for the Sake of Social Media

January was a whirlwind of a month – a far cry from last year where the weeks seemed to slog by. It probably went by so fast for me because despite my best efforts I get sucked in to social media feeds the second I pick up my phone. Even though I assigned Twitter and Instagram a 15 minute limit (combined) per day, I’m too often guilty of clicking that ‘Remind me in 15 minutes’ button over and over and over. . .

But I have a good reason!

Don’t we all.

In the latter part of 2019 I tried to curate my feeds so that I would feel more inspiration and upliftment* from the mindless scroll, instead of the usual frustration, comparisons and disappointment. This worked out way easier with Instagram than with Twitter; that place is just an angry quagmire that gets mud on me way too easily. I’m sure you can relate.

One trend that crops up as I reflect on the first month of 2019 was how much value social media actually added to my life. I’m not sure if the scales completely balance out (in terms of value and time that I’ll never get back) but I’m getting to a place where I can accept that, for all its flaws, social media allows us an infinite number of ways to connect, practice compassion and grow as human beings.

Youtube – the home of countless cat videos – is also the home of my first completed (by no means the first attempted) 30 day Yoga Journey. The daily practice of yoga for the entire month of January kept me grounded and mindful, even though it was hosted on a traditionally mind-numbing app/website.

WhatsApp status updates – which I had sworn off cold turkey back in November – became a recurrent source of inspiration and a catalyst for some bookish conversations. Of course not every status update sprouts holy wisdom, and honestly some people upload like 30 of the most trivial photos in quick succession and make you question why they’re even in your contact lists –. Suffice to say, there is a mute button for a reason.

Instagram – home of envy – awash with pictures of immaculate houses, children, outfits, lives. I stopped following every account that – through no fault of their own – made me question my own self-worth. Until I can get a good grip on my worthiness it’s probably for the best that I stop ‘liking’ every single one of Yendi’s posts and then beating myself up for not being such an amazing mom/actress/model/consultant?? I’m not actually sure what Yendi does for a living.

The Instagram accounts I follow now are mostly comic artists, podcasts that remind me to reaffirm my intrinsic value, book lovers and those people from high school who I would feel guilty about un-following because they all followed me first and that’s just being polite.

Twitter. Oh, Twitter. It’s hard to justify my continued use of Twitter, on the heels of all the positive vibes I just talked about and especially in light of the latest angrily-tweeted about abortion-debate-that-wasn’t. I mean, for health reasons alone I should stop using Twitter because it definitely sends up my blood pressure. But I find myself coming back to it because of the instant flare of connection that happens when someone likes or retweets or responds to one of your tweets. I know this is a false feeling. There’s no real connection between a tweet and a like – I’ve liked enough posts by accident to know that it means literally nothing. But I keep going back.

Twitter keeps me informed about a side of Jamaica I don’t often talk to in real life – the ‘articulate minority’ as one unfortunate MP said a few years ago. My attraction to Twitter is your basic FOMO*, and not a habit I’m likely to kick any time soon.

Despite the many, many, many silly, depressing and sometimes spiteful reasons that people do things on social media, I think these platforms still have options to offer that are positive, meaningful and compassionate. Whether you’re looking at community hashtags like #womeninmedicine, fandom tribes like Harry Potter or the Bloggess, Instagram accounts like alex_elle or Youtube channels like Yoga With Adriene, the good stuff, the soul-filling stuff is definitely out there too.


Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light

Albus Dumbledore

*Did you guys know “uplift” is a verb and a noun?! Mind-blowing.
*FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out

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Show Your Work

I was going talk about identity and purpose today, and then one of my friends mentioned me in an Instagram comment about honest posting.

So instead I’m talking about social media representation, especially how sometimes Instagram and Twitter can leave us feeling ‘less than’. When you look at several smiling, sun-kissed, carefully curated and filtered images and then look at your own messy life you can wind up feeling disappointed and envious. God knows I have been “Best at Badmind” so many times, thanks to Facebook (this was pre-Instagram) and wedding websites like A Practical Wedding (yes, go and fall down the rabbit hole). Climbing out of that particular quagmire took years of practice and lots of growing up.

These days, even though I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and impostor syndrome, it’s gotten easier to remind myself that what I see on Twitter & Insta isn’t really what goes on when the camera turns off.

A conversation I had with my partner (who has dabbled in photography) when I was trying to learn how to take better, more engaging Instagram pictures:

Me: This website just suggested taking lots of different clothes on a photo shoot in case what you’re wearing doesn’t match the background. 

Him: Yep.

Me: They said that the different clothes and accessories make it look like you took pictures on different days, so that you can spread the posts out over weeks without being repetitive.

Him: Yep

Me: That’s insane! Who has time for this?

Him: Um, people who take it seriously? It takes work. 

And then I got distracted by something. Probably baking, or the cats. Which is why my social media gets updated maybe once a month. Can’t have you all noticing the pictures are really from the same shoot.

I’m getting off topic.

I’ve come to learn that a lot of social media is crafted and staged. When I browse Pinterest for hours on end trying to find organizational inspiration, it’s so frustrating when the pictures are perfectly aligned just so. How do these rooms look when they’re lived in? All these mommy bloggers with young children cannot possibly keep their houses this spic and span all the time. What does it look like in real life?

Credit: jordankrogmanphotograhy
That’s more like it.

One day I searched for real life pictures and the results were refreshing. Limited, but refreshing. There were toys on the floor, blankets thrown everywhere, dishes on the table. But underneath the mess was a certain cohesion, a level of deliberateness that gave a stable foundation to the chaos. It’s so much more inspiring to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting that curated, crafted end result; it’s so much more helpful.

If we’re all out here trying to live our best lives, and proud of it, what’s the harm in sharing the struggle that shapes the success? Congrats, you graduated from grad school but your Insta is all selfies at the beach. What about the late night studying? Awesome, you got promoted. But your feed is all parties and #gymlife. Why not talk about the coffee-fueled work-after-work that got you there? Cool, you post about #selfcare mani-pedis and yoga but what about the harder parts of self care like therapy and introspection?

I know the ‘rough work’ isn’t for everyone. God knows I hated having to do it in Math class. But for those of us social media users who are interested in the face behind the sunglasses or the story behind the popularity, this rough work is endearing and empowering. Showing the struggle reminds us that we’re not alone in it. Sharing the steps makes us feel like we can accomplish great things too.

At the very least, it’ll be helpful to figure out how the hell I can get that style on my bookshelf.

Pax.

P.S.

If you’re a nerd like me and love extra reading, this article on JSTOR is an illuminating and lengthy read on the topic of social media envy. Here is the link, and here is a tidbit:

Social media could help us feel less envious about vacations if it also celebrated quiet nights in; it could help us feel less envious of other people’s perfect children if it also celebrated the beauty of the bachelor apartment we just arranged to utter perfection. 

We could hold our collective breath and wait for Facebook and Twitter and Instagram to vindicate the diversity our strengths and contentments. Or we could do it ourselves: by demanding honesty and vulnerability from our online friends, and from ourselves.

Thoughts?

hashtag Change Your World

I think our generation is redefining maturity. It used to mean things like moving out of your parents’ house, and getting a job where you have to wear a tie to work. But we’re changing it to things like moving out of your comfort zone, and getting a job where you can make a difference in the world.

The lines between my generation and my parents’ are more blurred than generations past, part of a developing trend . The baby boomers of my parent’s generation were only the advance guard of a revolution that would redefine the rules of childrearing and growing up. Between Generation X and their parents, a lot more Gen-Xers went to college, got married at older ages, had less children, were more interested in their careers. The process of throwing off the traditions of our parents began fermenting then, and was eventually distilled into Generation Y or the Millenials.

Gen-Y is such an apt name for this generation; we’re always questioning the status quo. Why should I get married? Why should I take a 9-5 job? Why did they start naming generations at the bottom of the alphabet?

But the Y-revolution (the irrevolution) doesn’t stop at questions. We’re taking the world by storm, molding it to suit our constant demands, and in doing so we are shaping the future. We are making the beds on which we, and our children, will have to lie. This sculpting of our medium is primarily cultural but we are effecting ripples in the pond of existence which will touch the shores of years to come.

Look at the social upheavals in Egypt, Libya, Wall Street. Young people with newly minted purpose, united by technology, are declaring themselves present and accounted for in a world which is just now sitting up to take notice. If it is the mantle of each successive generation to define the world we ascend into then our task is no less serious whether we accomplish it through social media or on a battlefield.

Whatever the arena our lines have been drawn in the sand, and they will know us by our symbol:

#Syria vs. #teamTessanne

Social media.

You know, that thing everyone’s doing. The new thing, not the old thing. We already know everyone’s doing that. I mean Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their ilk connecting millions across a previously disconnected world. The connections are unlimited, the issues diverse: big and small, local and foreign, devastating and inspiring.

Tessanne Chin is the Jamaican girl on the NBC show The Voice and in true Jamaican style we are rallying to put all our weight behind her. Most of us never even talked about Tessanne when she was back home doing her thing but now that she has been recognized – legitimized – by foreign powers (aka “the colonial masters”) we are bursting at the seams with our pride. It is Usain all over again . . . with less beating of the chest.

But I digress.

#teamTessanne is gaining so much social momentum on my Facebook feed that I sometimes feel like the only Jamaican who doesn’t watch The Voice (until I see a post from someone complaining that they also feel like the only Jamaican who doesn’t watch The Voice). We are calling for votes, airing our opinions (read: badminding the bejeezus out of #teamChristina) and propelling this story of a girl from the little country with a big heart straight into the annals of media-driven nine-day-wonderdom. We are fuelling it for all it is worth.

Meanwhile, 2.3 million Syrians are fleeing their homes in the wake of a two and a half year long war that is tearing their country apart. My tendency to social activism is markedly limited by my laziness but the one thing I am good at doing from behind a keyboard is empathizing. And 2.3M people? That’s a lot to empathize with.

The Washington Post is featuring a series of articles that cover the impact of the Syrian war on the lives of Syrians and their neighbours and the stories aren’t pretty: children mangled by bombings, pregnant mothers living in junk yards and the terrified, stretched thin countries that are desperately trying to contain the insurmountable surge of refugees.

This story too has its own momentum in the media, if you know where to look. It’s too dragged out and unhappy to be the topic du jour but it is a topic beloved by the activists of our generation. To the 20-somethings who are determined to change the world this story is a call to arms that resonates loudly throughout their social circles. I suppose it resonates through all the circles; it just depends on what you’re willing to hear.

I don’t bring this up to criticise fans of Tessanne or The Voice, because happy and exciting things will always have a place amidst tragedy. It’s not shallowness, just human nature. It is our history as a world – The Sound of Music, anyone? – and the juxtaposition of dreams and destitution will continue for as long as there are mortal flaws like inequality and injustice.

I do bring this up to remind the world to look at the good things and the bad, without sweeping the bad under the rug because it hurts too much to think about. The world is an unfair place, and sometimes the only happiness is watching your favourite contestant rise through the ranks to victory. But acknowledge the unfairness, tip your hat to it, and it will become easier to deal with. Bad things don’t detract from good, they make you more grateful.

My bleeding heart goes out to #Syria who could use a little of #teamTessane’s happiness.