Sabina Read is a clinical psychologist and Media Commentator. You may recognise her as an expert from Channel 9’s Married at First Sight or guest commentator on The Morning Show. Here she addresses some of the pitfalls of our social media obsession.
Let’s pretend for a minute that the world has a new set of rules for us all to live by. Firstly, always don the latest fashionista garb from the runways of Europe to purchase milk and bread, or whilst doing the school run. Secondly, only permit friends to see us, our partner, children or pets when we are groomed, smiling and winners. And finally, be sure to select a low chair bathed in candlelight to sit on, in order to minimise the chance of others spying wrinkles and pimples or gasp…a double chin!
Such rules may sound far-fetched and ludicrous, however while no-one lives like this in the real world, it seems many of us adopt similar habits on social media. A recent study by Australian telco, amaysim, examining how Aussies use their mobile phones found that 49% of us are cropping, editing, and filtering our pics before sharing them online, and in a somewhat disturbing trend, this number skyrockets to 76% in younger Aussies aged 18-24 years of age.
Of course it’s natural for us to want our friends to see us happy, healthy, and full of joy and vitality. However, on planet earth, it’s also normal for us to feel the whole gamut of emotions; ranging from tired to excited, insecure to loved, lonely to connected, or riddled with symptoms of impostor syndrome to brimming with confidence. When we consume a constant diet of perfectly edited and filtered images where polished toes peep from azure tropical waters and partners look longingly into each other’s eyes, we can get the false idea that our lives somehow pale in comparison; leaving us to privately lick our wounds while we prepare a more edited and filtered arsenal in the hope of garnering likes and, perhaps albeit temporarily, lifting our spirits.
But let’s be clear, social media is not the devil in this story. The wonders of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their online cousins allow us to share and exchange photos with old mates and family from across the globe instantly. Personally, I love hopping on Facebook to garner recommendations about travel tips or tree removalists from my very own Yellow Pages buddies. But perhaps it’s also a case of user-beware. When we rate our sense of self based on the number of likes we receive, we are letting ourselves and each other down, while perpetuating a cycle of smoke and mirrors which has the potential to leave us feeling more disconnected and empty.
As a species, we are hard-wired to connect and belong. Coming to the realisation that the way we feel and behave is also experienced by our social media mates has the potential to normalise the highs and lows, plus the daily mundane humdrum that pepper all human lives. Psychological research and theory informs us that we are more likely to share our vulnerabilities when others do the same. Imagine the domino effect if an increasing number of posts shared those moments that reflect who we really are, and how we genuinely feel – unedited and unfiltered, and without the pretence of perfection.
It seems Aussies may share a similar sentiment, with amaysim’s research noting that Australians are increasingly fed up with the fake lives being portrayed by the people they follow on their social media feed. Almost 45% of respondents are tired of seeing posts designed to simply garner likes, and one third would prefer to see photos that reflect the authenticity of everyday life. But the tide can’t turn on its own! So next time you feel frustrated, you’re having a bad hair day, the dog has chewed the couch, or you’re dining on packet soup instead of a chia seed kale smoothie, delight in posting an unedited and unfiltered glimpse into your very human life. It’s possible that a wave of more meaningful posts may pop up on your feed creating more meaningful connections, both online and perhaps in the real world too.
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