Your cell phone buzzes and your hand reaches out for it right away. “Who could it be?” The flood of dopamine released in your brain in response to this stimulus recedes when the buzz turns out to come from a low balance notification.
In the meantime, your social media feed is plagued with happy faces: people you barely know, classmates, coworkers, or celebrities, all of whom seem to be having the time of their lives.
You lose yourself in the digital realm of someone else’s seemingly perfect life and don’t put your cell phone away until there are no more happy moments to catch up with. They satisfy your voyeuristic curiosity but don’t belong to you — or it is you who don’t belong in them.
Before you know it, a crippling feeling of loneliness strikes you.
In today’s wired world, one text or call away from each other, we suffer from emotional isolation. Modern sociologists associate this phenomenon with the use of social media, which allegedly isolates individuals instead of bringing them closer together.
How many people you know have the habit of staying on their phones in a social setting? Almost everyone in your friend group does unless you purposefully chose anti-social media warriors as your allies. And so do you.
We get so absorbed by the never-ending process of scrolling, liking, commenting, and reposting, proceeding from one hyperlink to another, that we lose track of wasted time. Does it bother us? From time to time and only mildly, since most of us have developed a social media addiction.
However, social media isn’t intrinsically conducive to loneliness. It is but a means by which our society obsessed with validation from others satisfies its hunger.
We thrive on external approval and are therefore reliant on others’ opinion — who doesn’t want to be considered likable? In fact, the concern for our reputation is one of the driving forces behind our social decisions and behaviors. We don’t make our choices based on our individual needs but on social expectations.
That’s why we constantly polish our outward persona, hiding our true selves behind a facade tailored to maximize others’ approval. We bend over backwards to appear confident, happy and carefree, and hardly admit to not being “fine” 24/7, inspired by the motto “fake it till you make it”. Our smiles are wide and our cheek muscles tired.
In an attempt to be liked by others, we cover our shortcomings and insecurities up with pretense. Social media is the perfect tool to perpetuate this illusion, for the gratification we receive in return is immediate. It comes in the form of notifications, each signaling that someone approves of us, that we matter and, moreover, are on the right track.
However, letting public opinion dictate our worth is a slippery slope. The fear of being judged or, even worse, left behind prevents us from opening up. The truth is, we are “liked” by hundreds but have nobody to confide in, connected virtually but really apart.
Despite a strong online presence, we face loneliness when coming down from notification “high”. And we suddenly understand the pointlessness of it all — at the end of the day, people who follow us won’t lend us a shoulder to cry on if something goes wrong. The act of liking, sharing, and commenting on updates is a social media courtesy rule rather than a sign of support and appreciation.
We have no real friends, for the people we “connect” with are only familiar with the image of ourselves we choose to project.
Let’s stop scrolling through our Facebook feeds for a second — the solution to our generation’s issue isn’t there — and ask ourselves: why do we put extra effort into faking a perfect life on social media instead of working on our real selves? And for what? For superficial instant gratification.
We are ready to strike ridiculous poses for the sake of getting the perfect angle and spend hours manipulating our pictures in editing apps. Now, just imagine the tremendous improvement we would bring in our offline lives if only we allocated as much energy to this purpose.
Isn’t it time to shift priorities?
Don’t simulate perfection. Strive towards uprooting your flaws. And, most importantly, remember: the ones who truly care about your well-being will not turn away from your not-so-flawless self. Embrace your imperfections — there is nothing wrong with having some — and leave behind those who don’t.