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Social Media – The Perfect Scapegoat

Social media is undoubtedly a hot topic in modern society.  To some it’s pointless, to some it’s the backbone of their daily life. While definitions may vary slightly, this article might very well be considered social media.  YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, HookIt, FourSquare, Snapchat, are all examples of this concept of social media that seems to conquer everyone’s life.  I probably could have even made up some platforms that don’t exist, included them in that list, and many people would accept them as real.  It has become so prevalent in daily life that some people ask why we need it, while others ask how we could live without it.

Alright, so what exactly is social media?  If you were to ask me to define it, without referencing any outside sources, I would say something along the lines of, “Social media is a platform that allows virtually anybody to share and receive information via electronic means.”  Some might challenge that definition as being too broad, as it would also include programs such as email, but every aforementioned platform I have named fits the criteria of that description.  I think the key part of this description is the phrase “virtually anybody,” as what we would often refer to as ‘standard’ media only allows for those in control to share information.  A common example of this would be a news source such as CNN, or the concept of network television.  While many people can receive information, only a select few can transmit that information.

Social media has its many benefits.  I personally have received athletic sponsorships and potential job offers through social media.  I have met friends, acquaintances, and even romantic partners through platforms such as Facebook.  The marketing and advertising potential for corporations is huge.  It is easier to spread information regarding a product of service via “word of mouth” means on a forum where you can reach hundreds or thousands of people at once.  In addition, collecting and analyzing data through concepts such as likes, views, and shares provides an edge to business.  Entire jobs in the field have opened up due to the potential financial benefits of social media technology.  Social media provides a new avenue to learn about different cultures, ideas, and geographic areas.  It also has its benefits on the political side, including giving a voice to people who might be ignored by mainstream media.

Of course, it has its downsides as well.  These range from cyber-bullying to physical danger from contact with an unwanted person to what is probably the most common argument of all: saying it overtakes people’s lives.  This opens a whole new discussion, one that I am trying to avoid getting into.  I will say, however, that I believe not having any social media whatsoever actually puts you at a strong disadvantage, as you are denying yourself access to potentially huge resources. Nonetheless, overuse or improper use has its negative effects as well.

I think there is one particular aspect of social media we need to focus on:

“Social media is the art of making your life appear more exciting than it actually is”

– Unknown

I, unfortunately, tend to agree with this quote.  Of course, this trend is not limited to social media; if anything it is a common occurrence in daily life.  When you advertise a product, you ignore the less-than-appealing parts.  The same generally goes for a sales representative trying to sell a good or service.  Even when pursuing potential friends or romantic partners, it seems that we highlight, or even exaggerate, the positive aspects of our life, while sweeping the negative underneath the rug.

I don’t think the problem actually comes from the act itself.  I tend to post a lot of positive things on Facebook.  Getting my pilot’s license, or my skydiving license, or graduating college, etc. these are all things that I have been very proud of and would like to share my success with the friends I have, and social media is a great way to do it.  Similarly, whenever I travel, or see or do something exciting, I don’t see anything wrong with posting about it.  If anything, I find it to be a potentially good way to inspire others, or at least open their minds to something new.

So what is the problem exactly?  It’s how people respond to perceived inadequacy.  If anything, it seems that it doesn’t matter what we actually do with our life, just how others perceive it.  We get involved in this race of trying to outdo others, when in reality, we don’t actually fix anything.  We just change the perception.

If the posts you see from others get you down, and make you feel that your life isn’t very exciting, make your life more exciting.  I’ve actually seen people remain dormant for long periods of time on Facebook, then when suddenly that one vacation to Mexico comes up, BAM suddenly it’s all over their profile, gathering likes left and right.  Or, even better, somebody does something they consider to be exciting once in their life, and it becomes their profile or cover photo for a long time, even though it doesn’t accurately represent how they live their life.

At the risk of sounding abrasive and unprofessional, I’m going to say something controversial that I believe is fact: many people live boring lives.  As Benjamin Franklin once allegedly said, “Some people die at age 25 and aren’t buried until age 75.”

What we’re doing is we’re blaming social media for this craze of people thinking their life isn’t exciting or glamorous enough, when in reality all social media is is simply a medium for people to exchange that information.  The problem didn’t start because of what some people posted on the internet; the problem started with how people would interpret and respond to it. I think some people are the problem, and some are not.  I encourage everyone to go onto Facebook and pull up the pages for each of the following people:

  • Jeb Corliss
  • Rush Sturges
  • Tyler Bradt

I can almost guarantee that seeing the adventures they post, not necessarily the extreme sports but even just the traveling and trying new things, will make many of us feel that our lives are somewhat “boring” or “too normal” or “inadequate.” However, this isn’t a ruse.  These people actually live the life they describe.  They don’t do that thing where they only do something exciting once a year then parade it all over Facebook, then once a month post it again with some “Throwback” caption.

I think the best compliment anyone has ever given me was, “How do I live your life?” or “Thanks for making my life more exciting.”  And, to be honest, my life pales in comparison to some of these guys, as well as where I want it to be. I skydive on average every weekend if weather and finances allow, I travel out of the state usually at least once each month, primarily for whitewater kayaking.  I’ve left work with a boat on my car to drive an hour and paddle a section of waterfalls after work.  I have a pilot’s license, and have flown across multiple states and back, as a “class” in college.  I love exploring, I love photography and videography, and I love extreme sports.  This is the life I live, and I have no qualms regarding posting about it somewhat regularly on social media.  My life circles around adventure and pushing new limits; that is how I define my life, and this is the life I aspire to continue living.  For this reason I have no qualms about posting photos on Facebook of myself skydiving or kayaking a waterfall or halfway across the country in some random state next to a statue or cool landscape.  The reason I have no qualms is because I feel like I’m not pretending.  I also don’t even feel like I’m reacting to somebody else, or trying to prove myself to others.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all about excitement or adventure.  In fact, I see it with concepts such as “success” or “glamour” as well.  It’s not unreasonable to be perfectly content with your life, then see that your friend from college has landed a big-time corporate job and start to question yourself.  However, you just have to ask yourself two questions:

  • Should I use this as motivation or inspiration to try to do better things with my life?
  • How do I actually go about improving my life, for myself, and not just improving the face-value words and photographs I put on social media?

This actually reminds me of the episode of Family Guy where Peter goes to a high school reunion, wearing an astronaut costume, trying to pretend that he is some big-shot that he’s really not.  In my opinion, there are two alternatives to falsely claiming a life he didn’t have that he could have done: A) Actually live the life he was trying to represent, or B) Just be proud of the life he has, and not feel the need to lie or exaggerate to impress anybody

Personally, I do think we have a culture that condones and nurtures a “boring” life.  I tend to think that the societal definition of success focuses around money.  After all, somebody once said, “Go to school for sixteen years, then work until you die.”  I think our entire culture needs to be looked at in some regards.  I’m a believer of “work to live, not live to work.”  I think we need to do better to encourage an exciting life, even though that definition varies per person.  We live a life guided by fear.  Even worse is the fact that we actively deny it, and replace it with more positive-sounding terms such as “stability.”  We refuse to pursue our goals and passions because it involves a degree of risk.  What is that risk?  That risk is losing what we have, even though oftentimes what we have actually keeps us unhappy.  A good example is somebody being unafraid to pursue their dream job because they have another job with decent job security, even though that job is slowly killing them from the inside out.

So what are we doing instead?  We are using social media not only to lie about ourselves, but we are using it lie to ourselves.  We are using it to describe a life we don’t have because we are unwilling and afraid to pursue the life we want.

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