Three months ago I joined Facebook and Instagram. Tired of feeling like the perpetual outsider in my group of friends, and in desperate need of blog-promotion, I decided to do the one thing I swore I'd never do.
Weeks one, two and three were fun, thrilling even, as I anxiously awaited my next like or comment from friends and acquaintances I hadn't spoken to in years. On week four I received a direct message from a 27-year-old male who I didn't recognize, but who looked familiar in a we-may-have-played-little-league-for-the-same-team sort of way. According to his profile, he was from the neighborhood I grew up in, and was educated at "The School of Hardknocks." Hm...
I clicked on the unread message. "Can i take you out on a date," it read. Uninterested, yet appreciative of the forwardness (albeit on social media), I wrote back, "Thank you that is so kind of you. I have a boyfriend, I'm sorry." Within seconds, a response from neighborhood guy: "your prolly a lesbian anyway".
Um. "Prolly?" I racked my brain for any memory of when "prolly" had become a socially acceptable abbreviation for the word "probably." Distracted, I barely saw the next message pop up on the screen.
If you guessed that it was a picture of this gentleman's private parts with a caption that read "this is wat your missing bitch," then you are absolutely correct. I quickly sent a text message to my neighbor, a no nonsense alpha female who would surely feel as outraged as I did. "Should I call the police?" I asked her. "No you idiot," she laughed. "Welcome to 2015."
What? I was baffled. How much of the last 10 years had I missed out on?
Although I never received a message like that again, I did receive a score of other bizarre messages, including one from a woman I had met twice several years ago through an acquaintance. The message was long and seemed airy, and at first I thought she might be writing a personal story relating to a blog I had written. My heart raced, as I enjoyed hearing from people who shared the same experiences. As I skimmed past the first and second line, I realized that this email was anything but a cheery greeting. Rather, it was a request to please delete her ex-boyfriend (who I don't know and had never met) whose friend request I had apparently accepted that morning. According to her message, she did not want any women that she knew personally, to be friends with him on Facebook.
To be fair, she asked kindly and the pain this man had caused her was evident. Her message, dripping with emotion and hurt, made me sad for her... and also concerned for her mental health. Once again, I reached out to a girlfriend and told her the story. "Should I encourage her to see a therapist?" I asked. My friend's response? "Wait, don't you check the people you accept?"
Clearly I don't know the rules of social media.
When I first joined Instagram, I felt the same sense of euphoria I had felt my first week on Facebook. However, that too was short lived. The realization of what social media had created struck me hard one afternoon as I listened in on a conversation between two professionally dressed 20-somethings on the train:
"Well he didn't return my calls or texts all day but I checked his Instagram feed and I saw that he liked a few pictures... so clearly he's not dead. I checked his Instagram this morning and saw that he followed his ex-girlfriend. I was so upset so I posted a selfie to make him jealous, with the hashtag #independentwoman."
I dare you to tell me you have never heard anything like this before.
How have we become a society so lacking in self-awareness, so far removed from what matters, so completely engulfed in a web of cyber-nonsense?
The problem with social media, particularly Instagram, is that it has blurred the lines between what is morally acceptable and unacceptable, and what is a threat and what isn't, forcing us to teeter the line between rational and irrational behavior. Women constantly doubt and question themselves over whether their reactions to perceived threats they see on social media are "over the top," hating themselves for feeling jealous or insecure but having no real ability to control those feelings. Essentially what social media has done is stunt our ability to see beyond the pettiness of a situation, because it in fact has created a world where only pettiness exists and where only pettiness matters. As a result, we have simply adapted ourselves to this new world order and thus have lost the ability to appropriately communicate with one another - to talk about our feelings in a healthy way, to court our love interests in a way that they deserve to be courted, or even to reject someone properly (or take rejection!).
Worse though is what it has done to our sense of self-worth.
A woman's self-confidence is constructed entirely from the number of likes she gets on a photo, each like stacking atop the one before like a feeble house of cards, serving as reassurance that she is beautiful and desired, popular, worth something. Women obsess over what they post, desperate to draw attention from those they lust over, or jealousy from those they hate. They airbrush flaws, flatten abs, expand butts, filter, change lighting, paint on eyelashes and eye shadow. They pose in bikinis... or less. They add hashtags and captions with subliminal messages and bold displays of passive aggressiveness: #greatnightwithmyREALfriends. Entire relationships are built and destroyed by the daily goings-on of Instagram. Women spend hours scouring the profiles of their rivals, sometimes through fake profiles, resenting those who appear to have happier more fulfilled lives than them. Our moods and our feelings about ourselves are so utterly dependent on what others think about us... or on who seems to be doing better than us.
It's sad, yet fascinating.
For me, it was simply too much.
As of now, I am staying strong with my deactivated Instagram account. And although I don't miss the feeling of being 0.1% away from going over my data plan, I sure do miss Kylie Jenner's butt selfies.