I want to be able to look through my social media and feel that visceral, nostalgic happiness. I want to post myself being happy, productive, and accomplished, because I can forget that I am, in fact, all of those things. By keeping up with my social media, and by being on social media, and by “backing up” my memories with social media posts, at any given time I can smile at better times or remind myself of all the good things I have done and been a part of. While one of my friends is studying abroad, I’m running clubs and laughing until I am breathless. It’s easy to forget how good my life really is, and what I post on social media can remind me.
And hey…the external validation is pretty nice, too.