This past weekend I was able to do one of the things that I really enjoy. I attended a music festival. I love music and it makes me happy. I enjoy being around people having fun, without the normal restrictions of common cultural inhibitions. This doesn’t mean that festivals are full of hedonism and misfits, in fact, at the Forecastle Festival this past weekend I was a little surprised at how calm it truly was. It was full of people willing to enjoy music and be happy in the process, without having to be too concerned about other people’s perceptions. That is what I like about music festivals.
This post is not about the music festival. It is about a couple realities I have observed about social media and the impact it has upon how I interpret my own life’s status. One of the things that caused me to start thinking about this was the very first time I pulled out my iPhone to take a photo. I was considering if I should post it to Facebook or Instagram, maybe even Twitter? It was Saturday evening and Tyson and I had just shown up to the Great Lawn, taking in all the different vendors and stages. In a true moment of inspiration, we were looking for a local craft beer distributor. It turned out that Sierra Nevada and PBR were the main beers of choice. The desire to take out my phone was not limited to my impulses, as photo collecting was one of the main events of the weekend. I even saw a guy at the Nickel Creek, then Ray LaMontagne shows keep his camera attached to one of those long single pole sticks that allow for good pictures, but mainly for taking a better selfy. I’m thankful that I haven’t perfected that photographic skill to this point.
The truth is that when we are having a lot of fun, enjoying ourselves and experiencing something worth sharing with friends, we get to do that in a lot of ways today. It is simple to document those moments with a photograph we upload, a video we post to youtube or writing a blog post we share. I have been sharing my thoughts online for a long time. In 2003, I put up ditschfitness.com, which just a website I created using basic html. Each time I wanted to share a story, I wrote the story then created the new html page. I got tired of writing the html, so in 2004 I learned CSS and php to create the site. And then blogger came out and it changed my life. The content mattered and not the mess of building pages. I eventually transferred to various WordPress sites that I’ve self hosted, but my personal blog is built upon WordPress.com.
Social media changed everything again, which I don’t need to explain to anyone. It’s incredibly obvious. From 2003 through 2005 (maybe even longer), I remember people asking why I would want to share things online – what’s the point. And now everyone shares their lives through Facebook status updates, with 140 characters via Twitter, images on Instagram and videos on all the platforms. It’s incredibly easy to do, as there is almost no technology barrier to overcome.
The interesting observation, that I’m very aware of, is that the lives that are shared through the various channels are highly curated representations of who we are. We make choices on what we want the world to see and what we chose they don’t see. I know that for myself, I’ve heavily curated my online life to represent my desire to help people be healthier and more fit. I’ve specifically tried to create a brand around myself that is a living example on how endurance activities can be a tool to lead someone to that better life. This has not been something I’ve done for a few months, I’ve spent 11 years curating my content and output to create this reality. It is not surprising to me that when old friends meet me in person, one of the things they ask is about my running.
At the festival, we got into a conversation with one couple that shared how they disabled their Facebook accounts. They felt that the constant input of other peoples lives, made it a consistent reminder for them on what they needed to be happy. The old saying, “keeping up with the Jones’” can be exponentially overwhelming today, because you don’t only have to keep up with the Jones family next door, but the one across the country too.
Something else that has happened over the past 10 years, is that my circle of close friends has grown smaller – while the number of people I consider friends has grown larger. I actually made this observation some time ago and made a goal of 2014 to hand write 50 cards to close friends, because I mostly rely on social media to stay in touch which rarely adds depth to a relationship. So far I’ve sent zero cards, but ironically received a handwritten card from a friend that read the post and liked the idea. (Serious guilt when others beat you to your own personal goals… but also motivation, because I enjoyed it much more than a Facebook message). I saw a friend at Forecastle that I’ve seen in person probably 3 or 4 times over the past 8 years, each time was just in passing and included brief catching up. Ironically, I felt like I knew how she had been doing because of social media. The truth is that I get to see a curated view. She shared with us that she was doing well and life has changed for her some, as she has a new baby (which I’ve seen a dozen times or so on Instagram). It’s just really hard to know, if perception and reality are the same thing when trying to maintain friendships in this way.
I do not know the impact of social media on other people, but I know that in my personal use, it can be good and bad. There are days that I really enjoy seeing all the exciting things that people I know are doing. It inspires me to go try something new, reach out and say hi or just know what a family member or friend is up to. Then there are days that I read through my feed and ask myself, what the fuck I did wrong to not be as successful as I should be or have the life I thought I could have.
It is easy to start finding myself having the “grass is greener” type of mindset. Then when I’m able to pull away from the updates and think logically, I realize that I am a very fortunate person. The extent of my advantages and blessings is easy to lose at times in a sea of social media montages.
If everyone’s life is truly and fully represented on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, then I will admit that my life is not as good as my average friend. But, even if that is true, it is perfectly good enough for me.