With the multiplicity of posts on social media that inundate us daily, it is so difficult to refrain from getting caught up in the frenzy of frequent public updates. We know full well that jealously comparing our lives to the lives of others is wrong. It’s the fastest way to rob ourselves of joy. We know we’re supposed to fight against the fear of missing out. We may fall into the comparison trap more often than we care to admit, but we know better. Yet while much has been said on this topic, we seldom address the other side of this issue.
Is it any wonder that social media feels like a competition? I can’t look at my timeline on a given day without seeing someone who has the “best ____ ever!!!” or is posting about this or that new thing they just bought. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are a scrapbook of our prettiest and wittiest moments that we are constantly trying to pass off as our whole selves. It is the storefront window display of our lives. We have carefully selected the most appealing things and arranged them in a format that shows them off to their best advantage. Then we put them in the place where the most people can see them. And a lot of us have moved past the point of sharing our joys and entered the territory of rubbing our lives in the faces of others. The easiest way to not feel like we’re missing out or inferior is to make it look like we’re the ones having the most fun, doing the most things, and loved by the most people. But the problem here is that those who incessantly update us on how fantastic things are going for them contribute just as much to the competitive atmosphere as those who silently envy them from the other end of the internet. It is just as prideful and inconsiderate to do all we can to be the object of envy as it is to envy those who have what we want. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t post pictures of big trips or share our excitement over friendships and promotions and weddings and babies and exciting life stages. But there is room for more thoughtfulness, kindness, and authenticity here.
The biggest culprit in this situation is how much of social media happens outside of the context of real relationships. We all have a close circle of friends whose lives we know well. We know what they’re struggling with and what exciting things are headed their way. They know the same things about us. These are the people with whom we are called to rejoice and mourn. These are the people we would hope will rejoice with us over our good news and weep with us when we weep. But all 500+ of our friends and followers are not those people. And until we have invested in their lives, we have not earned the high level of disclosure that social media makes so readily available. We don’t know them well enough to know what effect our sharing will have. A perfect example of this is the way that romantic relationships are displayed on social media. Every little thing, from a romantic note to flowers to making sandwiches, is touted as proof that the author of the post’s significant other is “the best.” This very phrase invokes competition, because to be the best, there have to be others in the category who do not measure up. Meanwhile, you have no idea who is seeing your posts and struggling with their singleness, or is going through a hard time in their relationship. This is why Michael and I intentionally do not flaunt our relationship. I am extremely blessed to have a thoughtful, hard-working man in my life. But we both have friends who want to be married and, for whatever reason, God has not given them this gift yet. We thoughtfully and intentionally desire that our single friends not feel like a third wheel around us. And while that is a specific example, the concept extends to so many other applications. Whether you are expecting, going on a big vacation, falling in love, part of an encouraging friendship, or getting a promotion, there are those who deeply desire that blessing. And even worse than the constant boasting is the constant complaining. Social media gives us a huge outlet, and we use it too often to complain about the biggest blessings in our lives. Is your job super stressful or unpleasant? There are those who are longing for even a job as thankless as yours in this economy. Is your pregnancy causing you discomfort or lack of rest? Some women’s hearts are breaking because they may never get to feel a baby growing inside them. Is your relationship hitting a rough patch? There are those struggling with intense loneliness who look forward to a relationship that lasts through ups and downs.
Not only is social media so often outside the context of true, deep relationships with others, it is a structure driven by the philosophy that if you’ve got it, flaunt it. It feeds the need to post about every single thing we do and every single place we go. I often fall prey to the lie that if a post doesn’t go up on Facebook about what I’m doing, then it might as well have not happened. Social media glamorizes the moment – the fun in between real life. It is all consumerism and exciting experiences and accomplishments. We’re not so much concerned with a status “update” as we are with a status upgrade. Future-oriented, responsible choices are diametrically opposed to the lifestyle it promotes. Nobody wants to hear that “I skipped going out to eat tonight because I’m saving to pay for car repairs that I desperately need.” Forgoing that party to study for your test won’t be rewarded publicly until your graduation. The “likes” are for all of the pictures you post when you buy a house, not the process of intentionally saving each month until you can afford one. There is no celebration of the new clothes we don’t buy and the trips we don’t go on because more mundane obligations took priority. The big events we share do not show the full picture of the work and planning and sacrifice that went into them. And in between the big events we feel the need to share everything that we are able to do and have, whether it be a hike or a night of Netflix or another $5 coffee. What is this need to publicize the small things, if not competition? Can we not have a fun chat with a friend over coffee or a night in with our significant other without having to let everyone know that we’re still having a great time even if things seem boring right now?
While I’m not suggesting that we stop sharing things on social media altogether, I do think that it is time that we all let go of this competition and start being more considerate. It is absolutely the responsibility of the person reading a post to not envy. That is an attitude in our own hearts for which we are accountable. But there is also a need for kindness and discretion in what we choose to share with those whose joys and struggles we do not know. If you are living your life intentionally and thoughtfully before the Lord and seeking to obey His will, you do not need to be wielding your Facebook profile as a weapon to bludgeon people into seeing that you have made choices that are leading to a good life.