This was the picture I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.
In it, you can see my kiddos playing in the sun of the 50 degree January day (seriously) on their new-to-them skateboards. Just after this photo was taken, the girls were joined by our neighbor, and the three kids spent an hour shrieking and laughing in the yard.
Here’s another great one:
But, wait, here’s the trip my husband and I took to Norway a few years back!
Here we are in front of Buckingham Palace!
It’s pretty awesome, my life. I know that I am extraordinarily privileged and lucky as hell.
I also, like two-thirds of all Americans, share a lot of my life on social media. My reasons are a lot like yours, I’m guessing. It’s an easy way to capture my favorite moments and to share them with my family and friends. In our family, it’s particularly wonderful to be able to share updates on my daughters with my mother-in-law whose hearing impairment does not allow us to call her with news. I really like that I can connect with friends and family who live across the country. And frankly, as a writer, I just like to “write” things down for myself.
But if you’re like a lot of people, and I’ll throw myself in that mix too, looking at everyone else’s highlight reels on social media sometimes makes you depressed. I think it’s just part of the human condition to compare ourselves to others and to feel like we come up short or lacking somehow. It also goes without saying that those pictures you share of your Caribbean vacation in March are going to incite a murderous rage in those of us left sitting in 4 degrees in Vermont trapped inside with our children during school break.
Some people give up on social media because in addition to making them feel depressed, there’s a sense that what we’re seeing is somehow unauthentic. Our lives aren’t really like what they seem to be on Facebook. On the same day I posted that picture of my skateboarding girls, here are some other moments I could have posted:
- the tire light coming on in my car
- the 20 minutes I spent on the phone trying to get a charge removed from my credit card
- the ants in my pantry
- my husband & I bickering over a dead coffee pot (My husband continues to insist, “It’s not dead yet!”)
- my upstairs toilet getting plugged up and then overflowing thanks to my youngest
- me prepping a spreadsheet so I could do my taxes
- my eldest collapsing in the living room, screaming in agony over a leg cramp
What made me capture the one moment to share and not all of the others? It certainly was one of the brighter moments of the day. The girls playing outside was ephemeral- one of those moments I know I’ll miss someday. Those smiles, those squeals of delight, the thrill of trying something new… But I’ve used FB thousands of times to vent and share the less bright moments too. I think I post, Tweet, and blog whatever rises to the top for me that day, that hour. I pick and choose things to share that match whatever my image of myself or my life is for the moment. I freely admit that I edit and promote only the parts of myself that I think are interesting, and then I look to see which of these snapshots of my life resonate with others.
I would argue that we have always lived and shared lives that are constructed, created, or reconstituted to some degree, even without social media. Sure, we now can share more widely and certainly more visually using technology, but for a millennia, people have shared certain details and not others in the letters they write and in the very conversations we have. Didn’t our cave dwelling ancestors “post” pictures of animals that were important to them? At the dinner table, don’t we share the most interesting parts of the day and leave out that time after lunch when we walked down the hall to use the photocopier? We pick and choose the best anecdotes to tell, and if you’re like my Southern family, you craft and refine those anecdotes over time to play up the best parts, skipping over any non-essential details.
When I was in Finland a few years ago, I picked up this poster of an Ansel Adams quote.
You see what I did there? It’s easy to picture me going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Finland. Not pictured was my amazing mom and dad who were willing to take our kids for two weeks so we could go. Not pictured was the job I worked at for nine years that allowed me to afford to travel with my husband on his work trips but that required me to spend 8 hours commuting a week and also caused me stomach turning, choking anxiety for months on end. Not pictured was how much I cried in the airport over missing my daughter’s 5th birthday when our flight home was canceled.
A photograph is made, not taken. We are all of us creating and telling the story of our own lives whether we’re on social media or not. Some folks get the highlight reel, some sit with us and watch the previews, and others still are present for the entire film. I am choosing to tell you about my trip to Finland on social media. If you’re a friend I’ve had a glass of wine with, I’ve told you ad nauseum about that job. And if you’re a member of my family, you know even more about the details not pictured.
I think it’s important to consider what is the story our friends and family are trying to tells us about their lives on social media, and apart.
Some just want to tell us about that awesome vacation because that’s the story that matters to them. For others, it is important that they can tell you about their day to day- like all the time they spent cutting out a quilt, or the mess their cat made puking on the way to the vet, or the fact that they are “feeling the Bern!” And others want you, their readers & friends, to know about both, their ups and their downs. With or without social media, I love the fact that we all have stories to spin for each other, different ways of knowing the world.
So the next time something on social media gets us down, maybe we can reframe our thinking? We can try harder not to compare ourselves to each other, we can think about all the things not pictured and remember into each life a toilet must overflow. Or maybe we can look at little more closely at what is pictured and just enjoy the story being told.