I scroll through my Instagram and Facebook accounts feeling a bit ornery and sometimes find that I’m less than spiritually fit. I see the beautiful scenes of where people are visiting or their big new award and the last thought on my mind is “good for them!”.
On my darker days, I hope that it rains the rest of the week on them or we will find out the award winner slept with every single judge. I internally rant on the sickening idea of developing personal brands, a loathsome buzzword that destroys connection, often in the name of economic gain.
But this article taught me something new that seems elementary. The lives I perceive others to lead based on Instagram, Facebook, etc. feeds are not complete or even accurate representations of what is really going on.
I think it’s generally true that many people live mostly happy lives and what they post on Social Media is a slice of the happiness in it or perhaps what or who they love and are passionate about.
And, after reading this, I realize it’s equally possible that a life portrayed on Social Media may be a façade of sorts, intentional or not. Yes I know this is elementary for most but it’s hitting me hard today.
I’d like to believe (or wish to believe or HAVE to believe) that Ms. Holleran did have some moments of happiness that were shared on Social Media during her time at college but I don’t know that. The article certainly suggests that her ongoing reality was nothing like those slices of apparent happiness.
From what I read in the article, her parents seem totally loving, involved and completely devastated by what happened. And if I were them, I know I would be thinking about “What else could I have done?” I am not in any way questioning whether they did or didn’t do.
I could certainly write (from personal experience) about the darkness of depression or the wounds of surviving family suicides. But this article brought to my attention something even more basic and powerful.
I decided to write this because of the gift the writer, the parents and their daughter gave me (even though they will never see this). It’s more for me than anyone else. Let’s face it, if you’re this far, you either totally love me (hi Rose!) or are a long standing devotee (hi Chris!).
The gift came in the form of an ice cold bucket of water set of realizations.
For social media, there are two realizations about social media and a final meta-reminder:
One gigantic question is what weight do I give to someone’s well-being or happiness based on their social media presence when they are no longer with me on a regular basis? When they are with me regularly I can get an ongoing check in of what’s real if I’m present and aware when I’m with them, it’s harder when they aren’t. What do I make of their Social Media presence?
I see it and conclude they don’t need help so I don’t offer it and that doesn’t help.
Unrelated to the article, what happiness on social media including confrontation can have the reverse impact. It can even have the unusual effect of me seeing someone I love getting attacked in some way and go in to “save the day” when that’s the last thing they want. What do I make of their social media presence?
I see it and conclude they do need help and do it (often without offering) and that doesn’t help.
The meta-realization lies in the scariest of realities as a parent. How do we know when our children (or friends and family members) need help? This was a startling reminder that social media may not be helpful and at times it actually may be misleading.
I have to remember the second word of Social Media is media. It's often an invented portrayal of what either seems to be liked or popular or a simple regurgitation of someone else's point of view that seems resonant (or self righteous as it often is in my case). It's warped and wrapped into the fucked up world of personal branding.
It has the equal capacity to create connection as much as distort it. I love it and use it but this article remind me that I shouldn't always believe it.