A friend recently told me, completely unprompted, that she was worried for me. Specifically, she was worried my life wasn’t ‘fun enough’. When I asked for clarification, she explained that my social media feeds didn’t look particularly fun: it’d been a while since she’d seen any group outings or nights out on my Instagram, there was no drunk dancing on my Stories, and I just stopped using Facebook altogether. Twitter is the one I do use the most, but it’s mostly yelling about politics and gushing over Harry Styles, so I didn’t tell her that.
Confused, I assured her I was having a great time and didn’t give it much more thought. It was almost funny to me at the time, how she seemed to jump to conclusions based on what my feed showed – first, because this is a friend who knows me quite well in real life, not someone I talk to once a year whose only way of keeping in touch would be through Instagram. Second because she must have known, on some level, that not posting anything for a couple of weeks does not equate staying in bed and actually doing nothing for two weeks… right?
I started to wonder, and then to panic.
Did we just have different perspectives on what a ‘fun life’ could be? Did she not realise how easy it is to make anything look like the opposite on social media -that sometimes, people we consider the happiest could be effortlessly faking it, and we really shouldn’t read too much into anybody’s feed?
Ever since that conversation I found myself posting more and more – definitely more than I usually would, but also more than I would like to. Last year, I finally stopped using social media as a curated selection of oh-so-happy (read: fake) moments and started employing it as a sort of public diary. So where were all my sudden ‘Dinner with friends!’, ‘Went to the gym!’, ‘Catch up over brunch!’ and ‘Got drunk and danced to Despacito!’ posts coming from?
Who was I doing it for?
I call this Reverse FOMO: fear of other people missing out on what I am doing. Now any time I meet a friend for coffee I feel almost a pang of anxiety if I don’t document it in some way -because if I thought nobody cared, or noticed, before, I’ve now been given reason to believe they might. And it’s terrifying.
the fear of not documenting enough of one’s life; appearing uninteresting to others“Urgh I forgot to Instagram that coffee date with the girls….HELLO reverse fomo”
The temporary nature of Snapchat and Instagram stories obviously doesn’t help. If anything, it reinforces the very culture of hourly updating that we’ve all fallen prey to, by promising to leave no trace of our zealous oversharing after 24 hours. Saw a funny tweet? Ate some lunch? Went for a walk? Share, share, share.
So, what are we to do?
I tried quitting cold turkey twice last year when I realised that the negative effect social media had on my mental health had started outweighing the positive, but even then I knew it wasn’t a viable solution. I started counting the hours the moment I deleted Instagram off my phone and ended up re-installing it within three months, both times. Ouch.
If cold turkey works for you, then by all means do it – I’m impressed. But if it doesn’t – or if you simply don’t want to quit, because we all know how powerful and semi-essential social media is these days – why should you miss out? Just find healthier ways to share as much as your heart desires.
The most important thing is to find what works for you, so take a moment to really identify how you feel and what, if anything, you’d like to change. What’s the last thing you think before you press ‘Post’? Is it something like, ‘This is a funny/cute/weird/sweet/etc. moment I’d like to share with the world’ or ‘I just feel like posting this, what’s with all the questions Anna’, or perhaps more along the lines of, ‘See, I do things, too! I do lots of things, here’s some things I did! I’m interesting, and I’m fun, so take that!’
If for you, like me, it’s usually the latter, then take a deep breath. Slowly move your thumb away from the screen. It’s okay.
“Social media has its roots so deep into a primal endorphin rush mechanism that denying that high is a pointless lie”
Ask yourself whether it would actually benefit you in any way, and if yes, how long the high would last. Social media has its roots so deep into a primal endorphin rush mechanism that denying that high is a pointless lie -but there’s no saying you can’t recognise it for what it is and still fight against it. Make it work for you, instead of letting it get on top of you. And if you want to give in to oversharing -why not! It’s a free country and this is a judgement-free zone! At least you’ll be doing so deliberately.
We all get our highs where we can, be it chocolate, a sports game or a notification – but just like I would try to control my sugary spikes, I want to start doing the same for this semi-real-but-still-curated virtual life that I love and use so much. Should my friend mention how she thinks I’m not fun enough in the future, I can either point her to snaps of dancing on floors that prove absolutely nothing, or simply let her know that I’m perfectly comfortable with the life I’m living. I just like to keep some of it private. Not much, but just enough to not get anxiety anytime I want to have a lazy day in bed, for fear of being called out.
It’s my party and I can cry if I want to / laugh if I want to / share if I want to.
But I’ll be doing so on my terms, and no one else’s.