This American Life did a show on "Status Update." In the first act we hear high school girls discuss, in a dramatic way, the process of posting Instagram selfies. It's easy to dismiss this as immature high school behavior, but it rings true for anyone. These girls want to be "relevant." They want to be seen and heard, liked and admired. Social media is the platform, for high-school girls or middle-aged men.
When I post to Facebook or Flickr, I think carefully about my words. And I match these words with a photograph. Sometimes the image speaks, sometimes the words resonate. My intention is this: spread beauty, kindness, and wisdom; be real and true.
Still, I relate to the high school girls—how they monitor comments and likes. I don't want to crave that external validation. But it happens. Some days I post and let go. Other days I monitor. Because there's an addictive component to social media. David Foster Wallace said, "There's part of you that wants to do it over and over to get the food pellets of praise. It's one more way this stuff is toxic." Those food pellets of praise—likes, views, favorites, "great post"—either disappoint us (too few) or fuel us (plenty, but we want more next time). For others, it's not the pellets of praise that are addictive; instead it's the constant need to know what's happening—the fear of missing out.
All of this can be toxic. It can also be meaningful: I connect with long-distance friends or new collaborators; I share hard truths and invite stories from others; I set an intention and step away when I'm off course. The toxicity comes from unconscious action. Living in habitual reaction doesn't feel good. It might feel comfortable—what we're used to—but it's not wholesome. It separates us from others and from ourselves.
Sometimes social media connects us; sometimes it isolates us. If we stay in touch with our direct experience, we notice the difference. (Pause for three full breaths; notice the feelings.) And from this place of understanding, we make more conscious, filling, and alive choices.