The Facebook Effect

On a short trip back home to India last year, one of my relatives mentioned to me "I see your posts on Facebook; it seems like you are having a really good time." This was following my trips across Eastern Europe, parts of the U.K. and then Dubai and Hong Kong. The latter two were related to a consulting project for the MBA, but most people on the outside didn't know that... On completion of the trips, I had put up pictures of my travels, capturing the best moments, the most picturesque sights and the most memorable parts of these trips.

Then I thought to myself, Wow, my life must really appear cool on the outside. But what most people don't see is the hard work, efforts and everything else that go in on the inside. An alter-ego, a more customizable world, a sort of a dream world, is what Facebook (and social media generally) gives us the option to create. It is what we want people to see, what we want to project to the outside world. I mean, who in their right mind would post pictures of themselves in a class, or attending a meeting, or doing something rather mundane? Do people even want to see that? My guess is not! So why bother, right? Tomorrow, I will eat vegetables and rotis for lunch at home; nobody cares because they do it on a daily basis themselves. But if I go out and eat jumbo prawns (the size of someone's head) or chilli crabs in exotic locations, everyone is interested... As they say in Hindi ghar ki murgi daal barabar (the home cooked chicken is as good as a lentil soup).

So, maybe all my friends don't have perfect lives either. What I see is their picturesque, but highly customized life on the Internet -- a heavily edited version. There have been many a days where I have logged on to see pictures of these friends' travels to exotic destinations, their happy families and "amazing" lives. It has made me wonder Am I living my life right? Am I doing the things I want to? Am I living it to its fullest potential? And maybe most importantly, What am I doing wrong? There have been many such days where I've felt, for the sake of my own sanity, I am better off not logging on to Facebook, Instagram or one of the myriad of social networking sites there are out there.

It also made me realize that not only does social media make me feel low about my own life, it does so when I am probably at a low point already. I mean, if you're out in a group having a good time, how often do you log on to your Facebook newsfeed to check what others are doing? I've caught myself Facebooking when I am either bored, frustrated or just downright have absolutely nothing else to do (those days seem to be more frequent now that I am unemployed)... Of course, if you're not feeling so good about yourself and you see a doctored version of someone else's fabulous life, you're going to feel more miserable.

So then, what do I do instead? Or as one of my friends once asked me (in a different context, of course) -- "what should one do now?" This is an easy way of catching up with friends and their lives (not that we realize, but the Internet only allows us to catch up with half of their lives or the part of their lives that they want us to see)... How about a simple phone call or even a chat to catch up with a near and dear one instead? Isn't that more personable? Wouldn't that give you the real picture? Isn't that how things were done in the old days? Has social media made us forget that there are other means to really communicate? Are we today losing that personal touch because of the invasion of social media into every aspect of our lives? We certainly cannot be more busy that we were a few years ago to make that one extra phone call in a week?

Do we really need to add to our stresses and strains, and eliminate that iota of happiness that we have by looking at smiling pictures of our 'friends' on social media? (Note: I highlight the friends here simply because I would say a number of my Facebook friends are merely acquaintances whom I know very little about, anyway.)

They say too much of anything is not good, and so, too, it must be with social media and everything around the new Internet age. As technology penetrates our lives even further, we must realize that it is a tool that can be used to our benefit; it must not become a detriment to our own well-being. We can use it to enjoy or learn from others, but realize that there is much more to it than meets the eye. I mean, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but then beauty is only skin deep. After all, what can you really learn from a status update?