Comparison Game: Facing Adulthood with Social Media
When I graduated college, all of my friends scattered to the wind. I was mostly prepared for it, though. See, I graduated a year later than most of my friends. I took a victory lap - a.k.a. got my MPA - so I had had a year to adjust to life without my friends. I mean, sure, sometimes they came back through good ‘ole College Station for a Saturday football game or for lunch at the Chicken before returning to Dallas or Houston, but other than that, a lot of my friendships kind of ended. No bitterness here (mostly), it’s just the evolution of life. The friends I saw every day in college still mean a lot to me, but they aren’t actively involved in my life, and I’m not a current part of their lives.
Except on Facebook.
Not only can I keep track of my grad school and college friends, but I’m friends with my elementary school crush. (Well, after writing this I unfriended him. It all felt too weird; he’s married now, we haven’t talked since the fourth grade, so I guess it’s time to move on.) Social media is altogether ridiculous, and it’s turned me into a modern-day Narcissus. I think it’s probably turned you into one, too.
It’s fall in D.C. which means that folks are trying to soak up the last remnants of daylight all over the city. I’ve done a lot of fun things (you’ve probably seen them on my Instagram feed) such as:
1) Celebrating “friendsgiving" with my D.C. friends. I did this handwriting. Do you see how perfect it is?
2) Going for a run all the way to Virginia. I crossed state lines folks! Do you see this tilt shift? Do you see how perfect the view is? Jealous yet?
3) Snapping pics of gorgeous trees in Georgetown, you know, that really posh neighborhood that I live in? Oh what was that? You’re melting in Texas? Bummer man, because the weather is perfect up here.
4) Exploring the National Arboretum. Do you see how adventurous I look? Do you like the use of black and white? Doesn't it make me seem more sophisticated? Let’s be honest, I look pretty much perfect. Right?
See a trend? (Hint: my life is perfect). Or at least, I apparently want you to think that it is.
A few weeks ago I ran into a friend from school while I was visiting the White House gardens (perks of having perfect friends who score you tickets to fun events). While we were chatting and catching up, she said something that threw me off.
“How is life going for you?” she asked. “If your Facebook is any indication, it looks like everything is perfect.”
I laughed it off and said something like, “Oh that’s just Facebook. My life’s a mess, but I’m doing fine.”
But here’s the deal folks: my social media presence is a carefully curated lie.
In the age where I have over 1000 friends on Facebook (cue the culling that will happen after I send this post) and very few of them really know me (and vice versa), I’m projecting my most perfect self online, and as a bi-product, I’m keeping my friends at arms length (or at least competing with them?). I’m not really sure, but I’ve done some thinking (and asking around).
I constantly untag photos of myself if I think I don’t look pretty in them. I also try out about nine Instagram filters before I settle on one that I like. I make sure that statuses, tweets and posts are all witty and well-worded, and to top it all off, I check my various social media accounts about 20 times a day. At a minimum.
And here’s the deal, I’ve asked my friends and they all do the same dang thing. But I should say that my life is absolutely not perfect.
- One time I flooded my apartment.
- Before October I only had four pairs of socks and none of them matched. This wasn’t because I was poor, but because I am lazy and didn’t want to go out and buy socks.
- One time I took the Green Line all the way to Anacostia instead of Columbia Heights, got off and got a little bit lost. This is a pretty big blunder.
- A few months ago I accidentally put my boss on hold while in a meeting and the hold music started playing, and I forgot I had put the phone on hold, and the meeting had to listen to crappy music for almost half an hour.
I’m clearly a disaster and yet, I still feel the need to project perfection, and I’m basically addicted to social media.
I think it’s a generational thing, as my parents can’t really relate to this pull into the great unknown of the Internet. I was raised in the age of MySpace (and Xanga before that, God help us); I came of age online. Half of my life has been lived on a computer, iPad or phone.
Now, as a fully-fledged adult, I’m trying to figure out how to live more of my life in real time and not just on a screen, how to really keep up with friends, and not just count a passive scroll of my newsfeed as “checkin’ in.” Life is constantly changing and somehow social media has become, for me, an immovable constant.
No one has ever taught me to self-regulate my social media usage; in fact, I’m discouraged from unplugging. Someone is always posting a new story, creating a new event or responding to a new Internet battle. I’m part of the first generation of digital natives, and we’re trying to figure out how to maintain friends, relationships and life itself with one part of ourselves living in a virtual world.
There’s so much that I hate about social media. The fact that some of my friends use it to sell stuff (MaryKay, Advocare, all the other crap that I don’t ever want) drives me nuts. That any given Saturday I have more and more friends who announce their engagements to the surprise of approximately no one normally makes me consider whether or not to drain a bottle of Barefoot Sweet Red wine with a straw (I’m kind of poor, okay; I can only afford a $4 bottle of wine from the bottom shelf of Harris Teeter, and I’m not afraid to own up to it). This desire to become a functioning alcoholic is additionally exacerbated by most of the political options I see on Facebook. These also make me want to jump in front of the Georgetown Circulator bus.
Often, I see my friends’ posts and hear a small nagging voice in my head that says, “This is a competition, you have to win.” So I don’t post as a genuine attempt to share my part of the human experience but rather to inspire jealousy. I don’t know why I do it (but I asked my friends and they do it too, so at least I’m not alone in this abnormality).
The question remains: what’s my deal? Am I still trapped in the MySpace Top 8 mindset? Am I constantly competing for coolest friend, even when the competition doesn’t exist? And if I am competing, what’s my measure of success? I mean let’s be real, I’m not going to get as many likes as Kim Kardashian, so why even bother? And why do I let other people’s online lives affect my real-life life? Why am I still running a race if in reality, I’m running alone?
I really think it’s because for the first time in history, you can measure your life against your friends’ lives in real time. I can see that I’m happily single, working at a job I enjoy and living in my dream city while my friends are blissfully married, making their own paths and living in Texas. Our lives are different for the first time ever, and that surely means that I’m coming up short. Or at least, that’s what my Instagram feed would have me believe.