Friday, May 19, 2017

Social Media: Curating Our Lives Away

Confession: I love social media. I am probably an addict. Strike that...since I'm confessing...I know I am addicted. Have a "spare" couple of minutes? My immediate reaction is almost always to pull out my phone: "Hmmm...what's up on Twitter today...?"

And I'm an adult.

How is this for tweens and teens and young adults today?

A friend shared this article with me this morning: Instagram Worst Social Media App for Young People's Mental Health. It's worth a read, whether you are a parent, or an educator, or a social media user yourself. I hope you'll reflect on it, and perhaps see yourself here...

I was a little surprised to see Instagram listed as the "worst" app here. In my experience, Instagram is perhaps the happiest and nicest social network of the several I use. The rants I see daily on Facebook make me dislike people I actually know in real life. Interactions with passionate and thoughtful educators through Twitter makes me want to be friends with people I don't know in real life. Snapchat? I keep trying to like it, and failing to understand it. (Because, as my tween recently pointed out to me for the 4279th time, I am old.) LinkedIn? I am a member, but I'm not sure it's adding value to my life in any measurable way.

But Instagram? That's where people share beautiful photos of their life and ridiculous memes that make me smile. It's where I get my daily "Oh, wow!" moment from National Geographic (@natgeo) and my daily education chuckle from Bored_Teachers (@bored_teachers). My college students tell me it's where they all hang out, digitally speaking. It's where the middle school crowd is headed as well.

And yet...

Now that I'm thinking about it, it's definitely a curated view of the world. Everything on Instagram--and all the other social media platforms, for that matter--are a particular version of ourselves that we are broadcasting to the world, or to our select circle of friends, anyway. And in this, perhaps Instagram really is the worst. It's so visual, after all--designed for sharing images. And the images? Always filtered, always cropped just so, always displaying a particular view we want to show.

Maybe it's impossible to avoid comparison when we are looking in to other people's (curated) lives through social media. But this makes me wonder for myself: how often do I take a particular picture, thinking as I snap it, "Oh, this will look GREAT on my Instagram..."? I confess: this isn't far off for me. Of course I want to present my preferred version of myself, and my view of the world. But there's a danger in that too, isn't there? Because I think we all do this. We all show a version of ourselves.

And then, when looking at someone's curated, perfectly filtered image of their world portrayed through social media, how quick are we to compare our everyday to their Best Day? The Instagrammed perfection is not the reality...but do I subconsciously compare my roughest moments to their carefully-curated version of reality? The article above talks about this for teens...but if I'm honest about it, it's true for me too.

Are we curating our lives away? Should we be concerned about this?


  1. Simply put, yes, we should be concerned.

    Research is still in progress in this relatively new area, and confirmation bias is easy to come by in any discussion of social media, but my main concern is how many of us adopt first and consider second. Our discussions tend more toward rationalization than critical thinking. Take this quote from the article linked in your post:
    "The survey concluded that while Instagram negatively affected body image, sleep patterns and added to a sense of "FOMO" -- the fear of missing out -- the image app was also a positive outlet for self-expression and self-identity for many of its young users."
    Who would make that trade-off for their children? And yet, the tone and sentence structure is set up to mitigate the negative elements. Why? I am not sure.

    I'm not against the use of the social media, but I do feel we are not critical enough in our adoption and use. We rationalize in the name of convenience or under the guise of sharing and communication, but end up paying a high price (emotionally, mentally, physically, monetarily) for what often amounts to minor convenience, metrically measured pride, and thin community.

    Again, I think we can use some platforms well, but it is very difficult because the apps/services are designed in ways that prioritize the needs of developers over the needs of users (see Tristan Harris's article and Time Well Spent).

    Knowing the ethos of an app/service and how it is designed from that ethos is a key part of critically deciding which services to use and how to use them well. I believe that equipping ourselves and our children to respond critically when adopting and using social media is an important element in our collective call to restoration. I feel it needs to be a higher priority.

    As always, thanks for engaging in conversation.

    1. Great resources you shared here, my friend. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm definitely still thinking about this. Maybe a social media fast is in the works for me?

  2. I was just talking about Instagram with another teacher today who has a teen. Her teen said all her friends were posting pics from the dance, and none of them had HER in them (even though she was there and took pics with them). She was very upset, so she - healthily - decided to turn off her phone for a bit!!