If you’ve ever sat on a toilet, with your phone in your hand and free WiFi, then you know the power of social media.
Nowadays it’s such a natural human habit to pull out your phone and scroll your life away. I guess it just feels better to get lost in other people’s lives sometimes. Or perhaps it’s that numbing sensation you feel as you ‘Enter the Matrix’ of Snapchat stories and Instagram photos… who knows?
But before I go shaming social media for all its pitfalls, I must acknowledge that in many ways it has made my life better. The truth is you probably wouldn’t be reading this if social media didn’t exist.
That said, it’s not my intention to write some generic article on “why you should stop using your phone” or give you some psychological analysis of the effect social media has on our brains…blah, blah, blah.
Instead, I want to offer you a different perspective.
Let me take you back to my upbringing in Nairobi, Kenya, when I was seven years old, playing outside, kicking a ball around, and doing things normal kids used to do. I would ride my bike, fight with my brother and build things in this little dirt patch we had outside our house. Life was good.
At that time, my brother and I didn’t really watch TV. It just didn’t appeal to us that much. Our TV had two channels, and they both showed the news most of the time — which is also the most uninteresting thing a kid can watch. This meant that most of our TV time was spent watching re-runs of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ on VCR. And there’s only so many episodes you can watch before you’re reciting each of the characters’ lines before them, i.e. it just got boring really fast. Consequently, my brother and I found other ways to entertain ourselves.
Though, when I tell people of this time, there are those who say I “didn’t have a childhood” or they pity me. Then there are others who had similar experiences. And there are those who, by comparison, would think I grew up in the Hamptons (at least we had a TV right?)
But despite what other people may think about my childhood now, what really matters, is how I saw myself at the time.
When I was watching re-runs of old shows on VCR, I wasn’t thinking “oh man, wish I could get a PlayStation” or “wish I had an Xbox to play Crash Bandicoot…” No… I didn’t even know what a PlayStation was. Maybe I was Naive or ignorant… but the fact is, I was completely content and happy. I didn’t know that I lacked anything, or that other people had more or less than I did. I had no-one to compare myself to and thus, life was just… life and I was content with it.
Fast forward to today and things are quite different.
That beautiful childhood naivety and blissful ignorance I once had, has now been painfully stripped from me by social media.
Let me explain.
When you’re mindlessly watching TV or waiting at the bus stop and you curiously open your Instagram app on your phone, what do you see?
You probably see your friends or perhaps a few celebrities that you follow, all giving you insight into their lives. It feels good. You get a sense of numbing joy to watch the stories of their lives and in a way, you feel closer to them. It’s a great way to stay connected — especially with friends you don’t speak to often.
But while your scrolling through pictures on Instagram and watching stories on Snapchat, do you ever consider that what you’re seeing is not ‘real’.
People are not sharing the ‘real’ parts of their lives; they only show you what they want you to see; their perfect and luscious lifestyle and anything they perceive as noteworthy or ‘special’ around them.
Think about it.
When you’re at the funeral, you’re probably not going to pull out your phone and start ‘snapping’ people with tears in their eyes, are you?
Yet when you’re lying on the beach and Michael Jackson comes out of the water, you’ll probably have your phone out faster than MJ used to dance in his prime.
Both instances are noteworthy experiences, and yet you’ll never see a funeral on a Snapchat story.
Because of this paradox, social media becomes a ‘flex zone’; where people only share the ‘best of’ what happens to them and around them. It’s a ‘comparison-platform’, where you stack your life up against that of other people and gain perspective on how your life is ‘supposed’ to be like.
For me, this is when social media becomes extremely dangerous.
Consider that when you scroll through Instagram, you’re not just watching other people’s lives, you’re watching a hundred reasons why your life sucks and everyone else’s is better. In a sense, you are robbing yourself of your own contentment by noticing that someone else is living a ‘better life’ than you. You’re losing that beautiful naivety and blissful ignorance you once had as a child. You’re suffering when really, you don’t have to.
My life sucks
When I log in to social media and I see that DJ Khaled bought his six-month-year-old baby a Mercedes Benz and a Rolls Royce, I admit, I will probably laugh and show my friends as well. But what really happens deep within me, is I start to feel a sense of jealousy. I compare myself to this little baby, and, as ridiculous as it sounds, it seems (not necessarily true) that he has a better life than me. And that doesn’t make me feel good? I feel inadequate.
And suddenly buying cars for babies is the new standard of fatherhood. How, in hell, will I ever measure up to that? How will I ever find the money to buy my babies cars? Now, I’m suffering for no reason. I’m hating my life all because I watched this ten-second Snapchat story of a man who buys cars for his children…. I hate it. And that’s only one instance. A couple taps on the screen and my friend Mike is on the beach with the girl I’ve wanted to date since kindergarten… or Fetty Wap is playing with his money again…
Eventually, these images and videos become my idea of ‘happiness’; of how life is supposed to be like, when in fact, it isn’t ‘real’, its only ten seconds and a couple snap shots of an entire lifetime.
I have to stop letting social media steal my happiness from me.
Nowadays, I get on social media and I think of going back in time; to the blissful ignorance of being a child again. To just delete all the social media from my phone and live a life of peace and contentment. And yes, I might lose all my followers and ‘friends’, but on the other hand, I might realize that my life isn’t so bad after all.