It is Saturday night. I am sitting at home, just relaxing and feeling content, on my fourth episode of 30 Rock and second pint of Ben and Jerry’s of the night. In between episodes, I switch tabs to Facebook out of reflex and see what else but hundreds and hundreds upon thousands and thousands (read: several) of mobile uploads (“muploads” for the uninformed) and Instagrams of everyone I know doing cool fun social things—things that I wasn’t invited to, or things that I turned down because I just wanted a quiet night at home.
I’m sure the above scenario feels at least somewhat familiar. You are having a nice, quiet evening at home and suddenly, you’ve fundamentally failed. Everyone you know is out and socializing and making sure you know about it. Your newsfeed screams: “I’m at a concert! I went to a cool restaurant! We’re out socializing on the town! It’s 10 PM and you’re… watching TV and wearing pajamas?”
Look, maybe I’m being oversensitive, and social media isn’t actively trying to make me feel bad about myself. But it sure seems like it. Just think about the very structure of social media: public communication. Yes, there are private messages, but the entire structure of Facebook is totally novel in that most communication is entirely public. We kind of accept this as normal, but think about the last time you wrote on someone else’s wall: did you really have to? Why couldn’t you just have conveyed the same information via instant messaging? I acknowledge that sometimes, the publicity of wall-posts is necessary, but most of the time, the only conceivable reason for the publicity is simply the desire to make sure everyone is aware of your interaction, your friendship, or whatever event your wall-post pertains to. Think about something as simple as “I had a fun time last night :)”—why must that be a wall-post rather than a private message? When I read wall-posts like this, what I really read is “HEY EVERYONE, LOOK AT ME I SOCIALIZED AND HAD FUN.” Indeed, when you write on someone’s wall, you are not communicating to the person, but rather to everyone else who’s reading it. This exhibitionism is inherent to social media: communication is no longer just communication; it is marketing, shaping how we are perceived by our community. Facebook helps us show the world that we are constantly having fun, are social, cultured, and have friends.
Instagram and muploads make this exhibitionism all the more clear, as neither allows the viewer to partake in the fun, but rather forces the viewer to acknowledge that the viewer is not part of the fun. Instagrams in particular are guilty of this: “Hey look everyone,” they say. “I’m at the beach/eating this delicious food/at a concert! Look at this picture of my feet at the beach/the delicious food that I’m about to eat and you’re not/the concert I’m at and you’re not.” After all, who else views these Instagrams, muploads, and wall posts but those who are sitting at home, alone on their computer. I have found myself part of this phenomenon, in which I feel bad about myself as I stuff my face with popcorn and watch Fashion Police on a Friday night because I everyone else I know is muploading and Instagramming their dinner, their party, and their friends. Why is it no longer okay to just exist? You must always be doing something social or cool, or you are missing out because social and cool stuff is certainly happening elsewhere. Indeed, thanks to social media/marketing, we are losing our ability to do things just for enjoyment; rather we do everything because of how it makes us seem.
That said, I have to go: I am headed to a cool indie concert, after which my friends and I are going to eat some delicious waffles and get into some crazy antics. We’ll be sure to let you know about it.
Charlie Bardey, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Silver Key