Last night I watched the episode of the Netflix show Black Mirror called “Nosedive.” If you’ve seen Black Mirror, you may have as much trouble describing it as I do, but let’s just say it’s a futuristic Twilight Zone-esque look at what our lives would be like with the continued use of technological advancements. This episode, starring Bryce Dallas Howard, shows the ramifications of a society that uses technology (via phones and eye implants) to rate every interaction every person has with others on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, which affects that person’s overall rating. Everyone’s average is visible to others and that rating has significant influence on socioeconomic status and how they’re perceived in society in general.
It sounds kind of crazy, right? Except it’s not that far off. Celebrities are made now not just by talent, but by recognition to the online world. How many Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat followers they have is a standard question and metric for how popular they are. How relevant. And they get things for being this brand of “famous:” free clothes, jewelry, trips, “friends” if you can call them that. So maybe we’re not at the point where we’re getting bumped from flights because of less than impressive social media stats (a la Howard in Black Mirror), but the highly ranked / impressive social media accounts certainly have enormous impact for those individuals.
Don’t get me wrong, social media can be great. Honestly, it’s probably how I get the vast majority of my news, since people are constantly posting articles and clips on Facebook and I just go through and check out what’s interesting to me. It’s also let me reconnect with people over the years – people I adore and who I’m sure would have lost touch with were it not for the powers that be of social media. So overall, I’m all for it. Except it also is kind of terrible, right? Our world has shifted so dramatically since the advent of smartphones and since Facebook blasted onto the scene in 2004. Just notice how difficult it is to walk down the street without having to jump out of the way for all the pedestrians staring down at their phones instead of looking up. You see people out to dinner, texting, scrolling through their Instagram feeds, doing anything other than having a real conversation with the person sitting across from them. You see people at concerts, speeches, baseball games – and instead of listening to the music, or watching the game, they’re too busy taking the perfect selfie to – what else – post on social media.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with friends who are trying to interpret what people meant or didn’t mean by Facebook or Instagram comments, or what someone failing to “like” a post means. I once had a full hour-long conversation with a client about her hesitancy to trust her boyfriend because he didn’t post pictures of them on Instagram. And you know what? She’s not alone. Don’t think I’m standing on a soap box over here, either – I’m guilty of it too! I couldn’t help but notice while watching Black Mirror last night that during the hour-long episode about society’s obsession with social media, I checked my Instagram and Facebook accounts no less than 4 times each (I think I’m a generation late for Snapchat!). I realized how ridiculous it was and yet… there I went.
So why do we do this? And how many of us are completely honest about everything we share online? I’ll say that I actually prefer to post things that are funny over things that make me look like I’m gorgeous or that my life is perfect. But let’s be real, if I’m having a crappy day I’m not going to blast it to the world, or if I’m choosing between 2 photos to post, I’m going to pick the one where it doesn’t look like I have a double chin. The danger, of course, is that people aren’t seeing the full version of our lives, they’re only seeing a slice – and a slice that was chosen by you. I remember thinking that being a lawyer must look like it’s so fun – namely because it looks so fun in TV shows like The Good Wife, where a huge new lawsuit comes in and it’s tried in court that week. First of all – that’s hilarious. Second of all – it’s the most unrealistic and false characterization of the practice of law, where if a huge new lawsuit comes in, the associate is going to be slammed with document review in her office for the next 2 years before the case ultimately settles, not trying it on her own that week. But you can’t have a TV show that shows overworked, exhausted, sunlight-deprived young attorneys in their offices for 12 hours a day, can you?
Social media is kind of the same – it’s a tiny, more exciting, curated slice of life. The danger, of course, is that it’s not always healthy. For one, it’s a means of external validation. Maybe you love your outfit and you post a picture of yourself, and it doesn’t get as much positive attention as you thought it would. Do you let that affect your mood? Do you assume you don’t look as good as you thought you did? Looking to external validation robs us off our trust and peace within ourselves. Social media also creates the obvious consequence of comparing ourselves to others. Did your friend have a few people over and you weren’t invited? Did you just get back from the gym and are feeling great, and then you see a fitness model’s post on Instagram in her workout gear looking thin and sculpted and more perfect than you ever will? Did your cousin post a photo of the flowers her boyfriend got her “just because” and your boyfriend has never done that for you? Theodore Roosevelt once said that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and it’s easy to see why. Social media is also a distraction. How much of our time during the work day is just doing a quick scan of Facebook or Instagram so you don’t get behind in what’s going on, or to take a quick break from work? Imagine how much more productive we’d be if these weren’t distractions! Of course, this past year also saw tangible danger with the upswing of “fake news” that may have had a real impact on our presidential election.
I’m not saying we should all get off social media and pretend it never existed. I am saying, however, that we should be a little more conscious of why we’re using it, what we’re looking for in it, and how we portray ourselves. Unless, of course, you like the idea of everyone giving you a rating every time you interact with them or post something on social media, which affects your entire life. In which case – have at it.