"Happiness is only real when shared."
If you have seen the movie or read the book Into the Wild, then you are aware and perhaps forever altered by these words. McCandless, a young-thoreauian male wanders off to Alaska to find truth, inadvertently poisons himself by eating the seeds of the wild sweet pea, and in his waning moments inscribes these words in what is assumed to be his final attempt at communication with his fellow man.
The irony is paralyzing. A man surrounded by people flees for solitude only to yearn once again for society. We are all condemned to ponder the greenness of other grass. As someone planning an escape to the woods this summer, I am aware of this dichotomy in myself. When I truly experience solitude will I even want it? Time will tell.
In a culture of striving and displaying, we have all adopted McCandless’ words to a detriment. Social media has robbed us of our privacy, and we have done it to ourselves. We treat the opportunity to share our personal lives with others as an obligation to do so. These tools of inner-connectivity must be governed with a relevant psychological education. We have tacitly adopted McCandless’ words with a slight twist:
Happiness is only real when shared on social media.
We share everything. Our meals. Our movie choices. The books we read. Our experiences. Our thoughts. Our frustrations. Intimate conversations with another. Nothing is off limits.
We must ask are these posts even worth sharing. Do they truly warrant the attention of others?
So, here are three rules to help you navigate this modern-day landscape.
Rule #1: Respect your audience.
We have a responsibility to one another to use each other’s time well.
In becoming friends on Facebook, we make an agreement to let each other into our worlds, and to share in our thoughts and experiences. Deeper still, we make an underlying decision to offer up our time to one another. In having you on my Facebook feed, as I scroll through my page I will invariably read and entertain your post. It may be only a few seconds, but I have given this irredeemable portion of my life to you. Extrapolated over a lifetime, we each willingly offer up much of our lives to others.
As a friend, I would hope that you would have enough respect for my life as to not misuse its ever-receding moments.
One scroll down the news feed shows just how far removed we are from this understanding.
Rule #2: This is a tool meant for solitude.
We must respect the people we are actually with.
Each and every one of us has been amongst friends with our heads buried in our news feed. In that moment, we are choosing the avatars of others over real human beings. This illuminates an insidious truth:
Social media brings distant friends closer together, and makes close friends more distant.
This invention of connectivity becomes its greatest impediment in real world, interpersonal relationships. It is worth noting here that most often you have a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the people you are neglecting in real-time.
The first two rules are meant for the benefit of others. The final and most pertinent rule exists for yourself.
Rule #3: Sharing your inner world with others can rob you of its beauty.
With the opportunity to share comes the need of discernment as to what to share.
We must stand guard at the gates of our minds. Our experiences are our own, and we must put our own needs before those of others. This self-centeredness seems contradictory to much of my writing, but it is imperative. If you do not do the work on yourself, you will have nothing to offer others.
The constant desire to share our experiences diminishes them.
Let’s use a real world example to demonstrate this:
You go for a walk through the park on a beautiful spring morning. You are present. Nothing else exists in your world at that moment but yourself, your mind, and the park. You are free to experience an intimacy with yourself. You listen to the birds sing. You observe nature’s beauty with appreciation. You stop and smell the roses.
Now, imagine you have a similar experience but this time you bring your phone, and with it the overwhelming urge to share your experiences with the world. With the intent of ultimately creating some kind of post, you are no longer in the woods alone. You have brought with you every Facebook friend you have. I say this because your own experience now takes a back seat to ostentation.
A beautiful, serene landscape that had previously been a gift from creation becomes a means of affectation. The beauty of nature becomes the tool of pride. We make these posts because we want acknowledgment. Acknowledgment of our existence and the strengths we see in ourselves. We want to share that self-appreciation with others, and in so doing lose it for ourselves.
This new mental landscape of always having the potential to post on social media brings with it an abasement of direct experience. You lessen the intimacy of your experience for the false intimacy of Facebook.
Spark Your Growth
In order to use social media well we must respect our audience, value direct human experience above its substitute, and keep some things for ourselves.
When we act contradictory to these we have allowed an invention to negatively impact the quality of our lives. This is the plight of the individual. Our environment ceaselessly strives to influence us, and much of the time the values of a culture rarely coincide with the values of the individual.
The advancements of technology will continually give us powerful tools to navigate the world. With their acquisition must come an education in how to use them properly. Without government based off reason we find ourselves at the mercy of circumstance.
A circumstance which has little concern for the individual.
I strongly encourage you to observe your own psychology when navigating social media. Before each post, take an honest assessment as to your motivation for doing so. Is this post serving you or your audience? Are you neglecting those around you to interact with those far away? Are you robbing yourself of an experience by sharing it with others?
As the old dictum states,
"With great power comes great responsibility."