Anti-Social Media?

by Doug Allen

James Shakespeare encourages you to stop sharing your experiences on social media:

It’s natural to want to share experiences with the people you care about. After all, the classic postcard greeting is ‘Wish you were here’. But I think our reasons for sharing experiences on IMG_2003social media are more cynical than that. It’s not sharing, it’s bragging. When we log in to Facebook or Twitter we see an infinitely updating stream of people enjoying themselves. It’s not real life, of course, because people overwhelmingly post about the good things whereas all the crappy, dull or deep stuff doesn’t get mentioned. But despite this obvious superficiality, it subconsciously makes us feel like everyone is having a better time than us. We try to compete by curating our own life experiences to make it look like we’re also having non-stop fun and doing important things. It breeds in us a Pavlovian response that means every time something good is happening to us we must broadcast it to as many people as possible. …

The key thing to remember is that you are not enriching your experiences by sharing them online; you’re detracting from them because all your efforts are focused on making them look attractive to other people. Your experience of something, even if similar to the experience of many others, is unique and cannot be reproduced within the constraints of social media. So internalise that experience instead. Think about it. Go home and think about it some more. Write about it in more than 140 characters; on paper even. Paint a picture of it. Talk about it face to face with your friends. Talk about how it made you feel.

I’m always a little put off by sweeping generalizations about people’s motivations for sharing on social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or anything else. Sure, there may be a lot of people who use these services as Shakespeare describes, carefully curating their every post to make their life seem as fulfilling as possible. But there are also myriad other ways to use social media that are not nearly so cynical.

Personally, I choose not to have a big presence on social media, with one notable exception: Instagram.

I don’t like broadcasting the day-to-day details of my life to a wide audience with status posts, or tweeting my possibly deep but probably less-deep-than-I-think thoughts. But I thoroughly enjoy the cleanliness and focus of Instagram, and the way that it gives me a brief window into the lives of my friends. When I post Instagram photos (I’ll confess, the large majority of which are cat-related), I hope that those who follow me see it the same way: not as an attempt to package and reproduce my experience for others, or as a form of bragging, but as a way to share, if only briefly, my experiences with those I think might enjoy the opportunity to share in them. It’s not necessarily a “wish you were here,” nor is it a “look at how cool my life is”; rather, I think of it as “I enjoyed this, maybe you will too.”

(Photo: From my Instagram feed, watching the 2012 Presidential debates with my cat. Personally, I don’t think this makes me look like I’m “having non-stop fun and doing important things.”)