Social media can be painful because we feel like we’re always ‘on’ and always seeing the best of other people’s lives and comparing it to the mundanity of our own. But what if we stopped seeing social media like that, took an active part in it and used it to better connect with our friends?
I was talking to my friend C about her decision to deactivate her social media accounts, to give herself some breathing room. C and I have newly defined our relationship as friends; previously just Facebook friends, Instagram followers and occasional meeter-uppers at events. But when she said she was leaving social media I dropped her a message to say I’d miss her and I’d like to keep in contact. I realised that whilst I ‘liked’ a lot of her photos, occasionally comments and watched her Instagram stories, I had never really expressed how much I enjoyed seeing them, until it was almost too late – and I wasn’t the only one.
It reminded me of a conversation with someone I’ve known for over a decade, in real life and online. I asked L about whether I would see some photos of their upcoming holiday and L expressed a reticence to post them after their last holiday ones didn’t get much reaction. I love seeing holiday photos, because I like seeing new things and also I really like seeing the people I love being happy. L isn’t the sort of fame-hungry social media addict that’s in it for the likes and it made me realise that whilst the naysayers of social media talk about the addiction to likes, maybe it’s not just about the dopamine, but also about the knowledge that our friends care. I went back, found the photos and liked nearly all of them and commented on a few, because my friend’s happiness is important to me; it wasn’t about making sure the photos had more likes, it was about my friend knowing that someone liked that they were on holiday enjoying themselves.
But somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that social media was about being social. Watching a story, clicking a thumbs up or heart button isn’t a two-way communication tool and we’re worse off for thinking it is.
Gone are the heydays of sites like LiveJournal, where people would updated a shared diary for the world, or a select group of friends to see, mundanity and all. Social media, selfies and filters have created a world of sharing our best selves and those worse days are often left unsaid, at least online. Whilst we share more with the world online, we also hide a lot more too.
Part of this could be because, these days, the title of what ‘friend’ means is utterly confused. Facebook friends can often include old classmates last seen decades ago, one-night-stands, ex-colleagues and in some cases strangers. To ‘friend’ someone is now used as a verb, so where does it leave those we would call our friends? And if we ‘friend’ our friends as well as all those other people we ‘friend’ are we engaging in the relationship building we’d expect with our actual friends? Are we sharing what we’d share with our actual friends or just presenting another type of front, but this one curated for the internet.
What if the problem with social media isn’t always the platforms, but sometimes with the users? Social media has largely erased acronyms like BRB and TTYL, producing a sense that we’re always ‘on’ and that this can lead to a massive sense of being overwhelmed, let alone the feeling that we must put our best selves forward online. But somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that social media was about being social. Watching a story, clicking a thumbs up or heart button isn’t a two-way communication tool and we’re worse off for thinking it is.
What if, instead of all this technology meant to connect us leaving us feeling more disconnected, we used it to re-connect in a more meaningful way? I can read and like all the stuff a celebrity posts online, doesn’t mean we’re actually friends; the magic of a friendship is in the shared connection. So what if we used social media for what we all thought it was created for in the first place: for being social. We can reclaim social media to actively nurture relationships with our friends. In a blog post, Rohan Rajiv talks about “make a list of the friendships that matter to you and think about ways to keep them active.” But this doesn’t need to be as calculated: ‘like’ what you like, but leave a comment telling people why you liked it. Slide into the DMs, send a whatsapp/message and check in with your friend on occasion, because if they’re having a hard time, you probably won’t see it in a status update.
Active friendships vs passive friendships
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