We Always Lose Ourselves Along The Way
On burning our maps to each other.
I joined Facebook at 27 years old this year. I have learned way too much about the lives and opinions of acquaintances and old co-workers. What used to take several hours of conversation and weeks of hangouts now takes me the two seconds it takes to open my phone and push a button with my thumb. Before we even get to helping someone move, trying Indian food with them, or going on a hike, we can know who their parents are, who they voted for, if they’re married and happy or married and unhappy, what their favorite band is, what they binge-watch when they’re stressed, and even their day-to-day thoughts (sometimes minute-to-minute.)
Without any genuine curiosity or interest, we can mindlessly scroll through an entire collection of personalities like a discount rack of people at an old outlet mall. My first foray into the world of social media made me feel like an intruder, a voyeur into people’s relationships, workplaces, and breakfast tables. My posts about my life were close to non-existent for years, and yet, I hold no superior illusions that I don’t also feel that tug to document everything about me at times.
People used to fade from our lives when their time was up. They moved away to various locations or blurred back into acquaintances after their time in our intimate circle. Each person’s time in your life wasn’t considered a waste or a wash if they weren’t in the same role in ten year’s time. Your childhood friend who played endless weekends of kickball in the street with you and was the fastest runner in your grade faded away to gritty dust and “I wonder where they are now” recollections. Your college professor who accused you of plagiarism and was your first sharp inhale of panic in the face of bias became a bittersweet pang in your chest.
Sure, some people stayed in hazy outlines of their old roles. You looked forward to visiting best friends in different states or countries, caught up with old stories that always seem better than your current ones with glasses of nostalgia, and embraced conversations that seemed the same, whether six months or a decade had passed since you last saw them.
We used to spill blood, sweat, and tear-soaked confessions to get to comfortable friendships that grew with us. Affection was built in a series of conversations and implemented through showing up when shit hit the fan. Boundaries were only taken down when respect was freely given after you proved you wouldn’t run roughshod in the house like the proverbial ‘bull in a tea shop’. Friendship was the burnt food in the kitchen turned takeout for dinner, the ability to walk into the house without knocking, those oft-replayed 2:00AM conversations when everyone was too tired to keep their demons at bay and so sorted them out while sprawled out on the living room floor.
Facebook doesn’t see all of those moments. As much as we try to capture everything around us, it’s an algorithm focused on entertaining us. Presenting ourselves as a brand that self-promotes our witty awareness highlights our unwillingness to live in nuance. This system changes the way we view the grey areas and the way we define comfort by creating in us a fear to be messy. We dare not show the whole adventure for fear people focus on our valleys instead of our peaks. When our friendships become too authentic, too much and too fast, we can use our thumb to back out as quickly as we opted in.
In university, I would be told “You’re such a mystery” all. the. time. When they say this to my face, I can’t help but cringe at the irony. They don’t seem to catch that they could ask me the same questions Facebook does, and they have a better chance of getting an answer than a blinking cursor in a small text box. Seriously, ask your mother her favorite band when she was a teenager. Ask your crush what they like to do instead of stalking their pictures and growing irrationally jealous of every halfway attractive person in them. When all we see is a disembodied profile picture with a list of interests, posts of daily thoughts and associated affiliations, and photo albums of hobbies, we think we know everything there is to know about a person. The kicker is we don’t.
We’re more lonely and sad than we’ve ever been. There are countless research studies and articles that try their darnedest to sound clever yet concerned pointing out that people with a high use of social media also rank higher on anxiety and depression and report less satisfaction with life. They are quick to point out that it’s simply a correlation, and they don’t yet know if one causes the other. Ask that friend which sitcom they watch when they’re depressed then bring them ramen and sit on the other end of their couch when you don’t see them for a few days.
I understand I may sound like a crotchety old grandpa whining about “those millennials and their darn smartphones”. Please understand that I’m not. A well-placed meme can make me laugh out loud, and though I joined Facebook for work this year, I have a personal Instagram account that brings me happiness in its own way. I’m simply observing that maybe seeing 24/7 that the grass truly seems greener in someone else’s yard is making us neglect our own gardens. In this age of limitless knowledge, we have more potential than anyone else to master another language, find the closest river to fish, or bring home the ingredients to make the best homemade Pad Thai. Yet, we don’t. We’d rather watch Tasty videos of simplified recipes than mess around and create our own. We’d rather scroll through meme after meme than drive twenty minutes to visit our dad for in-person dad jokes. We’d rather watch all of the manufactured drama of the Kardashians than maybe ruffle some feathers in our own families. It troubles me that we’re collectively trading warm bear hugs and cold beers around a bonfire for our screen’s blue glow (that is probably giving us insomnia to boot).
I spent the weekend in a busy city with busy people and a ton of coffee. I organized two weddings and a national organization’s annual dinner. All three headliners were stressed about the appearance of the event and how it would look on their respective social media profiles. Getting visibly frustrated over a stray hair or wrinkles in the tablecloths. I’ve come to the realization that we will never be good enough. Our bank accounts will never have enough zeroes. Our jokes won’t make everyone laugh out loud. Our wardrobes will never have the perfect mixture of casual and dapper (no, just me?) Our depths aren’t deep enough for everyone to swim in. That’s okay. Your ocean isn’t meant for everyone.
I have a love/hate relationship with the internet in general, social media in particular. Our relationship status would be ‘It’s complicated.’ I love the photos that take my breath away and the ease of connections. I love staying in touch with friends halfway across the world in more ways than one handwritten letter a month. I even love the inspirational stories (Check out @thebullhikes for one of my new faves!) Yet, I can’t deny the pitfalls of self-pity that come from constant comparison to our peers. Why doesn’t my squad look like that? Why aren’t I cliff-jumping and scuba diving on my vacations? Why don’t my abs look as toned? Is something wrong with me?
In my attempts to see all the nuances on all the issues, I can easily fling myself into the filth surrounding us and be paralyzed to make a decision. Any decision. I find myself reading provocative articles with little research to back up their claims or simply watching brain-numbing videos that portray everyone like me to be mindless. It’s madness that we’ve traded in trembling, quivering, triumphant life for the hollow glory of counting how many people’s thumbs pushed a button. We’re not made to wallow in pain or swallow only the sweet of life. Both punches and kisses make up a full life, and we shouldn’t deny ourselves the opportunities to do either. We weren’t built for the hate. Find the folks who keep you sane and positive in a world full of cynics. Who remind you that true community is worth driving however many miles to knock on their door. Who chase beautiful things and ask difficult questions.
Be kind to yourself, okay? Even on the internet.
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