I am an avid reader, and have been for as long as I can remember. When I am not in the middle of a book, I feel as though I am only half here. It’s an extension of myself, another place that I live. Sometimes, I might be a sorceress, other times a hobbit with a piece of jewelry and major buyers regret, or maybe a Russian ballerina and secret spy. I have lots of lives that I live through the doorway of books. This might seem silly to bring up when discussing disconnect, but hold that thought for a moment.
When social media rose, I stayed away from it for a long time while everyone else seemed to dive right in. I had my blog, but that was about as social as I wanted to get with my media. I visited other blogs of people, and they visited me, but eventually everyone was plugged in. I finally gave in and joined the dark side.
At first, social media just seemed like a place to say hello to people I knew. Eventually, it became a place to post pictures of my cat or that strange bug in the garden that we’re pretty sure is radioactive. I then found, and yes I realize I’m a total dork, a game on Facebook; Farmville. This was a new level of being social and getting to entertain myself and weirdly feel like I had accomplished something (I could play it and still “be around”.) I loved that game, and I was someone who played enough (but didn’t spend much money on it… maybe, $40 total over several years? I can’t remember, but it wasn’t that much) that the game actually was pretty nice to me back. Zynga, the company who produces the game, had an open call for players to talk about why they played the game, and subsequently flew me to New York for their media event:
Then my son and I to Farmville, VA:
And lastly, to San Francisco, CA to see their headquarters (which are AMAZING, by the way) and to be interviewed for TV (which wasn’t aired, thank goodness):
So, for me, social media was a place to say hello to friends as well as play an entertaining game where even strangers learned to work together to accomplish something (virtual) and be nice to one another. Through that experience, I got to have some other amazing experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise (so if anyone wants to criticize me for playing games, believe me when I say it was worth it!) In addition to all of that, I began selling my work online as well as through local galleries, so social media opened up a new revenue stream which was fantastic. Social media had been pretty darn good to me!
At some point, however, social media started making me feel bad. Bad about myself, my accomplishments (or lack thereof), how I looked, anything and everything. Yet, I still checked it fairly regularly. Well, every day. Multiple times a day. Ugh.
WHAT HAPPENED? And frankly, WHY was I still there?
As someone who had blogged for a long time, I knew that the online world was full of people just waiting to criticize. So, was it really any surprise that happened on Facebook? Well, no. And, yet…
I have a theory, and it’s rough around the edges, but it goes back to my books. I am still the person who feels out of sorts if I don’t have a current book I am reading. I really do live partially in my books. I think about the story, the characters, and how I feel about what’s happened or will be happening. I also live partially in my paintings, even if I don’t have one I have physically started, I am always working on them in my head. I imagine these two things often give me a vacant expression (I’m going with it, it’s my excuse!), but as an introvert I am okay with that because I have a very fulfilling life going on inside, even if the outside looks dull. If I never logged onto social media again, I would be just fine.
My theory is that people have forgotten how to live in other places simultaneously to create a multifaceted and deeper existence that is fulfilling and vibrant. They have stopped seeking out what is interesting to them, in the sort of blind, bumbling way we all once did. Instead, I think people have fallen back on social media and somehow created a narrative for themselves that is all about whatever social media tells them it should be about.
Let me explain by sharing about when I got to see the Mona Lisa in person. We went to Paris in 2016, and it was my very first trip there. I’m an artist, and I also love history, so the Louvre was high on my priority list. I started noticing that something was really off right away when we were waiting in line. The exterior of the building is breathtaking. Even just waiting in line outside, there is so much to see… but no one was looking:
Inside, it’s mind-boggling. There are rooms with architecture that swoops in and out, while sculptures look down and you, and rows and rows of paintings are directly above you:
So, imagine room after room of things like this everywhere for you to see.
Now, imagine no one looking up, or even to the sides for the most part. At all.
There were thousands of people at the Louvre from all over the world, and yet most of the place was pretty empty. Those that I did see were determined to walk through it as fast as possible, with a single stop in mind.
Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of old Mona. I really don’t think she is all that great a painting, but her history is pretty fascinating. For example, she wasn’t really all that popular or valuable until she was stolen in the early 1900’s. Now, she’s estimated to be worth around a billion dollars. And people, that’s just stupid… but I digress. Still, why is she worth so much? Because people started taking notice of her, and SAID she was worth something. Social value.
That social value translated directly into the scene that greeted me when I walked into the Mona Lisa viewing area. Mona is cozied up behind thick glass to protect her from idiots as well as flash photography degradation, with ropes branching out from her in a wide vee. People were cramming into the space, some even pushing and shoving. People from all over the world were there, and the cacophony of languages was deafening in the room as people jostled to get to the front. But do you know what at least 85% of those people did when they got to the front area so they could really SEE silly old Mona?
They TURNED THEIR BACKS to her, so they could take a selfie.
Once they snapped their coveted shot, they pushed their way out again, never looking back. Never really looking at Mona at all. I was completely stunned. I eventually managed to get close to the front and get a good look at Mona for myself. I have to say that in person, she glows. A picture really doesn’t do her justice. I still don’t like her, but I can respect the technique. I didn’t take a photo, and just looked for my moment and then moved on when I was shoved out of the way by another set of maniacal selfie-takers.
In a place like the Louvre, with so many amazing things to see and paintings to sink into, people were there with the express purpose to get a photo of themselves in front of the Mona Lisa (without ever really looking at her), because that proves they were there and would somehow increase their own social value when others witnessed their proof. No one was seeing Mona to see her, they were seeing her to to brag to others that they saw her.
That is what happened to social media. Social media became a place of “I have, and you haven’t, but don’t you wish you had?” and “Me too, we’re in the same group and all those others are missing out!” That leaves people scrambling to add to their cache of “I have” and chasing after what they think they’re missing out on. It became a race, but it’s someone else’s script.
I feel that people have forgotten how to find those experiences that stay with them and cause growth. People have forgotten how to enjoy the journey and the unexpected stops, or frankly how to even pick out a journey that they are truly interested in. So many of those adventures used to come from within us after we read a book and internalized how that made us feel and inspired us, or a hobby that we delved into simply because we loved it and never really gave any thought to what anyone else felt about it. We used to be the drivers in our own life, chasing after the pieces that fit us like cinderella’s slipper, rather than some mass-merchandized flip-flop that is supposed to be one-size-fits-all.
I find it incredibly sad that people are missing so much of who they could really be. Missing so much of what is really around them. All because of what others are posting, or what some marketing algorithm or popular (data-mining) quiz said that this is what they should be doing.
I feel like people have fallen asleep. They remind me of children who have dozed off in the car, and when you get home and wake them they can follow instructions but it’s clear that their brain has not turned back on yet. People have fallen asleep gazing into a social media mirror that is reflecting back what IT thinks they should look like if they only tried harder, making them feel like they have fallen short, without ever asking if they ever wanted to measure up to that facade in the first place.
I struggle with social media. I try hard to only spend the business-time on it that I need to, as well as any real friend connections that are maintained through there. Admittedly, I’m not always the winner each day in this struggle. I have days where I fail utterly and somehow end up down the rabbit hole, painfully feeling all the things I am NOT. I have such a long list of what I’m not, yet feel like I should be… but lists like that make you forget what you ARE already that has value regardless, and what you really want to be when all is said and done.
So, I will continue with my struggle to visit social media, but not be a part of it. I don’t want to be sucked into the void of “You are not enough.” Because I am, with my books and my paintings and my REAL life. My life is BIG to me, just like everyone else’s should be to them. We’ve just forgotten that, and have somehow deliberately chosen to be made to feel small instead. It’s our choice, and our battle, every day.
I’m going to end with a sort of selfish silver-lining-side-note. All these people, asleep in a world of wonders, leave a lot of room for those of us who are awake enough to appreciate what the others have chosen not to see. While I only had moments with Mona, I was able to take as much time as I wanted with several Vermeers:
And Giovanni Paolo Paninis… wait until you see this. It’s beyond words:
I hope people start waking up from the social media siren coma that they are in, and hearing their own paths calling to them once again. I think that would be better than having these all to myself.