Ever since I had internet access, all those many years ago, I’ve been hooked. I always wanted to have the most friends on MSN messenger (with the coolest and most colourful display name, FYI), the most aesthetically pleasing Piczo website and receive the most ‘loves’ on a Bebo. It gave me confidence without realising – having people talk to you and say you look nice on the internet. Even though you wouldn’t even make eye contact with them at school. I literally became the person I wanted to be IRL just behind a computer screen. I was bubbly, outgoing and ~tried~ to be cool.
Of course, I’d only show what song I was listening to on MSN if it was something cool or ~something people hadn’t ever heard of~ because that’s kinda what you did. I’d also only go on webcam to my mates when my hair and makeup were done. Sometimes, I’d quickly put makeup on for a 10 minute long, pixilated online meeting with someone from English. Just the odd wave and then pretending you’re lipsyncing to a cool song.
As negative and pointless as this all sounds, it made me happy at the time. It gave me a purpose and I was getting validation that you rarely get in person. When you’re 13 or 14, you hardly receive genuine compliments from your peers. With a fear of people laughing at you, you’d think in your head ‘she looks so nice today!’ but you’d never say it. God forbid. So, having a space on the internet where you could get ‘likes’ and comments saying ‘hair luks nice bbe x’ was wonderful. Sad. But wonderful.
I’m almost 24 so that’s around 12 years of being an internet kid. I quite literally grew up with the internet. I grew up in a culture where you put your entire life online – where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with, how you’re feeling and what you’re wearing. And when you put it like that, it’s scary. I have over 600 friends on Facebook (which is probably average or below for someone my age) and I think I speak to around 25 of them. So that’s over 575 who know my business. To be honest, I’ve never been The Great Oversharer who would use Facebook as a diary. I’d never pour my heart out on a status or tag my location in at the doctors. For me, that was too much information. Considering I was probably at the doctors for anxiety, the thought of people knowing that, at the time, made me even more anxious (note: that doesn’t bother me at all. I have anxiety. Whatever).
But all in all, I do love social media. I love the inspiration you can get from Pinterest and Tumblr (remember when Tumblr was a thing?) and I love being nosey and seeing where people went on holiday and what they got for Christmas. But that’s just it. It has taken me so long to get my head around this simple fact: people only share what they want you to know on social media.
If you look at my Instagram account, it’s full of travelling, nights out, sassy selfies with my friends, kittens and over-edited sunsets. I’m basically showing you the best parts of my day aka showing off. There are no pictures of me post panic attack, or sat in bed at 3pm because I can’t manage to start the day, or a boomerang of me taking anxiety pills. Because who would want to see that? Why would I want to look back on that?
For me, Instagram is a collection of memories that I like to look back on. I probably stalk my own profile more than anyone else’s. And I’m sure that’s the same for a lot of people. We have a tiny corner of the internet where our memories are saved from the past several years. So that’s probably one of the reasons we only share the nice stuff. Or the stuff we want to be remembered by.
Moreover, when you’re having a human moment and not feeling yourself, it’s hard to make that disconnection with reality and social media. Yes, that toned, tanned, model-looking girl did go to Bali for New Year and she had the best time. However, we only saw the best parts of her trip on social media. But we compare ourselves and bring ourselves down because we don’t look like that, or we can’t afford to do that or we don’t have a significant other to do that with. Although, there will be things about my life on social media that people would find admirable. Maybe people wish they had a friendship like mine and my best friends and wonder why they haven’t. When at the same time, I’m looking at their profile and asking myself why I don’t have abs like they do. It’s a vicious cycle and all we can do is keep reminding ourselves that it’s not the full story.
During some human moments over the Christmas and New Year period, I found myself looking at Instagram and Facebook and saying “I get it – you have an amazing family and you’re all so happy and you have nephews and nieces and they all love you and you got spoilt”. But at the same time, I was posting a collection of my favourite moments of 2017 and showing off that I had three holidays. We all do it and we all show our best bits. It’s just hard to keep remembering that.
As a whole, I do love being on the internet. I wish it didn’t take up so much of my time as I’d probably be much more productive, but I like keeping in contact with people. I like seeing a little window into people’s lives and I like sharing my favourite moments. When it’s puts like this, it’s harmless. And it should be harmless. It can be harmless if we realise and remind ourselves that social media is not completely real life and is never the whole picture.