Let me start with a disclaimer that should be obvious, but this is it:
I'm not qualified to write this.
I'm like a toddler when it comes to learning how I want to view social media's spot in the world and my own life. I stumble around awkwardly on many occasions, but other times I strut around innocently and confidently like I know what I'm doing.
So be forgiving in how you evaluate these thoughts.
I don't really like rules that much... They rub me the wrong way most of the time. I'm not even going to label the following ideas with 1, 2, or 3 because even that feels rule-ish. So don't think of these as rules, but rather observations that I've made and I encourage you to consider too.
As a Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter user, here are a few conclusions I've made... (They are subject to evolve as I discover and grow ever more.)
Dispose of content, if you like, but not people.
The literal way we navigate social media is by scrolling or swiping. We come into contact with thousands of squares of content every week, and we have to sift through what we want to see and what we don't care about. There's a lot of content out there that I don't really care about. Admittedly, I don't take time to read every caption or watch every Instagram story for an assortment of reasons: the content doesn't feel relevant to me, I hardly know the person, or sometimes I'm in a hurry and I don't really want to slow down long enough to digest and read a long post.
So I scroll on.
But in more contemplated moments, I remind myself to be careful. Because no matter how irrelevant and uninteresting the content might be for me, there's a person who posted it. With the overwhelming and mass amounts of digital information there is, we are increasingly trained to dispose of what we don't care about. Yet, let's be so careful to not dispose of people. Go ahead, swipe through what you don't want to see. But don't swipe dismissively over the person that posted it.
How do you make that distinction? I think what I share next can help with that.
It's in every one of us to make judgments and assumptions about what we see posted on social media. It's a bit unrealistic, probably, to even tell you to rid yourself of it completely. It's such a subtle and pervasive action our minds perform hundreds of times a day. It's kind of natural. But when the judgments become harsh and disparaging, it is worth raising a red flag and getting serious about.
Social media makes it so easy to critique and analyze and pick out others' imperfections. We can stare at their picture for minutes without those people knowing we're staring at them!
I enjoy analyzing people's motivations, and frankly I do it all the time. So when I'm on social media, I'm oftentimes wondering, What drove him or her to share that? I ask myself the same question: Why am I posting this? (I have additional thoughts on that matter: here and here.)
But sometimes, that psychological instinct within me turns sour and I start to judge others' motivations; I make assumptions that I'm ill-equipped to prove for certain.
Maybe they posted because they wanted to share something beautiful/cool/noteworthy/funny. Maybe they posted because they felt lonely. Maybe they posted because they liked how they looked. Maybe they posted for attention. Maybe it's a blend of good, deep, sad, or tragic reasons that are unique and complex and beyond my short-sighted analysis.
What matters is there's a person behind the post. There was a reason she or he posted it. And I can let that be.
Know the environment you're stepping into.
This one I'm a bit sensitive about.
Social media is cluttered with tons of info that interests us, bores us, annoys us, and delights us. We are constantly sifting through to find the content that is tailored to our own curiosity. And as I mentioned, the way we get around is by scrolling, tapping, or swiping - quickly, quickly, quickly because there's so much to sort and absorb.
This scares me when it comes to content with depth. Maybe more than scares me, it saddens me.
For the beautiful, vulnerable, and real people who use social media as a platform to share deeply about their lives, I thank you. I have benefited probably more times than I remember from reading something personal you chose to share publicly through a post, and I am genuine when I say that. I have taken some moments to do the same because I wanted to encourage someone through my own openness. I desperately wanted hard things from my own life to be a teacher in someone else's life. So I put snippets of those stories in an Instagram or a Facebook post.
But realizing the manner in which Facebook and Instagram are used - the quick scrolls and constant disposal of content we don't feel like taking the time to digest - makes me pause. Our stories are wildly significant. Wildly. Social media has made it possible to get those significant stories quickly and conveniently into the hands of others, if we so choose to share.
But not all of our stories are meant to be heard quickly or conveniently. It is a vulnerable decision to write something personal in a caption or say it in a video, post it, and let it exist - forever - in the digital sphere, available to be consumed by nearly anyone.
With my own personal content that I created and posted to Facebook or Instagram, after a while I started to feel really self-conscious and self-protective. Those social outlets weren't really the ideal place I wanted people to consume my story - because the nature of consumption in those places is to skim, hurry, and keep scrolling. While I want to remain an open and genuine person, I slowly started to realize I wasn't comfortable with the more intimate pieces of my story being skimmed and scrolled over - through no fault of anyone else's - but the simple nature of the environment I chose to share it to.
*This has a lot of caveats, so here I'll sigh and try to address a few.*
There are times when I have, yes, scrolled quickly over a personal and deep post of someone else's. And there are times when I have read it with tears, screenshot it, and recorded it in my journal because it was so helpful to me at the time.
There are going to be people who slow down and intently read something valuable that you share. There will also be people who won't. It's not like sitting down at dinner with people who are intentionally listening to you. You just have to be aware of that, and be okay with it. If you are, then share!
Overall I conclude that there is beauty in the ease of which social media has allowed us to share our lives with one another, one that I'm grateful for. I do appreciate the posts where people are real about the gritty things they go through because it's helping waves of people. I am happy that we are paving a new cultural direction that makes social media users feel free to not only feature our best highlights. That feels hopeful.
Be okay with what you share before you share it.
Do you like it?
You are the author of your own social media image, after all. (Unless you're Taylor Swift or Kate Hudson or Meghan Markle - which, if you are and you're reading this, goodness I've really made it in life.) You are the one whose opinion matters. If you're good with it, good.
I wish I could be cool and aloof and say I never care about status, but there are times when it does affect me when I post something and don't get much feedback on it. I start to feel self-conscious and when I start attaching my value to my popularity on social media, things have gone awry.
In a digital space that involves short spurts of devoted attention to any one thing, there will be people who are going to overlook your posts. There will be people who scroll past and don't double tap. There will be people who hit unfollow because your content doesn't consistently pique their curiosity. It's quite alright.
If you like it and you were happy about posting it, good.
(More caveats - I should have known that would be a given when writing on this topic.) I think if you're reading this, you likely possess respectable media manners and motivations. But as a gentle (yet loud) reminder - to you and myself - it's a good thing to periodically analyze our use of social media and ask, Is it healthy for me? Is it helpful for others? Is it worth your time? Is it bringing you joy or robbing your attention that should be given to something else right now?
I'm always interested to hear other people's thoughts on the matter. I welcome your ideas and curiosity; please share them with me and we'll learn and grow and stumble around together.
*For more thought-provoking commentary on social media, I highly recommend reading this graduation speech.