A few months back, a former classmate posted pictures of her new fully-furnished apartment on Facebook. A few days later, she graced us with a thread of her Cape Town vacation. Others are posting their perfect relationships, new jobs and outfits for the day. It all looks lavish and exciting. These are things that I could only dream of posting but my life doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough.
I first noticed the pang of jealousy when I was invited to a class reunion party and I could not convince myself to go. It has been exactly five years since I passed my matric and wiggled into university, but I have nothing else to broadcast. I could only envision myself meeting up with these people and having nothing to brag about. I wouldn’t arrive in a fancy car, wasn’t going to dress head-to-toe in labelled clothing or pay for everyone’s drinks.
This was more than enough self-doubt to keep me at home that day. However, I continued to binge off their social media stories and hope for their lifestyles. After hours of this destructive behaviour, I realised how sad my self-pity and life expectations actually were. I had missed the opportunity to spend time with people that I hadn’t seen in ages, because I was intimidated by a few pictures. I must openly admit that it is a pathetic but common reality.
We spend most of our time with our noses pressed against our phone screens, prying into each other’s lives. That has been the main aim of technology and rise of social media, to keep everybody in the loop. However, the initial purpose of the platforms have been overshadowed by the consequences associated with our overreliance on them. These include the development of a social media addiction and negative impact on our mental health.
Social media addiction is categorised as a behavioural addiction. It is characterised by an uncontrollable urge to constantly be connected on social media, often ignoring other important life priorities. I know it has been advised that we should avoid diagnosing ourselves without consulting with a professional but I could relate to the urge to stay connected. I was always itching to log on, scroll through newsfeeds, react, maybe comment and stay updated. It almost felt like I was living through the screen, along with the acquaintances I envied and influencers I adored.
I realised that social media is a vicious cycle of individuals posting and monitoring others. The concept of individuals sharing and serving as an audience, can corrupt our sense of self and wellbeing. It sometimes manifests as a desire to please those we express ourselves to, either by trying to seem cool or putting ourselves in dangerous situations for the perfect selfie.
Social media gives people the space to filter, polish, edit or fabricate themselves to appear perfect. Other times, we cave under the influence of those we admire online and may eventually feel as though we are not good enough.
It was reported in an article from AddictionCenter (2021) that social media users often believe that other users are more successful and happier, especially when they do not know them well or interact regularly.
My friends and a few classmates came to my house the following week. I gave a weak excuse for missing the reunion but they still dragged me out for lunch. The rule around the table was to turn off our phones and properly catch up. Apart from being casual and looking normal (without the filters or music), they all had a lot to share about their struggles in life. For the first time in ages, life felt real and tangible. Most importantly, it did not feel as though my life was at a standstill.
The girl with a new apartment had scraped through odd jobs to save for it and the vacation had been a reward from her family. Those with the seemingly perfect relationships, got into realistic arguments and hurdles with their partners. The others with new jobs had gone through gruelling challenges to get them. Some even thought my university journey was easier than what they were experiencing. The most liberating thing my best friend told me was,
“People don’t post their struggles on social media. It is just a place to have fun and be who you want to be.”
It is easy to get caught up in the shimmering boomerangs and pictures people post regularly, especially when we are connected to so many people at once. It is even easier to feel left behind or out of the finer things in life. Yet, we cannot be too hard on ourselves, everyone is going through their fair share of issues whilst hiding behind their screens.
Read another writer’s opinion on the negative effect of social media here
Tell us: How do you stop yourself from comparing your life to others on social media?