Becoming the Perfect You on Social Media

I spent my Easter break traveling the EU with my boyfriend. Like any traveler I was taking pictures, uploading them onto social media, and waiting for comments. However I was more glued to how people react to my trip rather than how I felt about the trip — I was looking down more than up. My boyfriend pointed this out to me and I was horrified, because I haven’t noticed this habit and I was not really in the moment.

Image by Henry Marsh on Pexels (Creative Commons)

Social media has changed me and how I live my life without me knowing, and that’s why when I got back I wanted to learn more about my behaviour, and how had social media changed us.

The Ideal Social Self

Us humans we have many versions of ourselves, and they play different roles in our life:

Actual self — how we perceive ourselves

Ideal self — how we would like to perceive ourselves

Social self — how we believe others see us

Ideal social self — how we like to be seen by others

Our consciousness is shaped by our experiences and memories. Our actual self is the result of who we are and what we do. However, we all have an ideal image of ourselves. Whether it is a smarter, fitter, or a taller self, we all yearn for a somewhat upgraded version of our actual self — an ideal self. The same can be applied to our social self. When we interact with other people, our responses and body gesture shape who we are socially, and that social self is how others around perceive us. Just like how we want to gain something extra for our actual self, we would naturally want to be perceived as our ideal self too.

Interactions online is different from in-person interactions. The only thing other people see are typed words, photographs, and the occasional videos. Emotional undertones and body language (which makes up of 90% of our communication) are lost, and it is up to the audience to figure out how they are going to analyze and perceive the messages that’s been put out. Therefore we literally can be whoever we want online without being them in real life, giving rise to the ideal social self.

The Facebook You by Comical Concept

The ideal social self is what we want people on the internet to see us as without knowing us personally. This phenomenon gave rise to MMORPGs and games like Sims — where one can be whoever and whatever he/she desires. We also have a profile on social media, where we not only post, we also follow — usually web-famous people. They tend to be someone we admire and desire to become, whether it is a celebrity or a blogger. They have constant news feed about how awesome their day was and pictures of how great they look, we in turn like, comment, and imitate their style.

They then become our ideal social self. We want to be cool and fun just like them, we want to post adventures and show others how great and interesting our own lives are. If you looked through your Facebook or other social media profile timeline, you will see that your posting styles changed as time progressed. For me personally, I used to post what was on my mind in the moment, or a cool place I discovered over the weekend. However slowly and unconsciously my posts became more purposeful. I began to make them more appealing by adding pretty photos and using hashtags — they became constructed.

We are now busily constructing the ideal social self. We would spend a lot of time taking photos of virtually the same thing just to get “the perfect one”, and we would scribble and scrabble until we have jotted down the perfect line of description, often making them look effortless and nonchalant. It is the desire to become our ideal social self that has turned the sharing platform to a virtual playhouse. As we get positive and praising feedbacks, we get confirmation for our ideal social self, thus reinforcing us to keep this cycle going. Our effort for a taste of the ideal self has been seen, now social media will dominate our habits, it has us hooked and addicted.

In Too Deep

We have now seen how social media can affect us by shaping what we do and believe through our desire for the ideal social self. When we interact online, we seem to be getting a boost of satisfaction when people like and comment on our post, but does the pursue for self image derive more happiness? In 2012, Anxiety UK conducted a survey on social media use and its effects on emotions. They found that 53% of participants said social media sites had changed their behaviour, with 51% of these having the change be negative.

What is going on?

Photo by TeroVesalainen on Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Internet Use Disorder

According to the American Academy Paediatrics, “young users see status updates, wall posts, and photos that make them feel unpopular.” This is in accordance to the Anxiety UK survey, who stated that the same crowd who had a negative change also reported feeling less confident when they compared their achievements against their friends. We often compare ourselves unconsciously with others as we read our social media feeds. As the comparisons are taking place daily, we feel more/less adequate depending on how popular(through likes and comments) we appear online compared to others, and when we come up short, more efforts will be put in to “look better”.

Most of this process takes place in the mind, and incremental cumulation of this cycle can have harmful effects. Facebook Depression is one of the syndromes of Internet Use Disorder: the addiction to be constantly connect to the web. People who suffer from Facebook Depression mostly feel like they are not living up to their ideal social self benchmarked by other people online. Those who suffer from Internet Use Disorder have poured so much of their mental energy online, the internet becomes their reality of who they are and what their social circle looks like. Due to the fact that their actual self is quite different from their ideal social self, this group of people will slowly withdraw from their real friends in life. This process is very dangerous, as it undermines mental stability and leads to depression and low self-esteem.

Return to Real Life

Over the course of the Digital Society, I was exposed to many topics I haven’t given much thought about., most of them are cool in-the-trend topics that I have only a basic understanding. This course led me into a deeper dive and a better understanding for the “Digital Society.” As a millennial, I often take the technological progress around me for granted and thought of them as “they’ve always been there”. Yet they were not always there and there is still so much to learn about them. With the last assignment, we are given the chance to go even deeper into a topic of our own interest, and it had benefitted me so much. I always had a feeling that social life has changed in the past years and real conversations are harder to come by. However I did not know what psychological mindset had driven us to do what we are doing, and how had the introduction of social media changed how we interact with others.

Now with a much more comprehensive understanding of the topic I chose, we can prevent Internet Use Disorder. Return to real life and what is right in front of us is the theme of my learning outcome. Technology is great, it connect us from around the world and has brought people closer together. Yet it is so easily to get lost in the fancy progressions that we forget that life is still grounded. We can have as many fancy gadgets and tools as we want, but basic human connection still need to be maintained face-to-face. With everything being “smart” nowadays, we as end users have to be too. We have to be smart in the sense that we are aware of the benefits technology has given us, but it is worth noting that they have drawbacks too. Too much online consumption undermines our real life relationships, connecting all devices may cause security issues, and self driving cars stimulate morality controversies. Not only should we focus on advances, we also have to pay attention to the down sides.

I feel so fortunate that I have taken this class during my exchange semester. The coursework gave us so much freedom to explore and trial, it is so easy to get emerged into a topic and dig around its interesting roots. I believe it will benefit me greatly in similar projects in the future!

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