The Perils of Navigating Social Media in the Attention Economy.
All these beautiful, curated, high-vibe, highlight reels.
They leave me confused.
Very confused. And a bit cold.
I wish I was oblivious, but I’m not.
Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn in. I admit I do have a morbid fascination with Instagram influencers.
Pastel pinks, washed out whites, VSCO eat your heart out. It’s cute and carefully curated — but it has also become homogeneous, and generic.
But I’m *still* following.
Put together, collected, collated — and coyly presented for your acceptance and your likes…
Why do I find it so compelling?
I am my own person, finally. I mean, it took a lot of work. It’s still pretty shaky at the best times, and I’m only human, so I’m not yet immune to comparisonitis.
It’s the plague of our times.
This digital world that we exist in and socialise in, perhaps look up to, model ourselves on and get inspired by — it’s pretty damn treacherous regardless of whether you’re secure in your own identity.
Messages of authenticity and empowerment and you-can-do-it-too touted from all directions. With coveted, edited images to match of course. Cute as a button, pretty as a postcard — but contrived, and stuck competing in the attention economy.
For every one perfect post you see, you don’t see the hundreds or thousands of posts that didn’t make the cut.
Is that vanity, narcissism, or self-aggrandizement?
I don’t care, cuz it’s pretty.
But hang on. Now there’s a new kid on the block.
You gotta be gritty, raw, real.
And yet when you switch from a ‘highlights reel’ type of content to ‘gritty, raw and real’ posts because that’s the latest in marketing trends…
My skin crawls and I feel super awkward.
Who are these people? What are they being authentic to?
Surely not their real selves — for who actually spends their days getting on location for 5am, having endless photoshoots, being constantly made up and photo-ready… ‘turtling’ day in and day out.
We don’t want to see all that shit! We only want to see the end result, the highlights — a moment in time — an avatar!
We don’t want to hear all the effort and hard work and crap that went into that! We can’t be bothered, and we certainly don’t want to hear the complaints of the mega-successful.
But we end up comparing or measuring ourselves against an avatar anyway — a recipe for complete and utter disaster.
Use of social media is known to exacerbate or contribute to mental disorders, but how abouts this for some scary stats:
A recent study found 11 to 19 year olds with a mental disorder were more likely to use social media every day (87.3%) than those without a disorder (77.8%).
Girls with a mental disorder were more likely to feel that they compared themselves to others on social media.
Young people with a disorder (both girls and boys) were more likely to feel that the number of ‘likes’ they got affected their mood than those without a disorder.
That’s why we worship authenticity now.
But what is authenticity?
Authenticity is the quality of being authentic. Duh.
I love that. I had to Google it, and the answer was circular.
Seriously though, authentic means true.
But this act of proclaiming genuineness when it’s actually an illusion, an avatar, and a misrepresentation of reality — that is toxic.
But we are addicted to it. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and it’s an exquisite lie. And just like a tragedy, we can’t look away.
So we have these beautifully curated feeds and a highlight reel to inspire, paired with some punchy, personal, raw, hard-hitting captions designed to build your trust.
Authenticity is all about sharing your story, right?
Your highly relatable, highly vulnerable, highly moving story?
Brene Brown made vulnerability famous. Super famous.
In Daring Greatly, she defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”
But… I have two observations as to how this relates to social media.
- The line between honesty, vulnerability and emotional exposure, and sharing for the sake of attention (or dare I say the engagement, the likes, the moolah) — is very, very fine indeed, and
- There doesn’t seem to be a huge risk in sharing generic, safe, beautiful, well-posed, aesthetically pleasing and just the right amout of filtered images — even if it was captioned #uglytears, or you were pre-warned that there’s a #rawpost coming up.
That isn’t vulnerability — that’s a marketing strategy.
Vulnerability is so hard precisely because it leaves you open to attack — it implies that what is being exposed is true, or real , or can be in jeopardy. But if it’s not real — if it’s a false representation of reality, then any perceived attack can do no real harm anyway.
It’s a freaking illusion.
And I know, I know. Perception is reality. Reality is an illusion.
Don’t get your knickers in a twist.
The issue is that these stories, captions, bylines and lifestyles — they promote something that was never real to begin with. They deliberately warp our perception of what reality is.
It’s marketing, but the problem is, our brains still think it’s real life.
Even though it’s posed.
Even though it’s all a lie.
Are we brave enough to move on from this?
Give me the real stuff.
Give me diversity. Give me the truth. Give me funny. Give me painfully, awkwardly, genuinely geeky.
Because that’s me, y’all.
Painfully, awkwardly, genuinely, geeky… The polar opposite of curated, cute and coveted.
After only just healing some childhood wounds in my interior world, I’ve resurfaced in social media and I feel somewhat underrepresented, unpopular and unsavoury all over again.
But that doesn’t sell so well, so this stuff doesn’t have a safe place in this VSCO-filtered-world.
So we need to look beyond the filter and the flat lay.
We need to make room for more interesting narratives.
The stories — the formula — they’re so generic and they’re so disingenuous. They have no bearing on the real as-lived experiences. They are curated — the experiences carefully selected to tell a carefully managed story, to carefully paint a picture that is likeable, relatable and marketable.
Friends, my life does not fit that box.
And it’s my life, after all — not a marketing strategy.
This is the main problem with lifestyle businesses. They rarely reflect real aspects of the life that they allegedly portray.
It’s a highlight, yes. But in the clamour, and the likes, we confuse the highlights for the whole thing.
Tim Ferriss does not work 4 Hours A Week, people. He most likely works closer to 80 — if not more.
Shocking? Only if we believed the taglines, the headlines and the marketing.
No wonder we feel missold, misled, lied to, cheated — we are.
But worse. We feel bad about it. We feel bad about ourselves. Either for not being able to attain it, or for trying and failing — or for not even bothering to.
When the truth is, it’s unattainable even for them, the original poster.
We know we shouldn’t judge our inner lives against someone else’s outer — but it’s hard not to fall into that trap anyway — it looks so damn good.
Before I began to really start accepting myself, I gobbled a whole lot of Koolaid to try and figure out how to be part of this game.
It looked fun. I fancied a lifestyle business.
But it meant trying to conform with this highly stylised depiction of #reallife.
And it really, really painfully didn’t work for me.
These aren’t my stories to tell — these aren’t my luxury, posed, curated and edited experiences.
I’m not a conformist. I’m more of a rebel. I’m a Type 4 Enneagram — the Individualist.
But I wasn’t strong enough in myself to know it yet — to tell my own story.
Bubblegum flavoured authenticity — I’m choking on it.
But where are all the other flavours? Can the other role models and leaders and spokespeople please come forward from the fringes?
There’s more to us than powder pink messages of empowerment, and carefully positioned messages of hopes and dreams and aspiration.
There I said it.
Give it to me straight. Without the gloss and without the spin.
Tell me about the time you blitzed up a green smoothie but spilled it all over yourself (again) and gave yourself PTSD about drinking smoothies in public and never had one again. True story.
Or the time that you went hiking and accidentally blew a giant snot bubble just as a group of other walkers turned round to look at you. And there was no uplifting moral of the story. Another true one.
Sorry. That’s probably TMI.
It’s not like I’m great at this.
I get it. It’s hard.
Look, I suffer comparisonitis of the worst kind.
I tend to either only post images that I think are lovely looking, or that tell a nice, innocuous story and (I hope) conceals my unbearably awkward, ungainly and unlikeable aspects — and all of the stupid shit that I do on a regular basis.
I make mistakes, I do the wrong thing, I fuck things up.
It’s ok to make mistakes and for them not be followed up with some kitschy motivational uplifting lesson that makes you gag on your kale smoothie (for the umpteenth time). You’re still a valid human being. And a relatable one.
I’m trying to tell more stories that are real, that are interesting, and that don’t just paint me in my best light.
…. Hahaha — the idea that I even have a best light is still laughable….
And I’m actively looking for role models for this and for everything in between — offbeat, multi-coloured, multi-faceted, and probably uncoordinated to boot.
They don’t seem that common, because it is truly scary to show our true flaws, unedited.
But it’s time to represent.
It’s time to showcase and be proud of the all of the other forms, filter, sizes, shapes, colours, dimensions, interests, orientations, tastes and lifestyles.
There’s a million, a billion, different ways to be.
And we need to see it in its full glory — because honestly, pastel pink really is the new beige.
It’s boring and generic and bland, but much worse — it’s toxic.
We need the realness.
We crave it.
Maybe I am triggered by the beautiful people who know exactly what they want in all their pastel pink glory.
But it bores me to a toxic death.
I know there are more interesting stories — not to mention colour palettes — out there, and I’m on a mission to find them.