Reality Bites

Navigating Social Media's Bittersweet Presence

Remember when Facebook (and MySpace) were new? Like an unexpected high school reunion, we all started making connections that seemed unreachable just a few years before. The sudden joy of reconnecting with a long lost friend or the ease of starting an instantaneous conversation with friends around the globe seemed phenomenal. Good-bye to email forwards full of pictures of our latest vacation; we could now upload them to Facebook with ease.

Let’s face it, modern life demands an online presence. Our connections keep us tethered to friends and family while also allowing us to be engaged in current discourse. Multiple accounts are integral and normative these days. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat — as the tide of social media swells, we can either fight the current or navigate the online world with a determined rudder.

We’re all celebrities on social media. Apprehensive about how people will perceive us, we upload only the most flattering pictures and posts, perpetuating an image that’s more like a facade while we all acknowledge that social media reflects only the most superficial areas of our lives.That cosmetic shallowness can be thoroughly toxic, which is problematic when our participation is necessary or required. In an effort to remove negativity from our lives in this New Year, let’s remind ourselves that we are ultimately in control of social media.

10 Areas Where Social Media Fails Us and How to Overcome:

WE DON'T NEED ANYONE'S APPROVAL — There seems to be a connection between how we feel about ourselves and how many likes or follows we receive. This is really dangerous when we think about our value in terms of social media approval. Popularity is fickle, and to tie our self-worth to something as perfunctory as likes is damaging to our sense of self.

PRIVACY IS A GIFT — Whatever we hold most dear should find its way to social media only on the rarest of occasions. In thinking about the fragility of relationships and in an effort to protect their inestimable worth, being discreet is an assurance of conservation. Overexposure cheapens the experience. Those moments that are experienced by you and your partner — those secrets no one knows about — can be the most beloved treasure between you. A moment, a feeling, a date or a text only you two share without the prying eyes of the world can actually be a pretty titillating and enchanting experience.

GLORY BOARDING — The #lucky girl hashtag caused quite a stir last year, especially after it became known that many popular Instagrammers were not exactly taking pictures in the moment of spontaneous abandon. For those of us who lead a normal, casual existence, the flood of spectacular days, trendy outfits and contoured faces communicates a sense of staging and theater. Not exactly an honest profile, but one peddling false perfection. These posts are meant to inspire jealousy. Don’t follow them if you find them poisoning your mood.

TRAP OF COMPARISON — It’s easy to look in on a friend’s seemingly spotless social media profile and then feel poorly about yourself. Doing so makes us examine our own lives using an unfair juxtaposition, resulting in envy. It’s also easy to forget that many posts are celebratory. We don’t see the rough spots of someone else's day, the petty disagreements, the crowded grocery store lines and the flat tires. While you see all of those in your own life, don’t assume someone else is exempt from the trials of daily life.

There’s a lot of debate about the ever present selfie, but here’s the truth: They’re empowering. As the digital age’s self-portrait, they may be pervasive and sometimes carry the nauseating stink of desperation or narcissism, but they are entirely a statement of that person’s pride and self-esteem. They reflect a mood, a celebration, a photographic journaling of our own narrative. And we have every right to tell our own story in whatever manner fits us best.

THE POLITICS OF FRIENDSHIP — The irony of posting hateful political memes to “friends” never ceases to amaze. It’s as if we conduct ourselves online with the same antagonistic anonymity of a road rage driver while forgetting we are traveling among friends we invited along. Sure, most of your friends likely share your political views, but what of those who don’t? In an election year, we could all do one another a favor by skipping inflammatory memes.

CONUNDRUM OF COLLEAGUES — There are many professions that demand a certain modesty online, and many people have come under intense scrutiny — or worse, been fired by their employer — for their public profile activities. You could certainly block your bosses and deal with the uncomfortable follow-up conversation that may entail.  Or bosses could extend some much-deserved grace in social media and allow people to be themselves without targeting someone's personal life.

BLOCKED — We’ve all blocked and been blocked before. And, as social media goes, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s one thing to block an annoying, intrusive stranger. If you find yourself unfriending, unfollowing or blocking someone you know, it's a courtesy to tell that person before he or she finds out. Because fights on social media can affect real life. For your own sanity, a quick explanation is enough.

PLAYGROUND BULLY IS NOW A TROLL — You are not obligated to be friends with anyone. If someone treats you poorly online, you do not need anyone’s permission to block his or her disrespectful profile. Do it and free yourself.

SCHADENFREUDE — People love to watch a good drama, and that public display can be far-reaching through not only time and space but followers past present and future. Perhaps the most gorgeous feature of social media not available in real life is the ability to delete a post. Every time that we’ve over-divulged, elaborated too many details or showed our collective ass to the world isn’t necessarily something we must have connected to our profiles permanently, and for that, we thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.

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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.