Last week wasn't one of my best weeks. I was easily irritated and things were going wrong. I still had no hot water and couldn't find anyone to fix my boiler, a friend had some major relationship issues, another friend had just received a terminal diagnosis, I had to cancel a major event I had been planning for, it was cold and wet. Everything seemed to be going wrong.
I felt unusually sensitive as I read posts on Facebook that oozed positivity. I wished it could be me that was having the fun, the luck, the good experiences. I wanted to disengage, to unplug my computer, put down my phone, go for a long walk and just be in nature. I ended up doing this and felt much better and detoxed too. I saw the wood for the trees, I gained perspective and realised how thankful I felt for my situation.
Conversely, when I'm feeling up and wanting to share the joys of the world, I have become very aware that I need to be mindful of the effects that too much enthusiasm can have. I have always been a person who delights in sharing experiences, in bringing people together to celebrate what life can offer, to witness the power of shared empathy, of diversity and commonality.
It came home to roost when I was thinking about what I was posting on Facebook and decided to post a few photos from my few days off in the Aegean. The reaction was unexpected and I felt bad about it. I still do and as a result it has changed my attitudes to posting on social media. It was a couple of simple responses to photos of a boat trip I had taken. Two simple replies 'Jealous' and 'Not envious one bit'. Even though both seemed to be slightly tongue-in-cheek and were from family and friends who I knew had already enjoyed the delights of swimming in the azure seas of The Aegean and were likely to do so again, it made me hyper-aware of both my privileged position to be able to spend time regularly in a delightful place and also of the reaction that a few photos can cause.
And then I chanced upon a Guardian article yesterday on the same theme - around "social media having created a world in which everyone seems ecstatic – apart from us. Is there any way for people to curb their resentment?" It's another example of the dark side of social media and how it can lead to feelings of inadequacy, resentment and even hatred. Add that to the ease of producing a filtered, stylised photograph or video especially via Instragram which is geared very much towards image and it's easy to see how we can fall into the trap of presenting a lifestyle image that looks photoshopped, airbrushed, aspirational, out of reach, perfect to some.
It is the age of envy, whether it be career envy, looks envy, home envy, holiday envy. The age of FOMO - fear of missing out, on a good deal, on a new trend, new clothes, a cool lifestyle choice.
It can be a thin line - on the one hand, the potential for good is enormous via posts that inspire - it may be new music, a great film, a creative pursuit, a newly discovered restaurant or recipe, a sunset, a clarion call to action, a rally or concept to promote social change. The result should be inspiration interest, introducing new ideas and passions, galvanising and motivating, catalysts that light a spark, that celebrate the joys of life in all its myriad forms, of getting together, of sharing with others that which delights us, celebrating life on earth.
But conversely, if we're feeling down or vulnerable, these posts, often made innocently and from a good place, can provoke feelings of inadequacy, of failings, of resentment, of hatred even. It could be argued that the whole notion of 'likes' seems mainly to serve and propagate a whole culture of competition and one-upmanship.
Our mood can literally change from one moment to another as we scroll down our news feed of choice as we feel ourselves being instantly affected in quite fundamental ways by the randomness of having whatever the algorithms throw at us in front of our eyes. And the ubiquity of mobile devices - now the major way of accessing social media for the majority - seems only to have exacerbated many of the issues.
As the Guardian article says "And those comparisons are now much less realistic, Clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew continues: “We all know that images can be filtered, that people are presenting the very best take on their lives.” We carry our envy amplification device around in our pockets, we sleep with it next to our pillows, and it tempts us 24 hours a day, the moment we wake up, even if it is the middle of the night. Andrew has observed among her patients that knowing they are looking at an edited version of reality, the awareness that #nofilter is a deceitful hashtag, is no defence against the emotional force of envy. “What I notice is that most of us can intellectualise what we see on social media platforms – we know that these images and narratives that are presented aren’t real, we can talk about it and rationalise it – but on an emotional level, it’s still pushing buttons. If those images or narratives tap into what we aspire to, but what we don’t have, then it becomes very powerful.”
So what to do? What are the options:
Posting mindfully, selectively and carefully with humility? Posting business-related content in preference to personal posts? Looking at different social media that isn't as instant, mobile phone centric and image-based? Getting off social media altogether? A combination of the above?
I haven't come up with any answers yet. But it's certainly food for thought.