Whether we’re not on it all, check it every once in a while, or consider ourselves an “influencer,” one thing we can’t deny is that social media has changed us. It has changed the way we interact, make friends, maintain relationships, and even how we see the world.
Before social media, people only lived in the physical world; one where they would act, move, and speak in congruence with time, everything always fleeting. A world where people disrupt and interject without approval. A place where everything happens: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a lot to manage. So, when we introduce a new world, (the digital world) it’s no wonder so many of us feel lost, overwhelmed, or crushed by our own existence.
In the physical world, we have an interesting relationship with time. We exist in the past, we exist now, and we exist in the future. (Unless you died as you were reading that.) We’re forced to make split-second decisions like whether we should act now, later, or if we missed our chance. We speak and the sound waves reverberate off the walls, enter through the ears of those around us, and vanquish. We touch somebody and we feel something, only for it to disappear and resurface again. We change from moment to moment, place to place, generally unaware of the image we’re crafting for the world to see, too busy navigating through a physical, shifting maze. Most of the time, we are what we are.
If we’re always concerned with trying to be something particular in a place that changes faster than we can process it, the physical world can be a horrid place. We feel anxiety when we try to understand how much is going on around us. We feel depressed, unable to navigate, when the maze provides an infinite amount of paths and we try to map out all of them. So, we focus on what’s in front of us, blocking out almost everything that doesn’t get in the way of the path we’re currently on.
The maze helps define us. How we react and what we do in it cultivates how we are perceived by others. We don’t decide who we are in the physical world. The physical world throws things at us, all of the time, and we become something within it. But in the digital world, we decide exactly who we are, where we are, and when we’re in it.
The digital world exists now. Some of us decide to enter it, some of us decide not to, and some of us don’t have access to it. But, it’s there. It appears to change and move, but it’s really a static universe floating on its own, existing as a collage of singular moments taken from reality.
These moments are handpicked by the members who occupy the digital world. Each post a calculated decision to be something for an audience approved by the creator. Moments in the digital world don’t arise due to the way the world moves, but instead are knowingly plastered onto the world itself, moving it. Where the physical world is a place where things have already been happening before we arrived, the digital world isn’t much at all; an empty host waiting to be filled with snapshots of reality.
Because the digital world doesn’t move unless we put something into it, we control “time” inside of it. We create the perception of time in the digital world, but there is no time. Most of our posts are taken from recent moments in the physical world, demonstrating a pattern similar to the unfolding of reality, but they don’t have to be ordered. We can post something that happened today in the physical world and then post something tomorrow that happened three years ago. It’s a lot like time, but it’s not time. Similarly, the digital world looks a lot like reality, but it’s not reality.
This is where the harmful effects of social media take their course. Social media in and of itself is not a bad thing. It does its damage when we begin to conflate the digital world with reality itself. It’s easy to do. The digital world looks real. We see pictures of people we know, who look real. But they’re not. We’re looking at a moment taken from the real, physical world that has been transferred to a static universe.
When we compare ourselves to another “person” on social media, we aren’t comparing our life to theirs. We’re comparing our life to something else entirely. It’s as if you had an apple and a hologram of an apple, and one looked a lot shinier and more appetizing than the other. So, you reach for it, only to watch your hand go right through it. It’s not an apple, it’s just pretending to be one.
Photo credit: https://www.wordstream.com/social-media-marketing